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Records of the YMCA of the City of New York

Identifier: Y.GNY.20


The materials in this collection are primarily related to the operations of the YMCA in Manhattan before the New York organization merged with the Brooklyn and Queens YMCA in 1957 and include later publications that document the role of the association in the history of the city. Later items include historical surveys and publications intended to emphasize the ongoing role of the YMCA in the life of the city. Areas of emphasis include branches, services to soldiers, early efforts to develop programs and structure, anniversary celebrations, programs and buildings. Numerous committee reports and meeting minutes provide a window into these operations. More recent materials also deal with the cessation of programs and the sale or lease of older YMCA buildings and other property. Also included in more recent materials are corporate and administrative records that include contracts, policy manuals, bylaws and financial reports.

The collection also documents the work of the New York YMCA during the Civil War. There is material related to the US Christian Commission and the Sanitary Commission as well as correspondence with and about individual soldiers and their families. The New York YMCA had several committees of its own dedicated to serving soldiers, including the Devotional Committee and the Hospital Committee. There is also material documenting war work during the two world wars. Included in the war-related material are documents focusing the establishment of branches in eastern Europe and the Soviet Union after World War I.

Also included in the collection are materials related to other organizations, especially the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice, founded in New York in 1876. The New York YMCA supported this organization in numerous ways until the 1880s, when the relationship became less institutional, although individual members continued to participate.

Much of the correspondence in this collection is from the period before 1946. R. R. McBurney is a major correspondent, as are founders and leaders of the New York organization such as Cephas Brainerd, James E. Stokes, Jr., William E. Dodge, Jr., Cleveland E. Dodge and many others.


  • Creation: 1852-1988
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1852-1946


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.


The YMCA was established in New York 1852 to provide young men new to the city a Christian alternative to the attractions of city life. Organized in the Mercer Street Presbyterian Church, the New York YMCA first operated from numerous rented facilities in lower Manhattan, including buildings at 659 Broadway, Astor Place, Waverly Place, Bible House, 161 Fifth Avenue and 3rd Avenue and 9th Street. In 1869, the New York YMCA moved into a large building constructed in the French Renaissance style. Thought to be the first purpose-built YMCA in the United States, the building was designed by notable church architect James Renwick, Jr. It included a large library and reading room, rooms for games, social parlors, a gymnasium, baths, a bowling alley, classrooms, lecture rooms and an auditorium. These features came to be standard at YMCAs throughout the country.

One of the most important events in the early history of the New York City YMCA was the appointment of Robert R. McBurney, first as librarian and later as secretary. Said to be the first paid YMCA secretary, McBurney was an immigrant from northern Ireland whose influence on the the development of the YMCA in New York was profound. For example, he helped the national headquarters of the YMCA of the USA locate permanently in New York; there was considerable overlap between the boards of the New York and national YMCA. McBurney was instrumental in developing the metropolitan concept of YMCAs that still operates today in large cities throughout the US. He organized and presided over early New York State conventions and reached out to influential and wealthy men in New York to support the work of the YMCA.

The New York YMCA, in part because of McBurney's leadership, played an important role in the development of local and national social welfare organizations, including the Sanitary Commission, founded in New York in 1861; the U. S. Christian Commission, established in the same year by northern YMCAs to help troops and prisoners of war; the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice, founded in 1876; and the White Cross Army, established in 1885 to promote personal purity among young men. The New York YMCA also supported and publicized the revivalistic work of evangelists such as Dwight L. Moody and Ira Sankey.

When McBurney died in 1898, the New York YMCA had more than a dozen branches, including those devoted to serving railroad workers, French and German-speaking immigrants and college students. Although the number of branches and the outreach programs changed to reflect shifting demographics and community needs, the YMCA in the 21st century continues to provide services to millions of New Yorkers. Over the years, speciality branches serving specific individuals such as soldiers and veterans closed; today, YMCA branches in New York City serve their communities as a whole.

During the early years of the YMCA in New York, the organization was also developing and expanding in Brooklyn and other boroughs. Founded in 1853, the Brooklyn Young Men's Christian Association merged with the YMCA of Queens in 1924 to form the Brooklyn-Queens Young Men's Christian Association. This organization merged with the YMCA of the City of New York in 1956 to form the YMCA of Greater New York.

(Information taken from The YMCA at 150: A History of the YMCA of Greater New York, 1852-2002 by Pamela Bayless, 2002; from An Event on Mercer Street, by Terry Donoghue, 1951; from After Fifty Years, 1902; and from the collection)


54.4 Cubic Feet (118 boxes)


Includes minutes, account books, scrapbooks, ephemera, correspondence, newspaper clippings, brochures and pamphlets, journals, committee reports and other materials that document the early history of the YMCA in New York City.


These documents are organized into the following sections:

  1. Administration.
  2. Branches.
  3. Construction of 23rd Street Building.
  4. Other Organizations.
  5. Programs.
  6. Revivals.
  7. Robert Ross McBurney.
  8. YMCA Centennial.
  9. Biographical Files
  10. Committee Reports and Correspondence.
  11. Miscellaneous Correspondence.
  12. Miscellaneous Historical Materials.
  13. Printed Matter.
  14. Scrapbooks.
  15. War Work

Physical Location

See Detailed Description section for box listing.


See also the McBurney YMCA Records, separately cataloged in the Kautz Family YMCA Archives >> Go to the inventory

Note on Language in the Collection and this Guide

Please note that some of the descriptive language found in this collection guide reflects and re-uses the words and ideas of the people and organizations that created the material. Historical records represent the opinions and actions of their creators and the society in which they were produced. This historical language was retained in cases where we believe it provides important context about the materials, is a Library of Congress Subject Heading, or is the official title of an item, organization, or event. As such, please be aware that this material and the guide describing it contains racial and other language and/or imagery that is outdated, offensive and/or harmful.

Processing Information:

Catalog Record ID number: 5463356. Includes some unprocessed material.

An Inventory of Its Records
Finding aid prepared by Louise Merriam.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Collecting Area Details

Contact The Kautz Family YMCA Archives Collecting Area