The Helena May was founded in 1916 and named after Lady May, the wife of Sir Henry May, Governor of Hong Kong at the time. Funded largely through the generosity of two local philanthropists, Sir Ellis Kadoorie and Mr. Ho Kom Tong, CBE, it was originally established to support women living and working away from home, and contributing to the Hong Kong community. Lady May's original vision, enshrined in the organisation's constitution, is central to today's community outreach programme which focuses on the needs of women and girls living in Hong Kong.
Situated in a distinctive heritage building in the heart of Hong Kong, The Helena May is a welcoming and affordable organisation for women of all nationalities and from all walks of life.
From the outset, The Helena May has been an organisation for women led by women. The driving force was Lady May who, as President of the Y.W.C.A and mother of four daughters, was very aware of the lack of facilities for women and girls in Hong Kong. She provided leadership and direction to The Helena May in the early years that set a strong foundation.
The Helena May has a treasured and colourful history:
- Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, The Helena May was a popular venue for important talks, lectures and social gatherings.
- During the Second World War, Japanese forces requisitioned the building.
- At the end of the war, it was requisitioned by the Royal Air Force until 1947.
- Post war, as Hong Kong's decades of economic growth began, The Helena May adapted likewise - Associate Membership was introduced to allow husbands, and later bachelors, to use the Library. Also, the title "Institute" was removed being considered outmoded and misleading.
- Membership numbers declined after 1997 with the departure of large numbers of expatriates from Hong Kong.
- Since 2000, visionary changes made by its Council enlarged the Club's contribution to various community initiatives, and a new era began.
Today, the purpose of The Helena May remains virtually unchanged - to provide low-cost accommodation and to serve as a meeting and networking place for women from international and local communities.