Black History Month: Montclair’s Past in a historic photograph
By MOLLY HONE
For Montclair Local
In this series, Molly Hone, head, adult services, Montclair Public Library, alternates with Township historian Mike Farrelly, submitting historical pictures and historical essays.
This undated photograph, by Frank Brown, was taken at the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) of Montclair-North Essex at the Israel Crane House on Glenridge Avenue. The building is now home to the Montclair History Center, having been moved to 108 Orange Road in 1965.
The back of this photograph identifies the standing woman as India Ross. Seated are, second, fourth, and fifth from the left: Mildred Brooks, Ruth Boyd Clark, and Nellie Brown. The woman at the end of the table is Martha Bell. The inscription notes that Martha Bell “later married William and became a lawyer; represented local YM at [illegible] one summer.” The men in the photo are not identified.
The YWCA began using the Crane House as their headquarters in 1920. The YWCA of Montclair-North Essex was founded in 1912 by Alice Hooe Foster, the first African American woman to graduate from Montclair High School. According to the website of the Montclair History Center, montclairhistory.org, “in the first half of the 20th century, YWCAs were segregated; a ‘white’ YWCA would deem it appropriate to establish a ‘colored’ YWCA as an offshoot if the population would support it.” Notably, the Montclair YWCA was the only one in the country that was not affiliated with a white YWCA.
For 45 years, the YWCA served local African American Women, as a social center as well as a dormitory, where people regularly gathered together, just as you see in this photograph.
The history of this important Montclair institution can be further explored at the Montclair History Center as well as online at our shared historical database: http://www.digifind-it.com/montclair/home.php. The YWCA archives are also currently housed at MPL and can be reviewed by appointment.
The Montclair Public Library’s historic photographs — as well as historic city directories and books — are accessible at the link above. Additional local history materials, including books, maps, photographs, newspapers, and more, are housed in the Local History Room at the Main Library at 50 S. Fullerton Ave. and are available for review by appointment and on Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.