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Robert Weidensall papers

Identifier: Y.USA.23


The collection includes both personal papers and records reflecting Weidensall's professional activities in the YMCA. Personal papers consist primarily of two major sub-series: biographical material on Weidensall by himself and others, and diaries and travelogs which cover his life from college to up to his death and document his extensive travels around the country organizing for the YMCA. Travelogs from his trip around the world (1905-1907), given to him as a gift for his work, are also found in this sub-series. Also included are mementos, clippings, Weidensall's will and other records concerning his funeral and the disposition of his estate, and considerable material preserved in conjunction with Weidensall's 50th and 80th birthday celebrations.

Records relating to Weidensall's professional life include annual reports from the 1870s and 1880s written by Weidensall to the International Committee, which document his work during those years, subscription books and other material relating to county (i.e. rural and small-town) and state work, various pamphlets, and other material. Additional information on Weidensall's YMCA work is found in the extensive series of business correspondence. This correspondence spans nearly the whole of his career, though the bulk dates from the later years when he was presumably more conscious of the historical importance of the work he was doing. Correspondence with several more well known individuals in the organization have been separated to their own folders.

A smaller sub-series of personal correspondence includes letters to and from his parents and siblings, as well as friends. Of particular note are letters Weidensall's brother, Jacob, who was involved in the Civil War.

The histories series consists of bound volumes of works by Weidensall which document his state, county and college work. Also included are collections of Weidensall's letters and related material from his trip to visit YMCAs around the world during the period from August 1905 to January 1907.


  • 1844-1940
  • Majority of material found within ( 1860-1920).


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.


Robert Weidensall was born in Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania on April 20, 1836. He graduated from Gettysburg College intending to be a minister. He attended seminary in Gettysburg, but was unable to complete his studies because of ill health. After teaching school for the better part of two years, he went to Washington, D.C. in the spring of 1863, where he found work as a carpenter in the quartermaster's department of the army . Later that year he joined the railroad construction corps, serving six months with the Army of the Potomac and nearly a year with the army of Cumberland and Tennessee. In 1866, after working for a few months at blacksmithing in the Pennsylvania oil region, he returned to Hollidaysburg, where he helped to organize a YMCA. That same year he went to Omaha, Nebraska, where he was a superintendent in Union Pacific Railroad's car shops. While there he became active in the Omaha YMCA and was elected its vice president in 1868. Later that year he was made a YMCA employee as its first field secretary to organize YMCAs along the Union Pacific line.

In the course of 54 years of service, "Uncle Robert", as he was affectionately called, pioneered the movement in schools and colleges, proposed general secretaries associations and training schools for secretaries, canvassed the south, and developed state work in the Midwest. Rural work was a special object of his attention. Weidensall proposed and laid the foundation for successful county work and organized the first rural association in DuPage, Illinois in 1873. Weidensall died on September 13, 1922 in Yutan, Nebraska at the age of 86.


23.9 Cubic Feet (59 boxes)


Papers, primarily correspondence, diaries, and travelogs, of Robert Weidensall documenting his 54 year career organizing YMCAs, including state, county, college and railroad work. The collection includes correspondence from Weidensall's brother, Jacob, who was involved in the Civil War; as well as many local YMCA leaders documenting the evolution of state, county and college work of the YMCA.


These documents are organized into the following sections:

  1. Personal Papers.
  2. Professional Materials.
  3. Correspondence.
  4. Histories.


An item level inventory of the portions collection transferred from the YMCA Historical Library in New York, can be found on file at the Kautz Family YMCA Archives.

History of the Collection:

The bulk of the collection was originally compiled by Weidensall himself, who began to copy out important letters and documents with the aid of a stenographer. Weidensall donated this material to Jacob T. Bowne Historical Library of the YMCA, originally housed at the Springfield Training School. The collection was later moved, along with the Historical Library, to the YMCA headquarters in New York. In 1985, the collection came to the University of Minnesota when the Kautz Family YMCA Archives were established there. Additional material in this collection was formerly cataloged as part of the YMCA Biographical Files.

Processing Information:

Processed by: John Wrathall, Summer 1991; Chan Harries and Sara Ulman, February 2005.

Catalog Record ID number: 4501200

An Inventory of His Papers
Finding aid prepared by Chan Harries, Sara Ulman, and Lara Friedman-Shedlov.
Language of description
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Collecting Area Details

Contact The Kautz Family YMCA Archives Collecting Area