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World Alliance of YMCAs records

Identifier: Y.USA.42


Reports, correspondence, histories, financial records, newspaper clippings, pamphlets, bound books, posters, newsletters, committee minutes, directories, and notes of the World Alliance of YMCAs, a confederation of the national councils of YMCAs from around the world. Considerable portions of the collection include reports, minutes, and correspondence from conventions and committees of the World Alliance. The material covers subjects such as leadership training, program proposals and evaluations, grants and endowments, youth programs, religious education, development work, refugee work, and war work with POWs. Areas of special interest include histories of the Paris Basis and George Williams, World Alliance reports on Apartheid, reports of the World’s Committee from the American and British zones of Germany following World War II, as well as reports documenting the World Alliance Refugee Services. Information concerning interdenominal work with Catholics, as well as global political issues, can be found within correspondence documents - especially in folders relating to the Executive Committee and the “World Alliance International Affairs” folder. Information on later YMCA programs, such as HIV/AIDS education and the Challenge 21 program, can be found in promotional handouts and program reports.


  • 1853-2001
  • Majority of material found within ( 1880s-1980s)


Language of Materials


Use of Materials:

This collection is protected by the Copyright Law of the United States (Title 17, U.S. Code). It is the user's responsibility to verify copyright, ownership, and to obtain all the necessary permissions prior to the reproduction, publication, or other use of any portion of these materials.


Following the founding of the first YMCA in London in 1844, George Williams and the other founders of the YMCA began to expand their movement throughout England, Scotland, and Ireland. Over the next ten years, the YMCA had spread to North America, Western Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and India. In order to connect these distant movements, a man named Henry Dunant – the secretary of the Geneva YMCA – proposed the idea of organizing an international organization to coordinate the program and mission of the YMCA. Dunant’s proposal led to the first YMCA World’s Conference in Paris in 1855, which was attended by 99 delegates from nine different nations. The conference led to the adoption of the Paris Basis, which stated the guiding Christian mission and purpose of the YMCA. Importantly, the delegates established the Central International Committee – the forerunner of the World’s Alliance of Young Men’s Christian Associations.

During the eighth World’s Conference in Geneva, Switzerland in 1878, the leaders of the YMCA contemplated how to establish effective international ties within the expanding YMCA movement. It was decided that a permanent committee was needed to gather statistics, to implement resolutions of the World’s Conferences, and to maintain correspondence with the diffuse YMCAs of the world. As a result, the delegates created a formal structure for the Central International Committee, which established the World’s Alliance in Geneva and appointed a Swiss man named Charles Fermaud to serve as the General Secretary of the World’s Alliance, a post he held for the next 34 years. The 1878 World’s Conference established the first permanent ties between the central governing body of the YMCA and the national organizations of the world.

In 1888, the World’s Alliance sent Luther D. Wishard on a two-year tour of the world to promote the YMCA among students and young people in cities in Japan, China, India, and Ceylon. Wishard’s tour helped to spread enthusiasm for the YMCA and prepared the way for the arrival of foreign secretaries. As YMCA associations continued to be established around the world, national organizations were admitted to the World’s Alliance based on their acceptance of the Paris Basis. Membership in the World’s Alliance allowed a national organization to have representatives serve on the central legislative bodies of the YMCA. In 1891, the World’s Alliance adopted its first constitution, and the Central International Committee was renamed the World’s Committee in 1900 to avoid confusion with the International Committee of the YMCA of North America (the governing body for the movement in the United States and Canada).

Nevertheless, tensions arose between the World’s Committee and the International Committee of North America over the role of each organization in the area of international work. The North Americans were particularly active in overseas service, and at times it seemed as if there were two World’s Committees – with the more energetic organization headquartered in New York rather than Geneva. In the early years of the 1900s, the World’s Committee clarified its international role by stating that it had the responsibility of coordinating with national organizations around the world; however it would not play a direct role in the overseas missionary field. During World War I, the World’s Alliance held a loosely defined role in war work. Following the war, the World’s Alliance incorporated emergency reconstruction work into its mission and played a central role in strengthening associations throughout Europe.

The World’s Alliance amended its constitution in 1926 and added four new committees to focus on specific areas, including boy’s work, business operations, research, and young men’s work. In 1932, the World’s Alliance became embroiled in controversy after sending a message to the leader of the National Council of Japan to express the YMCA’s worry over the Japanese military’s invasion of Manchuria. The Japanese were outraged and threatened to withdraw from the World’s Alliance. As a result, the World’s Alliance established a policy concerning the expression of political opinions. They held that the YMCA had a moral responsibility to present factual information to the world movement when political issues of great importance impacting young people arose. During the early 1930s, the World’s Alliance also addressed the issue of Catholic participation in the YMCA by establishing a set of principles with Orthodox and Catholic Church leaders to promote interfaith cooperation. The YMCA pledged to allow Orthodox and Catholic Christians to hold leadership positions in their respective nations, while also agreeing to avoid proselytizing abroad.

The World’s Alliance played a more defined role in war work during the Second World War. It was agreed that YMCA war work with troops was the responsibility of the national organizations, while work of a more international nature – such as with prisoners of war – was the duty of the World’s Alliance. The World’s Alliance began its long-running Refugee Services program in 1945 to aid displaced civilians in Germany. In addition, the World’s Alliance was awarded consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council in 1947 to aid with issues relating to youth and development.

At the YMCA’s World Centennial Conference in Paris in 1955, several significant changes were made to the administration of the World’s Alliance via the adoption of a new constitution. It was decided that the newly named “World Alliance” would no longer wait for World’s Conferences to make legislative action, instead providing governing authority to a World Council (formerly the World’s Committee) composed of representatives appointed by each national organization in proportion to its total number of members. The World Council convened every three to four years, while the Executive Committee maintained governing authority between sessions. World and area conferences continued to be held in order to offer consultation and inspiration to the world movement. Charles D. Sherman of Liberia was elected President of the World Alliance, becoming the first person from a developing nation to hold the position. Sherman served for eight years and made strides in advancing the YMCA’s fight against racism, among many other initiatives.

After noting a lack of delegates under the age of thirty at the World Council in 1965, the World Alliance made efforts to increase youth representation by establishing a young members’ forum and allowing one hundred youth delegates to represent their nation at the World Council held in Nottingham in 1969. The World Alliance continued to redefine itself, establishing a nuanced interpretation of the Paris Basis known as the Kampala Principles during the 1973 World Council held in Kampala, Uganda. The new principles maintained that the YMCA held an open membership policy, including members irrespective of faith, race, age, sex, or social condition. The Kampala Principles note that member nations of the World Alliance should uphold values relevant to the modern character of the YMCA through the promotion of equal opportunity and justice, love and understanding, societies and institutions that support honesty and creativity, as well as programs that value the depth of the Christian experience and the development of the person as a whole.

During the 1980s and 1990s, the World Alliance supported a wide array of YMCA programs that increasingly focused on human rights and development work. In addition to placing more emphasis on leadership development abroad, the World Alliance addressed issues such as Apartheid, nuclear disarmament, racism, and sustainable development. In 1998, the World Alliance adopted Challenge 21 at the 14th World Council in 1998. Challenge 21 established an updated YMCA mission for the twenty-first century, including programs that target challenges such as HIV/AIDS, gender inequality, war, and globalization. In 2010, the World Alliance represented 125 member nations with a total of over 45 million members.

Historical information largely adapted from the collection, as well as from World Service: A History of the Foreign Work and World Service of the Young Men's Christian Associations of the United States and Canada(New York: Association Press, 1957) by Kenneth LaTourette. Additional information was collected from


39 Cubic Feet (39 boxes)


Reports, correspondence, and other records of the World Alliance of YMCAs, a confederation of the national councils of YMCAs from around the world.

Physical Location

See Detailed Description section for box listing.

Processing Information:

Processed as part of Fast Processing Project I, 2008. Material has been minimally processed. Folder descriptions may be general and material has not been organized into series.

Catalog Record ID number: 9973356281001701

An Inventory of Its Records
Finding aid prepared by Lara Friedman-Shedlov and Cody Haro.
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Collecting Area Details

Contact The Kautz Family YMCA Archives Collecting Area