After Lady Colton’s death in 1898 there was a dramatic shift in the YWCA away from religious instruction. When the vibrant Mrs Birks became president, she introduced new activities for young women of all denominations who were seeking vocational, social and recreational opportunities. The association planned a new building, and in 1899 repealed all its existing rules and adopted new ones.
When the Lady Colton Institute in Hindmarsh Square opened on November 22,1900, it provided the YWCA with its first permanent premises and allowed it to organise many new and more varied activities. It attracted increasing numbers of young women living away from their families to work in factories and businesses, and membership increased from 156 in 1901 to 1000 by World War I. By 1912 there were several branches: the Lady Colton Guild for girls of leisure, the Lyceum Club for young businesswomen, the Girls Progressive Club for young girls, a tennis club, a rowing club, and a savings club for factory girls called the Thrift Club. During this progressive period ideas on organisational policy, aims and staffing came not only from the national level but from England and the US.
The association also provided an employment bureau aimed at recruiting women for domestic service. Although by the early 20th century this was not a popular choice of work for women, recruitment increased during the Depression years of the 1930s.
After World War I there was a downturn in membership and the association again changed its rules to suit the times. It was no longer compulsory to be a member before being granted privileges. By the 1930s the YWCA had adapted again by affiliating with several sporting organisations. However it never lost sight of its original aim of protecting the moral welfare of young women.
The foundation stone for this building was laid by Miss Colton, with Sir Samuel Way presiding. It was designed by G. de Lacy Evans and R.J. Haddon of Melbourne.
R.J. Haddon arrived in Australia in 1891 and worked in Perth, Adelaide and Hobart before settling in Melbourne at the turn of the century. Variously described as the champion of art nouveau and a pioneer of architectural modernism, Haddon designed the building in partnership with G. de Lacy. The corner turret and the rear facade, together with the dramatic detailing, would seem to be of Haddon’s design.
The South Australian Register of November 10, 1900, described the Lady Colton Institute building as “a handsome ornament to a part of the City where architectural beauties are quite unknown”.