The Melbourne branch of this world-wide movement, founded in 1882 under the leadership of Sarah Booth, aimed to improve young women's spiritual, social and physical conditions. Initially meeting at the Assembly Hall in Collins Street, the organisation later had premises in Spring Street (1891) and Russell Street (1912), the latter building funded by the Connibere family in memory of their father, George.
The Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA) conducted girls' clubs, meetings and classes, coffee socials, Bible classes, rescued prostitutes, educated factory workers and offered board and lodging for visitors and working women. It was involved in anti-sweating campaigns and in 1912 introduced a Thrift Scheme, encouraging young women to save. By the 1930s the membership numbered over 1200. Social programs expanded with the establishment of an employment agency as well as the staging of international peace forums. During the war the 'Garden Army of Girl Diggers' had 700 members growing vegetables. The first residential club for servicewomen, opened in Toorak in 1942, was one of 19 venues serving munitions workers and servicewomen.
Postwar initiatives included services for single immigrant women, after-school programs (from 1968), and clubs for married women to learn leadership skills. In 1975 489 Elizabeth Street became the new home of the Melbourne YWCA.