Mary Wolf: A YWCA Heroine

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Mary Wolf: A YWCA Heroine


By Constance Tate

World YWCA

Mary Wolf of New York City has been well-known to friends in our city for her wide interests such as the theatre, music, and the work of Mt. Sinai Hospital, but her many YWCA friends have also admired her amazing, longtime and wonderful commitment to the YWCA for over fifty years at three levels: as a YW leader in the city, as a member of the national YWCA Board for 12 years, and as a supporter of the World YWCA with foreign trips and her role as a UN representative in later years.

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As Mary has told some of us, her interest in the YWCA started originally with her husband who took over and ran the family paint supply business located on the West Side of Manhattan from about the early 50’s until the late 90s. After Stephen had become well-known at the West Side branch of the YWCA that was located at 51st street and 8th Avenue, the director there asked him one day if he had a wife who might like to join some of the leading city ladies who were volunteers at that branch. And that was the start of Mary’s volunteer career, which saw her becoming President of that Center for many years where Playwrights Horizons also got its start and where Alvin Ailey began his work and a famous Crafts Students League held classes for twenty years before moving to Lexington Avenue.

The West Side YWCA, also known for a time as the Clark Center, was a colorful and major headquarters, dating from the 1920s. It was a nine-story building with large- sized rooms for classes, dancing and the arts, and sometime in the 60’s it acquired an outside seven-story high mural that made it a landmark until the end of the century. Members involved at that YWCA ranged from such names as the Rockefellers and Polly (Mrs. Cleveland) Dodge back in the 50s and 60s to Robert Moss and Wendy Wasserstein during the 70s and beyond, when finally the closing of several YWCA single-sex residences led to moving most activities to the East Side. Mary as President there thoroughly enjoyed the excitement of fostering experimental theatre at that YW and remembers happily the search for new plays and eventually for a new home for the Playwrights theatre that has lasted to this day.

Meanwhile, as a New York leader, Mary had also been nominated for the National YWCA Board, where she served for three terms from 1979 to 1991, traveling to meetings around the country, working on various committees, and eventually caring enough to donate a decorative statue in memory of her mother to the YWCA Learning Center in Phoenix, Arizona, that was built in the 1980s. By the end of her term, Mary was also actively interested in the work of the World YWCA where she has now been a member of the World Service Council for over 30 years, serving on its Executive Committee, traveling to World YWCA meetings in Finland and Kenya, supporting its worldwide work, and also serving actively for several years as a UN representative at UN meetings in New York.

Those of us lucky enough to have served with Mary at any or many of these sites over the years have always been amazed at her wonderful energy and commitment to the YWCA’s work for women and gender equality. She has constantly been on the side of equal rights and an ardent proponent. As an early World YWCA visitor to Palestine in the 80s, she was equally passionate for the rights of women there, and we salute Mary for being an inspiration to all who have known her in her more than half a century with our YWCA.

Connie Anderson Tate is the current Chair of the World Service Council, and past Chair of the YWCA of New York City. She also served on the National Board of the YWCA with Mary from 1980 to 1992.