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Ireland Puts the "Why?" in YWCA

The former National Organization for Women president takes over the Young Women's Christian Association.

12:00 AM, May 9, 2003 • By ERIN MONTGOMERY
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ON APRIL 30, the Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA) of the United States of America announced that former NOW president Patricia Ireland would be its new chief executive officer. And just this past weekend, the 145-year-old YWCA moved its headquarters from New York City to Washington, D.C. Ireland is expected to assume her new post by May 15--an event that has many people asking, "Why?"

Why would the YWCA select Ireland for the job? In a YWCA press release issued on April 30, Audrey Peeples, chair of the YWCA's National Coordinating Board, said, "There is no better person than Patricia Ireland to help re-ignite our advocacy positions. At a time when local YWCAs struggle with cutbacks in government support for services we have long provided to women and girls, Ms. Ireland will partner with local YWCA leaders to strengthen our voices in the nation's capital and across the country."

To be sure, Ireland, 57, has decades of political activism under her belt. She was the longest-serving president of the National Organization for Women (1991-2001). She has fought to preserve abortion rights, led the opposition to Clarence Thomas's Supreme Court nomination, practiced law, and lobbied for equal employment opportunities. And her professional accomplishments aren't the only things that have gained the spotlight in recent years. An admitted bisexual, Ireland disclosed in a 1991 interview that she has a husband living in Florida, as well as a "female companion" in--you guessed it--Washington, D.C.

Outside of the YWCA's cheery press release, there are some dark clouds over Ireland's new gig.

In a May 5 op-ed piece in the Boston Globe, Cathy Young wrote: "Regardless of gender, if Ireland's 'companion' was her lover, she was committing adultery, though apparently with her husband's knowledge. Should this disqualify someone from a post that entails moral authority? One thing is near-certain: A married man who unrepentantly admitted to having a mistress would not have much of a future in public life. So much for complaints that women are still judged more harshly than men for their sexual behavior."

And there are troubling ideological ramifications for the YWCA in Ireland's appointment. The YWCA's original goal was, according to one women's history book, "the salvation of young women's souls." It started as a prayer society and blossomed into clubs, boardinghouses, and classes for working women. Since its inception in 1858, it has, of course, come to provide much more--child-care services, educational programs, employment training, job placement, and shelter for women and families. The YWCA-USA website states that its programs and locations (which now number 313) have changed many times over the years, "but the basic purpose of the YWCA has not."

So what is the basic purpose of the YWCA? According to its mission statement, "The Young Women's Christian Association of the United States of America is a women's membership movement nourished by its roots in the Christian faith and sustained by the richness of many beliefs and values."

Whatever richness Ireland brings to the group, she is an odd choice to represent its Christian roots.

Erin Montgomery is a staff assistant at The Weekly Standard.