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National Recreation Association records

Identifier: SW0074

Scope and Content

The National Recreation Association records include minutes, annual reports, annual meeting programs and proceedings, general administrative and financial records, scrapbooks, board and executive council minutes, surveys of city recreation facilities and needs, and bulletins distributed to recreation workers. Recruitment and training of recreation leaders, city planning, dissemination of information, technical assistance to local communities, and association activities during the two world wars are among the issues reflected in the collection. Field work and survey reports provide information about recreational programs and facilities in cities throughout the United States and Canada. Biographical files are formed around the activities of Howard Braucher (longtime Association secretary) and other recreational leaders. A comprehensive set of bulletins and other NRA publications offers a record of the kind of practical advice the association provided for recreation workers on specialized topics that include administration, community singing, drama and pageants, handicrafts, industrial recreation, play in institutions, and services to the military. The records also reflect attitudes towards citizenship and democracy, industrialization and urban living conditions, childhood and child development, immigrants and the working poor, and character and morality.


  • 1906-1989

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Use of Materials

Open for use in Social Welfare History Archives reading room.


Please contact the Archivist for copyright information.

Historical Note

The National Recreation Association was founded in 1906 as the Playground Association of America (PAA) by eighteen men and women from playground associations, public school and municipal recreation departments, settlements, teachers’ colleges, the kindergarten movement, and charity organizations. Industrialization and growing urbanization prompted a perceived need to encourage positive citizenship through supervised playground and leisure time activities. The organization was dedicated to improving the human environment through park, recreation, and leisure opportunities. Its concept of recreation evolved from the development of supervised playgrounds to one that includes a broad range of leisure-time programs and facilities that enrich the human environment. Reflecting the organization's changing mission, it changed its name to the Playground and Recreation Association of America (1911-1930) and the National Recreation Association (1930-1965). Ultimately, the National Park and Recreation Association was formed by a merger of the National Recreation Association, American Institute of Park Executives, the National Conference on State Parks, the National Recreation Society, and the National Association of Zoological Parks and Aquariums.

At the organizational meeting in April, 1906, Luther H Gulick, director of physical education in the New York City school system and founder of the Public School Physical Education Society and the Academy of Physical Education, was elected as the association’s first president. Gulick brought a YMCA-influenced belief in the connection between physical and spiritual health to the PAA. Henry S. Curtis, supervisor of playgrounds for Associated Charities of Washington, D. C., became the secretary. The PAA promoted health and character through exercise and organized sports and the improvement of conditions for the poor through supervised recreation. It fought for public funding of playgrounds and recreation programs and provided consultation and training services for recreation professionals. The association’s journal, Playground, was a source of practical advice, programming ideas, and playground theory

Initially, PAA was funded by private sources and volunteers until the Russell Sage Foundation agreed to help fund services and start up costs. With more financial security, the organization was able to build, and hired the first professional executive secretary, Howard Braucher, a social worker who held the position for forty years. The organization flourished under the leadership of Braucher and new president Joseph Lee. In 1911, the name was changed to Playground and Recreation Association of America (PRAA), symbolizing its expansion into adult as well as childhood activities. PRAA put a new emphasis on field service and began to hold annual congresses. They also began an eventually successful lobby effort for local government responsibility to meet the recreation needs of its citizenry.

With the start of World War I, the PRAA expanded to provide services to troops at training camps. Due to poor physical fitness results of prospective recruits, fitness became a large concern in America. The entire post-war decade was one of large growth for the PRAA. It established the National Recreation School to train professional recreation leaders, funded scholarly research, and promoted physical fitness programs in schools and for African Americans. In the mid-30s, the name of the organization changed to the National Recreation Association (NRA), reflecting its efforts to increase support for and broaden the definition of recreation and leisure.

During the depression, the NRA cut back and, by the end of World War II, many government programs took over the majority of the recreation activities. Howard Braucher died in 1949, leaving the NRA without an effective leader. They continued to be a resource center, published literature and studies, and trained leaders. In 1965, many groups merged to form National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA), with a goal to promote public interest in park and leisure opportunity.

Sources:For a more detailed history of the National Recreation Association, see William Wallach's essay in Peter Romanofsky, ed. Greenwood Encyclopedia of American Institutions, Social Service Organizations: ,Vol. 2, 1978, pp. 587-592, from which this summary was drawn. See also Richard Knapp and Charles Hartsoe. Play for America: The National Recreation Association, 1906-1965, National Recreation and Park Association, 1979.) Additional information about the founding of the Playground Association of America was drawn from the National Recreation Association records as summarized in Linnea Anderson. “The Playground of Today is the Republic of Tomorrow:' Social Reform and Organized Recreation, 1890-1930’s" in the proceedings of the History of Community and Youth Work Conference, forthcoming.


161 Linear Feet


Records of the National Recreation Association, founded in 1906 as the Playground Association of America and later known variously as the Playground and Recreation Association of America (1911), National Recreation Association (1930), and National Recreation and Park Association (1965). Among the materials included are minutes, annual reports, annual meeting programs and proceedings, general administrative and financial records, scrapbooks, board and executive council minutes, surveys of city recreation facilities and needs, and bulletins distributed to recreation workers. Includes the records of the merger to form the National Recreation and Parks Association (NRPA).

Arrangement of Records

  1. Series 1. Historical Materials, 1900-1965
  2. Series 2. Minutes of Policy Making Bodies, 1909-1969
  3. Series 3. Annual Reports, 1908-1965
  4. Series 4. Meetings, 1907-1972
  5. Series 5. General Administrative Records
  6. Series 6. Financial Records, 1916-1966
  7. Series 7. Biographical Information
  8. Series 8. Field Work
  9. Series 9. Surveys, 1910-1960
  10. Series 10. Public Relations, 1945-1956
  11. Series 11. Library, 1955-1970
  12. Series 12. State Recreation Societies, 1955-1964
  13. Series 13. Projects, 1945-1970
  14. Series 14. International Activities
  15. Series 15. Publications
  16. Series 16. Scrapbooks
  17. Series 17. Reference Files
  18. Series 18. Howard Braucher
  19. Series 19. Thomas E. Rivers
  20. Series 20. American Institute of Park Executives (AIPE)
  21. Series 21. National Conference on State Parks (NCSP)
  22. Series 22. American Recreation Society (ARS)
  23. Series 23. National Park and Recreation Association (NRPA)
  24. Series 24. Merger Materials

Related Material

A complete set of Recreationmagazine (1907-1965) in bound volumes is in the journals collection of Social Welfare History Archives. Originally entitled Playground, it became Playground and Recreationin 1929 and then finally Recreationin 1931.

Researchers interested in recreation methodology and programs should also be aware of the Archives' holdings of records from settlement houses. These include, among others: the Henry Street Settlement(sw0058), United Neighborhood Houses of New York(sw0005), Hartley House(sw0018), and Hamilton Madison House(sw0012) in New York City; United South End Settlementsin Boston; Five Towns Community House(sw0011), Long Island, New York; and the Pillsbury Waite Neighborhood Center (sw0100) in Minneapolis. In addition, the Archives holds the records of the National Federation of Settlements and Neighborhood Centers (sw0001) and a pamphlet collection containing reports and publications from a large number of settlements.

National Recreation Association records
David Klaassen and Sally Ryan, revised by Linnea M. Anderson
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Describing Archives: A Content Standard
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Revision Statements

  • 8/23/2016: deleted extra dates fields
  • 2019: revised errors in box and folder information

Collecting Area Details

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