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Our History

scan-12Women’s Center & Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh began its mission to create a safe environment for women over 45 years ago, using a small storefont space as a simple meeting place for women in the Pittsburgh area. Founders Ellen Berliner and Anne Steytler never planned to start a movement, but when faced with the staggering truth about the number of women who suffer domestic violence, they knew that they could not sit idly by.

Today, Women’s Center & Shelter offers support and aid to more than 7,500 individuals each year, and continues to remain one of the leading regional programs for survivors of intimate partner violence.

Women’s Center & Shelter Highlights through the Decades


1974 – Founded as one of the first six shelters for battered women in the United States.

1976 – Pennsylvania’s Protection from Abuse Act was passed, giving domestic violence survivors the right to go to court and file an order for protection from domestic abuse.

Women’s Center & Shelter began assisting victims with filing Protection from Abuse Orders and understanding their new legal rights.


1981 to 1983 – Raised more than $1 million to create a new, larger shelter with the capacity for 32 women and children.

1986 – Women’s Center & Shelter’s Non-Resident Counseling Program (Support Groups) was established to provide women with an emotionally safe environment in which they could talk about their experiences with domestic violence.

1994 – Purchased a new, dedicated building and launched $5 million Capital Campaign, increasing shelter capacity to 36 women and children.

Medical Advocacy Program established at Mercy Hospital with a full-time Women’s Center & Shelter staff person, acknowledging the role of the medical community in combating intimate partner violence.



2001 – Women’s Center & Shelter’s Civil Law Project was established as a well-respected provider of free legal services in Allegheny County, providing high-quality legal support to survivors of intimate partner violence.

2004 – Adopted the Alcoa Business System problem-solving model, allowing staff to maximize efficiency and effectiveness in our work.

2007 – With the support of Pennsylvania Interest On Lawyers Trust Account funding, Women’s Center & Shelter’s Civil Law Project attained its own 501(c)(3) status as a non-profit entity



2009 – Certified by the Pennsylvania Association of Nonprofit Organizations for our outstanding work in the community, becoming one of only 53 organizations to hold the certification statewide.

2010 – Women’s Center received the United Way Award For Excellence.

2013 – Partnered with Pittsburgh City Council and Pittsburgh Police to implement the Maryland Lethality Assessment Program, a best-practice initiative for reducing the number of domestic violence homicides and re-assaults by making a direct connection to help available through our 24-Hour Hotline.


2014 – Women’s Center & Shelter and Newton Consulting designed and launched the RUSafe app, a free dangerous relationship assessment tool. By analyzing user responses to questions about the relationship, RUSafe calculates the cause for concern and connects the user with nearby emergency services and the Women’s Center & Shelter 24-Hour Hotline.

May 2, 2014 – Celebrated 40 years of service to the Pittsburgh community as innovative leaders in the most effective approaches to helping survivors of intimate partner violence.

January 23, 2019 – Pittsburgh City Council passed legislation to create a domestic violence (DV) unit within the police bureau and create the new positions of a DV sergeant, a DV detective specialist, and a civilian clerical specialist. The funding will be provided by a $500,000 grant from the  Nina Baldwin Fisher Foundation. WC&S Advocates will help implement the unit.