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YMCA urban work and Urban Group records

Identifier: Y.USA.59


Includes correspondence, minutes, reports, program proposals, area and population studies, financial documents, pamphlets, maps, newspaper articles and other records of the North American YMCA’s urban work. The majority of this collection is focused from the 1950s through the 1970s, when the urban population of the United States grew rapidly. Major topics include race relations and institutional inequality, youth services and outreach, prevention of drug use and crime, war work and war affected persons, human services programs, varying social conditions in the city, experimental programs, and the integration of international programs into urban work. Among the programs are urban renewal, the revitalization of dead and ailing YMCAs, the development of hub cities, work in the inner cities, the metropolitanization of the United States, 3 urban metropolitan experimental clusters, the development of YMCA metro centers and war work in cities. The African Crisis Program/Fund, UNICEF, YMCA World Development, and Building Programs Abroad are also discussed in regards to city associations’ assistance with international aid work. The YMCA’s North American Urban Group (NAUG), Urban Action and Program Division (UAPD), and Urban Action Commission are the primary authors of the collection.

Race relations is a major topic of this collection. Material includes several reports, studies, and a conference documenting race relations in the city and in the YMCA itself, institutional racism and the social, and economic conditions of African Americans in the United States. YMCA reports and correspondence involving the discussion of race relations within the collection are often titled “Urban Crisis.” John Jay College in Midtown Manhattan, New York, George William College of Williams Bay, Wisconsin and the Maud Hill Family Foundation are all involved in the confrontation of this issue. The development of the Black and Non-White YMCA Laymen and Staff or BAN-WYS and the BAN-WYS Commission on the Survival of Black Associations, is discussed throughout correspondence and reports. Reports within the collection also mention that many African American YMCAs became meeting places and rallying points for the civil rights movement. Native American work and Hispanic program development are also discussed briefly.

Youth services and outreach documented within the collection includes sports programs, discussion of teaching in depressed areas, youth work training, and Hi-Y and Tri-Y clubs, among other services, as well as a 1969 World Youth Conference to identify the issues pending in the 1970s. The Youth Basketball Association (YBA), created in the mid 1970s by the national YMCA and the NBA Players Association to stress skills and teamwork over winning at any cost, is mentioned in the collection. Material on youth employment programs focuses on unemployed high school dropouts, including one named JOBSTART in the 1980s. A juvenile justice task force, set up to outline necessary programs for maintaining stability in urban youth, community drug programs, and high school draft education programs are also mentioned within the collection, as is one of its projects, the National Youth Project using Mini-Bikes (NYPUM).

The collection also covers administrative aspects of the YMCA’s urban work. The Chicago YMCA’s Mutual Fire Insurance Company, a company that insured buildings for the YMCA in all areas of the United States of America is briefly discussed throughout the collection.


  • 1929-2004
  • Majority of material found within ( 1950s-1970s)


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 movement in North America was organized initially in the city of Boston and almost simultaneously in Montreal, Canada in late 1851. Early on it was decided that city associations required unique structure and programs in order to assist their populations in a manner that best suited their unique needs. The North American YMCA began this urban-focused work as early as 1885 with studies and reports attempting to classify problems common to highly populated areas.

The New York City Association revised its constitution in 1887, giving its board of directors oversight of all seven branches of the organization within the city. This concept of the metropolitan organizational scheme was adopted by many of the associations in larger American cities, including Philadelphia, Brooklyn, St. Louis, and Chicago. By 1901 there were ten Metropolitan YMCAs, carrying one-seventh of the work of the entire movement and owning one-third of its property. They employed more than 200 professional workers and their executives were among the most influential leaders.

The 1910 Convention granted metropolitan boards two delegates each for convention representation. The next year metropolitan general secretaries organized their own professional society, the Department of City Associations. The group, which was directed towards all associations in cities above five thousand in population, met monthly to vote on the reorganization of sub committees and to consolidate regional department offices and an enlarged executive committee.

The end of the first world war prompted a period of reflection and self-examination with the YMCA. A bureau of surveys was established and a commission on African American work was formed. The City General Secretaries’ Association was created in February 1920 to unite urban secretaries to protect their city-specific interests. Their aim was to coordinate and better utilize preexisting YMCA departments and to develop programs specializing in administrative and business solutions tailored to help city associations handle their tasks.

In the 1940s many associations developed long-range studies, held laymen’s retreats, conferences and workshops to decipher the needs of their communities. Assistance was also available from city planning commissions, research departments of community councils, the United States Census Bureau, the Chamber of Commerce, and from local industry and universities. By the late 1960s major metropolitan YMCAs were experiencing tremendous growth and were providing increased services to people. Many business practices and systems that were in place to handle these services were not able to keep pace with the increased volume. Changing roles were required of the clerical and professional personnel. The YMCA needed to centralize and standardize supportive systems while decentralizing decisions, procedures and policies. The Urban Action and Program Division (UAPD) developed a committee design which assured the decentralization of organizational power and responsibility through better utilization of human resources. They also supported the development and implementation of YMCA resource centers and Management Service Centers throughout North American regions. The UAPD, as a whole, shared in financial development and reinforced a total program impact through advocacy and interpretation.

The Civil Rights movement of the United States or the “urban crisis,” as it was termed throughout the North American YMCA, required the YMCA to rethink certain policies and redefine its stance in many areas. In 1967, racial discrimination was banned in all YMCAs. A conference of the Black and Non-White YMCA Secretaries (BAN-WYS) took place in Atlanta Georgia, in 1968, in order to confront YMCA leaders of all levels about the YMCAs practices with its non-white staff members. A racial integration plan was developed by the National Board of YMCAs in 1968, to accommodate interracial staffing and program development towards a fuller achievement of racial equality in the YMCA. The Urban decision making bodies were restructured in composition to be more representative in age, race, sex and community influence. The YMCA Urban Action and Program Division also collated a process of program and priority development in the 1970s with the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

The North American YMCAs Urban Group was designed to make societal changes through the YMCA’s city associations financial development, administration and fiscal management, and manpower development. They began an Inter-City Consultant Program in the early 1970s to make use of the YMCA staffs variety of skills while maintaining a fair approach to the sharing of cost for resources between city YMCAs. The Urban Group also developed hub cities, links in national and regional support systems that worked at upgrading services and provided additional services where needed.

Urban YMCAs in the mid-1980s assisted with fundraising campaigns and the dissemination of information for the African Crisis program, an assistance effort begun by the International Division of YMCAs, and governmental and non-governmental relief agencies. A gender and opportunity task force was also created to address issues like salary differences between Caucasian men and minorities, primarily women and Hispanic people, working in the YMCA. Youth employment was also a major issue in the 1980s and 1990s including a youth employment program focusing on unemployed high school dropouts named JOBSTART. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s the YMCA continued to work to adapt with the ever changing urban communities.

Historical Information largely adapted and quoted from History of the YMCA in North America(Association Press, 1951) by C. Howard Hopkins, and from the collection.


5.8 Cubic Feet (7 boxes)


Correspondence, minutes, reports, program proposals, area and population studies, financial documents, pamphlets, maps, newspaper articles and other records of the North American YMCA’s urban work, focusing on topics including race relations and institutional inequality, youth services and outreach, prevention of drug use and crime, war work and war affected persons, human services programs, varying social conditions in the city, experimental programs, and the integration of international programs into urban work.

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.


Additional material related to BAN-WYS and interracial issues within the YMCA movement can be found in the Interracial Programs Records (Y.USA.2), separately cataloged in the Kautz Family YMCA Archives.

Additional material related to NYPUM and the Hi-Y and Tri-Y programs can be found in the Boys and Youth Work Records (Y.USA.40), separately cataloged in the Kautz Family YMCA Archives.

Processing Information:

Processed as part of Fast Processing Project II, August 2009, as collection FP72. Material has been minimally processed. Folder descriptions may be general and material has not been grouped into series.

Additional material from Urban Group added February 2018 and entire collection rearranged and a folder list added.

Accession number Y20150320 added May 2022.

Catalog Record ID number: 9973937864901701

An Inventory of Its Records
Finding aid prepared by Lara Friedman-Shedlov and Melanie Doherty.
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