Skip to main content

YMCA international work administrative records

Identifier: Y.USA.9-1


The records of the international administrative files range in date from 1865 to 1999 and document the development and administration of the YMCA's Foreign Work Department, later known as the World Service and then the International Division. The bulk of the records were created from the 1960s through the 1990s and are primarily written in English. The collection contains numerous types of material, including reports, correspondence, telegrams, minutes, agendas, financial records and budgets, fundraising records, newsletters, promotional material, posters, photographs, drawings, blueprints, maps, postcards, scrapbooks, bound volumes, and some artifacts.

Several sections within the collection cover the governing bodies of the YMCA's international work. They include reports, minutes, and committees of the International Committee, the Executive Committee, the International Board, the Foreign Committee of the US and Canada, the World Service, the Planning and Review Committee, and the International Division. Information on cooperation with other nonprofit organizations, program proposals and evaluations, and budgeting and some fundraising reports are included within these sections as well.

The collection also contains several sections on finances and fundraising. The material includes Program and Budget Committee minutes and workbooks; Foreign Department budgets; grants from corporations, individuals, and governments; and budgets from several associations in China. Material relating to the YMCA's Capital Assistance Program, the Buildings for Brotherhood Program, and the records of the Buildings and Capital Needs Committee are included as well. Other sections include documents from the Carnegie Corporation; the financial development of Ireland, Italy, and Jamaica; and the financial development of Japan.

Personnel records can also be found within the administrative files. These include correspondence, reports and other material created by YMCA officials, such as Steve Hayes, Frank Kiehne, Dan Tyler, Hector Caselli, and Muriel Ritter. Personal budgeting reports, salaries, and Foreign Department and World Service staff manuals are also included. Card catalogs of World Service staff and secretaries can be found within the collection as well.

Information on training and education are included within the collection. Educational material ranges from information on peace, physical education, refugees, religion, and economics. The section concerning education and training also includes training material for volunteers from foundations working in partnership with the YMCA, such as ATandT, the Kellogg Foundation, and the Rockefeller Foundation. Information concerning technological education and collaboration with Apple Computers is also included. Material on intermovement collaboration, exchange programs, and international conferences can be found as well. The collection also comprises another section devoted to the International Education and Training Files.

Another section within the collection is devoted to publicity, newsletters, and published material on YMCA international work. The section includes a chronological assortment of publicity campaign material dating from the 1880s to 1979. In addition, the section includes copies of the "YMCA World Service Reporter," along with other newsletters and publications.

The collection also includes material concerning YMCA policy studies and World Service program evaluations. A significant portion of the section is devoted to the International Division World Service Policy Study conducted from 1961 to 1962, which evaluated YMCA operations on a country-by-country basis. The section also includes material on the reorganization of Foreign Work in 1931, as well as other YMCA international policy studies dating back to the 1920s.

International Development work conducted by the YMCA from the 1970s to the 1990s is included in the administrative records as well. Material includes correspondence, reports, program evaluations, and information on development conferences and committees. Other items within the section detail YMCA cooperation with the World Bank, government agencies, and nonprofit organizations. Another section within the collection details intermovement collaboration in development work.

The collection also includes several miscellaneous sections that detail a variety of YMCA international activities. These include material on childcare, world camps, workshops, and youth exchange programs.


  • Creation: 1865-1999
  • Creation: Majority of material found within ( 1960s-1990s)


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.


From the founding of the YMCA, the leaders of the American and British movements believed in the idea of universal Christian brotherhood and the power of their evangelical mission to transcend national boundaries. In 1886, the initial steps towards the organization of an international movement were begun at the first Student Christian Conference at Mount Hermon, Massachusetts, where a group of one hundred students signed a pledge to participate in volunteer work in foreign countries. One of these students was John R. Mott, the future general secretary of the YMCA's International Committee.

The conference at Mount Hermon, in addition to requests for assistance from missionaries in India, led YMCA leaders to organize the International Convention in Philadelphia in 1889, which would formally establish the basis of YMCA international work. It was agreed that the YMCA's International Committee (the governing body for YMCA work in the United States and Canada) should work to establish associations staffed by trained secretaries in foreign lands. These fraternal secretaries would help the associations to become self-sustaining, self-governing, and self-propagating; secretaries were to help acquire buildings, recruit and train native staff, and perform special educational and administrative duties. In 1889, a subcommittee was organized to oversee international work, which was known as the Foreign Department or the Foreign Committee.

On October 3rd, 1889, two Americans, John T. Swift and David McConaughy, set sail to become the first YMCA secretaries to serve abroad. Swift was sent to Japan, while McConaughy was assigned to India. The YMCA also sent Luther D. Wishard on a three-year tour of the world to investigate the possibilities of future international expansion. In addition, John R. Mott was sent on a tour of existing YMCAs abroad from 1895 to 1896 in order to stimulate interest in the movement. By 1900, eighteen YMCA secretaries were serving in India, Japan, Brazil, China, and Ceylon. The movement gained popularity at such a rate that requests for fraternal secretaries quickly outpaced the existing funds – demand from associations in China and India was particularly pronounced.

YMCA international work continued to flourish during the first decade of the twentieth century, with 106 fraternal secretaries serving in fourteen nations and Puerto Rico by 1910. Conferences on foreign work were held, and the YMCA organized a publication known as Foreign Mail to publicize the international mission of the organization. Importantly, YMCA international work was successful in developing native leadership; by the end of the decade, about one hundred native secretaries were working in YMCA associations around the world.

The role of the YMCA abroad continued to expand, and the organization became to be seen as an aid to national welfare. In 1916, YMCAs in India launched the National Rural Development project, which provided agricultural, economic, and educational opportunities in rural areas of the country. A similar program was established in Uruguay. During World War I, the YMCA was credited with serving six million men in camps, hospitals, and prisons, while assisting another twenty million on the battlefield. By 1918, the YMCA supported 188 fraternal secretaries, while another 435 native secretaries were working in associations around the world.

The postwar era came with changes for the international work of the YMCA. The movement shifted from missionary-driven evangelism to a have a greater focus on social welfare and departmentalized specializations, giving attention to physical activities, health, education, and boys' work. As buildings were erected and national committees were firmly established, greater focus was placed on sending specialized secretaries abroad who had experience in specific areas, such as student work and physical education. By 1925, YMCA international work had reached its highpoint with 229 fraternal secretaries serving alongside 693 native secretaries.

By 1927, however, the Foreign Department was faced with a serious deficit of over a million dollars, forcing the YMCA to begin a two-year retrenchment period by withdrawing 47 fraternal secretaries from their posts abroad. The situation only worsened following the crash of the global economy in 1929. In 1933, the number of fraternal secretaries had been reduced to 81, and Foreign Department expenditures were reduced from $2.2 million in 1925 to just under $800,000 in 1933. Although YMCA work was forced to cease in Cuba, Portugal, and Estonia, other nations were able to weather the crisis because of the support of established native secretaries – providing credence to the wisdom of the YMCA's 1889 mission of establishing self-sustaining associations abroad.

The International Committee was integrated into the YMCA's National Council in 1936, and the Foreign Department was renamed the World Service. Following the outbreak of World War II, the YMCA restarted its war work once again, serving troops, prisoners, and refugees. The YMCA also played an active role in reconstruction following the war. In 1947, the YMCA launched the World Youth Fund, which raised $5,755,000 for the construction of 66 buildings and allowed 641 secretaries to return to their work abroad. The National Council was reorganized in 1950, and the International Committee was dissolved to make way for a new International Committee that administered the World Service of both the United States and Canada.

In 1958, the International Committee launched an immense fundraising campaign known as the Buildings for Brotherhood program, which raised $5.5 million in the United States and Canada, while another $12.5 million was raised abroad. In all, the program led to the construction 112 new buildings in 35 different nations around the world. In 1968, the YMCA joined with other service organizations in attending the first World Consultation on Management and International Development in Geneva, which heightened the International Committee's focus on development work around the world.

The United States and Canada began to administer separate World Service programs in 1970, leading to the formation of the International Division under the National Board, which was established to replace the International Committee of the USA and Canada. This new division made a renewed commitment to pursue a program of international development. In 1973, the YMCA began its relationship with USAID after the development agency made a $1.2 million grant to the International Division. Between 1976 and 1986, the YMCA received a total of $19.2 million for international development work from USAID. As a result of increased funding for development grants and the training of native secretaries, the number of YMCA fraternal secretaries serving abroad had declined to twenty by 1972.

Along with the rest of the YMCA's National Board, the International Division moved its offices from New York City to Chicago in 1981, while the YMCA of Greater New York assumed responsibility for International Program Services. By that time just six American YMCA personnel served abroad, overseeing larger geographic regions such as Southern Europe, Africa, and Asia; however, additional personnel were assigned to specific projects in individual nations, especially to help establish new YMCA associations.

Throughout the 1990s, the YMCA's International Division continued to provide funding for development work, promoted the establishment of new YMCA associations, and placed emphasis on student work around the world – hosting student exchange programs and international conventions to continue to foster international fellowship.

[Historical information largely adapted from the collection, as well as from World Service: A History of the Foreign Work and World Service of the Young Men's Christian Associations of the United States and Canada(New York: Association Press, 1957) by Kenneth LaTourette.]


93.5 Cubic Feet (94 boxes)


Reports, correspondence, telegrams, minutes, agendas, financial records and budgets, fundraising records, newsletters, promotional material, posters, photographs, drawings, blueprints, maps, postcards, scrapbooks, bound volumes, and some artifacts documenting the development and administration of the YMCA's Foreign Work Department, later known as the World Service and then the International Division.


The administrative records are loosely organized into 55 sections; several of these sections overlap and contain similar material. Generally the folders within each section are separated by document groups (such as reports by a specific committee) and are then organized chronologically by the date of creation.


Additional records of YMCA international work, including work in specific countries, subject files, programs and projects, buildings, and the World Service Confederation, regional offices and the International Survey of 1930 are spearately cataloged in the Kautz Family YMCA Archives.

Additional files of Bruce Knox may be found in the International Personal and Regional Files, separately cataloged in the Kautz Family YMCA Archives.

Processing Information:

Processed as part of Fast Processing Project I, 2008. Material has been minimally processed. Folder descriptions may be general and material has been only loosely grouped into series.

Catalog Record ID number: 6417244

An Inventory of Its Administrative Records
Finding aid prepared by Lara Friedman-Shedlov and Cody Haro.
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Collecting Area Details

Contact The Kautz Family YMCA Archives Collecting Area