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Bowery YMCA records

Identifier: Y.GNY.2


The Bowery branch YMCA records consist of the Board of Managers minutes (1880-1923), board member biographies, development and fundraising information, including specific donor information, materials relating to the Penny and Five Cent Cafeterias, Studies and Reports on the Branch's programs, and materials regarding the merger with the Vocational Service Center.

Also included is historical information, general programming materials, and facilities information.


  • 1876-1946
  • Majority of material found within ( 1930-1946).


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.


Organized in 1872, the Bowery Branch in New York City, also known as the East Third Street Branch, had an unbroken period of service for the unemployed and homeless for 75 years. The Bowery, a riverfront neighborhood on Manhattan's Lower East Side, was burdened with significant poverty, prostitution, gambling, drug abuse and drunkenness in its crowded docks and streets. Morris K. Jesup, president of the New York City YMCA, saw a need for the Y’s services in the troubled area and took a personal interest in the creation of the Bowery YMCA. In 1872 the YMCA opened its first location in a small building that formerly housed a saloon and gambling hall. The original location offered a reading room, religious services, and modest entertainment alternatives quite different from the activities right outside its doors.

The original plan did not include full-scale relief; instead the plan was to follow the earlier Ys’ examples with a small reading room, religious services, and the occasional musical performance. The economic depression of 1873 changed these plans and the Bowery Branch saw tremendous growth in its facilities and the services it offered over the next several decades as it responded to the great needs of men in the area.

Early on the branch experimented with providing free or nearly free meals. The experiment was so successful that it became a permanent feature of the Bowery’s services. The innovation continued with the opening of dormitories. The Bowery offered the first bed service of any kind in New York’s YMCA. These short-term housing programs would go on to form a cornerstone of the New York Y’s services.

The years following the Great War (1914-1918) were challenging ones for the Associations in New York. The stock market crash of 1929 and ensuing Great Depression brought misery on a grand scale to the city. Prayer revivals were no longer panaceas for New Yorkers’ pain, as they had been during hard economic times in the nineteenth century. By 1931, city churches were increasingly turning to the Bowery YMCA to handle their share of relief for homeless men. That year the Branch served 1,345,000 meals in its restaurants and provided 144,540 lodging nights. The Bowery Y was not just giving handouts, however; it managed to secure jobs for more than 1,500 men.

For many years the Bowery YMCA had been an important charity in New York. Indeed, it was deemed the “Ritz-Carlton of lodging houses.” But changes brought about by the New Deal undercut and even supplanted its mission. Having lost business in its restaurant and 5-cent cafeteria to government food programs, the Branch was running a $75,000 annual deficit by 1938. Its room rentals were also declining, a result of lower demand on the now less densely populated Lower East Side. The public had grown less inclined to support its mission-style services for the poor, preferring to fund hospitals and medical services and advanced education. “Nobody likes to pay for a dead horse,” a Branch memo noted.

The Bowery Branch revived somewhat during the war years. In 1940 its Penny Cafeteria, opened with help from the New York Community Trust, served more than 9,000 meals in its first week, and nearly 50,000 the first month. After World War II, the branch merged with the newly opened Vocational Services Branch on East 40th Street. The Third Street building was sold to the City of New York in 1947, and continued as a major center for homeless men. The Vocational Services Branch continued many services formerly rendered at "Old Bowery."

Bayless, Pamela. The YMCA at 150: A History of the YMCA of Greater New York, 1852-2002. New York: YMCA of Greater New York, 2002.

Donoghue, T. 1951. An Event on Mercer Street.


6.8 Cubic Feet (20 boxes)


Collected records of the Bowery Branch of the New York YMCA, from its early history to its merger with the YMCA Vocational Service Center in 1945.


These documents are organized into the following series:

  1. Board of Managers.
  2. History and General.
  3. Financial.
  4. Programs and Services.
  5. Human Resources/Personnel.
  6. Studies and Reports.
  7. Buildings and Facilities.
  8. Merger with Vocational Service Center.

Physical Location

See Detailed Description section for box listing.


Vocational Service Center, separately cataloged at

Processing Information:

Processed by: Todd S. Mahon, June, 2004.

Catalog Record ID number: 4509672

An Inventory of Its Records
Finding aid prepared by Todd Mahon.
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