It Started with an Ad and a Letter

There are a number of different subsets to the hobby of amateur or ham radio. Many ham radio operators or “hams” are interested in one subset in particular while others are interested in and participate in them all.

Hams may like to talk to operators in other countries. They like to contest where they have to talk to as many other hams as they can in a certain amount of time following a certain criteria. Some ham radio operators like to go on DXpeditions to strange or rare places where they set up their radio station and talk to as many other hams as possible while they are there. Still others like to collect the QSL cards that operators send each other to confirm they talked on a specific band at a specific time on the air. Many hams prefer providing emergency communications in times of disasters.

There is one other subset of Ham Radio–the YL, or Young Lady. In amateur radio a female is a "Young Lady" no matter what her age. Any man is an "Old Man", or OM, again despite his age. The largest organization for YL ham operators in the world is the Young Ladies’ Radio League, Inc. (YLRL) which exists to encourage and assist YLs throughout the world to become a licensed amateur radio operator.

It also sponsors and otherwise carries out programs to promote YL interest, appreciation and understanding of radio communications and electronics and encourages them to advance and improve their skills as Amateur Radio Operators.

The Young Ladies’ Radio League, Inc. originated when one YL wanted to see if there were any others out there. Thus 12 women banded together in a male dominated activity, growing an organization that reaches around the world.

It Started with an Ad and a Letter

The Ad that Started it All

In May 1939 an ad with an elaborately-curlicue border appeared in the magazine QST that started “Dear YLs– The nearest thing to a pair of lace gimmicks that our printer has – and we had to catch your eye in some way!”

This “lace bordered” ad for the book Two Hundred Meters and Down, written by a gentleman, caught the eye of Ethel Smith-then W7FWB, later K4LMB. It lead her to wonder about other YLs in a hobby that “simply reeks of MAN-Power!” according to the ad about the book.

She wrote back to the editor. “That lace-bordered ad of ‘Two Hundred Meters and Down’ brought up a point that has my curiosity aroused for some time: How many ‘YL key twitchers’ are there?” She wondered. “Nobody seems to know, but I think we [YL operators] would tell. I should like to have you [QST] publish this letter or some kind of a request to have the YLs make themselves known.”

Her full letter was published in the July 1939 QST asking the other YLs out there to please “send all the dope to me. Perhaps we should band ourselves together in a YLRL or something to that effect and make these woman-ignoring authors sit up and take notice.” Twelve YLs answered that letter. The names and addresses were compiled and a tentative constitution was drawn up.

These 12 women became what are known as the founding mothers of the Young Ladies’ Radio League. The constitution and by-laws were dated September 1939.

The Early Years

To promote YLRL all over the country, a District Chairwoman was appointed in each of the call areas. In November 1939 the first issue of the organization’s publication was born. Entitled YL News, it contained a single mimeographed sheet with a plea for new members, published by Enid (Carter) Aldwell-then W9NBX, later W6UXF.

It also asked for suggestions for a more dignified name for the publication and in December, it bore the name YL-Harmonics, a name chosen from approximately 20 entries.

By February 1940, YL clubs were being organized around the United States. In that issue, Enid warned the members “Beware the OM who passes himself off as a YL. W1IOR has been taken off our membership list since it was discovered that the only feminine thing about him was his desire to be a member of the YLRL!”

The first anniversary, November 1940, boasted an issue of YL-Harmonics with 15 pages naming the winner of the YLRL slogan contest. Anita Bein, W8TAY, submitted the slogan “QRV-I am ready”.

The group had also previously been officially recognized in the Amateur Radio Relay League’s (ARRL) publication QST in an article titled “YLs Unite!” YLRL nets had begun and now YLs could talk to each other at specific times on specific frequencies.

Defining a YL

There have been many controversies over the definitions of YL versus XYL. The term YL was first defined in a Traffic Report signed The American Radio Relay League by E. C. Adams on May 13, 1920 to Miss M. Adaire Garmhausen, 3BCK. He was replying to her submission of an article submitted to QST on “How to Build a Wireless Station”.

In it he called her “My Dear YL–“ and stated, “We have had to coin a new phrase for your benefit as you will readily see that OM will not fit and OL [Old Lady] would certainly be most in applicable.” Even though Miss Garmhausen wasn’t the first YL ham radio operator, this is when the term was first applied specifically to label all women as Young Ladies no matter what their age.

The article was published in the July 1920 issue of QST and a second article of hers followed in May 1921, but it wasn’t until the October 1922 had the column “Who’s Who in Amateur Wireless” that M. Adaire’s picture was printed as she was honored along with another YL, Miss Winifred Dow, 7CP, from Tacoma, WA.

Many OMs have used XYL (meaning Ex-Young Lady) to describe a wife versus a single lady, but some women, though not all, take offense at this term feeling that getting married does not mean a female is no longer a Young Lady.

In May 1940, the YLRL set forth the policy for YL-Harmonics and YLRL that the term “YL” was to be used of all licensed amateur operators of the feminine sex. This meant they were all young ladies no matter what their marital status was. A licensed woman is a YL while an XYL is a non-licensed wife.