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John R. Mott papers

Identifier: Y.USA.13


The papers include correspondence covering a wide range of YMCA topics: Mott's travels, the administration of foreign and student work, World War I and II relief work, meetings and conferences. Also included are Mott's reports on his travels, especially his 1895-1896 world tour; pamphlets authored by Mott; correspondence concerning the Mott Fellowship Fund, which was established after his death and reports and lists of Mott's papers in other repositories.


  • 1892-1976
  • Majority of material found within ( 1917-1955).


Language of Materials


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John Raleigh Mott was born on May 25, 1865 in Livingston Manor, New York to John Stitt and Elmira Dodge Mott. John R. was the third of four children, having two older and one younger sister. The family soon moved to Postville, Iowa, where the elder Mott prospered as a retail lumber and hardware merchant and became mayor. In this conservative, ethnically diverse environment, young Mott grew to mid-adolescence in a home warmed by Methodist "holiness," which faith he confessed. At 16, he entered Upper Iowa University as a preparatory student, transferring to Cornell University when he was a sophomore. He soon underwent a transformation that directed him toward a career in religion: to train for it, he adopted an almost ascetic discipline of study, exercise, prayer, meditation and Bible study.

Never ordained, the form of his lay ministry was shaped in the student YMCA. In 1886, at Dwight Moody's summer conference for college men, Mott was caught up in the enthusiasm for foreign missions that became the Student Volunteer Movement (SVM). Elected president of the Cornell YMCA in his junior year, he made it the world's largest and most active student association. A history major, he graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1888.

An assignment that fall for "one year" of travel for the intercollegiate YMCAs of the U.S. and Canada lengthened into a lifetime commitment. Enduring as much as 7,000 miles by rail in one month and up to 40,000 miles a year, he developed consummate administrative skills and finesse in obtaining financial support. In 1890 he became senior student secretary. By 1895 the movement had virtually doubled in membership and its impact upon 500 campuses was a national phenomenon. In his first year as student secretary, he was given the executive direction of the SVM, integrating it into the Y program. He initiated and planned the quadrennial convention that began in 1891.

In 1891 Mott married Leila Ada White, an 1886 graduate of the College of Wooster (Ohio), who was then teaching English at Monticello Seminary, a girls' preparatory school in Godfrey, Illinois. She became his confidant, critic, editor and traveling companion abroad, their partnership enriching their lives for more than 60 years. Four children were born to the couple, who lived in a New York suburb during the forty years of Mott's most intense activity. During the summers, the family vacationed in Lac des Îles, Québec.

From his undergraduate days, Mott had shared the dream of his senior colleague, Luther Wishard of a world organization of Christian students. In 1891, Mott made the first of more than one hundred Atlantic crossings to study the movement in Great Britain. With the aid of the British, the World Student Christian Federation was organized in 1895. Beginning in Europe, Mott canvassed the globe to form constituent units. By 1897, ten national member bodies were established in India/Ceylon, Australia, China and Japan.

Mott's first book, Strategic Points in the World's Conquest, reported this first international journey and established Mott as an ecumenical statesman. Now in demand on the campuses of western Europe, North America and mission lands, his evangelistic visits emphasized dedication to Christ, personal purity and missionary service. Successor to Moody in this mission, his message commanded respect by its logic and power of presentation. His addresses, which were never called sermons, although used many times, were delivered without notes and tailored to each audience. In fifty years, he wrote or edited a score of books and hundreds of articles, pamphlets, reports and contributions to books by others not only on religious, missionary, ecumenical or organizational themes, but also international affairs.

In 1901, the direction of the foreign expansion of the North American YMCAs was added to Mott's portfolio: Christian principles were expected to counteract the ill effects of imperialism. On behalf of the YMCA, the SVM and the WSCF, he circled the globe again in 1901-1902, to Australia in 1903, to South Africa and South America in 1906 and to the Orient in 1907, when the WCSF conference was held in Tokyo.

Mott reached the summit of ecumenical leadership as chairman of the Edinburgh World Missionary conference in 1910. His drive was indicated by the refusal of many posts, including president at Oberlin College, deanships at Yale Divinity School, executive posts at the Federal Council of Churches and ambassador to China.

The outbreak of World War I redirected him to prisoner of war and other relief. In 1915 he became the General Secretary of the American YMCA and as chairman of its National War Work Council, offered President Wilson its resources for service to fighting men and prisoners, a worldwide enterprise that enlisted 26,000 men and women. In 1916, he served on Wilson's Mexican Commission and the next year was a member of the Root Mission to Russia, becoming its best informed source and thereby influencing Wilson's policies. Much of the post-war era was occupied in re-building relationships in the WSCF, the world YMCA and missionary movements as well as relief, prisoner and repatriation efforts in the Orthodox lands of eastern Europe, where he laid foundations for later Protestant-Orthodox rapprochements.

In the 1920s Mott relinquished direction of the SVM and the WSCF to assume chairmanship of the International Missionary Council after its founding in 1921. He initiated or obtained support for the Missionary Research Library, the Institute for Social and Religious Research, the Layman's Inquiry, and agricultural missions.

Mott retired from the North American YMCA in 1928. During the 1930s he traveled around the world for the IMC and the World YMCA, of which he became president in 1926. In 1946, Mott was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his "earnest and undiscourageable effort to weave together all nations, all races and all religious communions in friendliness, in fellowship and in cooperation."

On January 31, 1955, John Mott passed away in Orlando. His memorial service was held at the Washington National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., where his body lies in the Saint Joseph of Arimathea chapel.


4.4 Cubic Feet (11 boxes)


Papers of John R. Mott, a dominant figure in the YMCA of the early 20th century, documenting, in part, his work with the North American YMCA.

Digitized Materials

All of the contents of this collection have been digitized and are available through UMedia at

Links to the digitized contents are included in each folder listing in this archival collection guide.


The following related materials are separately catalogued in the Kautz Family YMCA Archives:

YMCA Armed Services Department World War I records, 1910-1970: describes the work of the National War Work Council, which John Mott headed.

Fisher, Galen Merriam. John R. Mott : Architect of Co-operation and Unity.

Hopkins, Charles Howard. John R. Mott, 1865-1955 : A Biography.

Mackie, Robert C. Layman Extraordinary : John R. Mott, 1865-1955.

Mathews, Basil Joseph. John R. Mott : World Citizen.

Rouse, Ruth. John R. Mott : An Appreciation.

Smith, Harold Charles. A Survey of the Educational and Religious Philosophies of John Raleigh Mott as Exhibited in Certain Writings.

Woods, Roger D.(Roger Dale). The World of Thought of John R. Mott

The following related materials are available at other archival repositories:

John Raleigh Mott Papers. Yale Divinity School Library Special Collections.

Processing Information:

Processed by: Chan Harries, August 2004.

Catalog Record ID number: 4451821

Material in this collection was formerly cataloged as part of the YMCA Biographical Files.

An Inventory of his papers
Finding aid prepared by Chan Harries.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
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Collecting Area Details

Contact The Kautz Family YMCA Archives Collecting Area