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Records of YMCA international work in Russia and the Soviet Union and with Russians

Identifier: Y.USA.9-2-1


Records of YMCA work in Russia and the Soviet Union consist of reports, correspondence, financial records, and printed material. Early material consists primarily of correspondence among YMCA secretaries working in Russia, as well as correspondence and reports to James Stokes, John R. Mott, and other YMCA leaders in the Unites States on matters relating to programs, exchanges and visits, relations with the Orthodox Church, finances, and membership recruitment.

During World War I, the North American YMCA shifted its emphasis to welfare with soldiers, including work with prisoners of war. Thus, much of the 1914 to 1918 records deal with the financing and administration of visits to prisoners of war camps and of getting educational and recreational materials to prisoners. World War I-era reports and correspondence also document YMCA work with American and British soldiers participating in the 1918 allied intervention in Soviet Russia at Murmansk and Archangel; and with YMCA work with Czech prisoners of war in their exodus across Siberia.

Also included in the collection are files from two of the YMCA secretaries involved with work in Russia or with Russians, Donald Lowrie and David Sonquist.


  • 1884-2001
  • Majority of material found within ( 1900-1930)


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.


YMCA work in Russia began in 1899, when Clarence J. Hicks, with the financial support of philanthropist and International Committee member James Stokes, travelled there to study the means of introducing welfare activities for the railroad workers of that country. This did not come to pass, but Hicks did succeed in winning the approval of a high Romanoff for a young men's society in St. Petersburg and secured his personal protection for the organization. Called a "mayak," or lighthouse, it was essentially a YMCA. The new organization, directed by Franklin A. Gaylord, had its first home in a building given by Stokes. Stokes went on to found the James Stokes Society to support the work in Russia.

Religious activities in the Russian Y were directed by Orthodox priests. The program grew from modest classes in French, German, and bookkeeping through gymnasium work to popular lectures. A library and a drama program were also added. Stokes was insistent that the society should preserve its Russian character. In 1908 an American director for physical education activities was secured and what was said to be the best-equipped gymnasium in Russia was built in the courtyard of the Mayak. An athletic field was constructed and basketball introduced. The success of the operation attracted the interest of the Czar, who after about 1907 contributed five thousand rubles annually.

Plans were laid for the expansion of the organization into Moscow, but war and revolution prevented this, despite a promise from John Wanamaker to finance a building. In 1917, a society was founded in Vladivostok., However, the rise of the Bolshevik regime disrupted the growth of YMCA work, forcing American YMCA secretaries to leave and many of the Russian personnel into temporary hiding or prison. YMCA work continued as war relief work, mainly in Siberia, as well as among the Russians of the dispersion in Harbin and in Paris. Russian exiles assisted the North American YMCA with the creation of the YMCA Press (located originally in Prague, then Berlin, and then Paris) and the Chekhov Publishing House (in New York), both dedicated to help with the preservation of Russian Christian culture. These presses worked closely with Russian exiles in Europe and North America for many years post World War I

The following is a list of secretaries of the Mayak in St. Petersburg, as well as secretaries working with prisoners of war in Siberia and with Russian émigrés in Europe, along with their dates of service:

Alexander, Chester Stephen (1917-1920)

Anderson, Harry Dewey (1924-1927)

Anderson, Harvey Winfred (1919-1918)

Anderson, Paul B. (1917-1918, 1920-1947)

Arnold, Merle V. (1918-1919)

Baker, Harry Thomas (1916-1918)

Cattron, John Gardner (1918-1919)

Colton, Ethan Theodore (1917-1922)

Corcoran, Albert Tryon (1919-1930)

Day, George Martin (1909-1917)

Frederiksen, Oliver Jul (1922-1925)

Gaylord, Franklin Augustus (1899-1922)

Gott, Herbert Sidney (1916-1919)

Haag, Howard L. (1920-1936)

Harte, Archibald Clinton (1915-1920)

Heald, Edward Thornton (1916-1921)

Heinrichs, Waldo Huntley (1918-1919)

Hedden, Charles L. (1917-1919)

Heinz, A. E. (1819-1919)

Hollinger, Ralph Wall (1914-1920)

Hudson, Roy David (1917-1919)

Jenny, Arnold Eugene (1919-1920)

Kempa, Arthur Adolphus (1919-1925)

Lewis, John Brackett (1917-1924)

Lewis, Watson, F. (1919-1921)

Long, Harry Winfield (1916-1919)

Lowrie, Donald Alexander (1916-1919, 1919-1920)

MacNaughten, Edgar (1919-1920, 1924-1926)

Mitchell, Bertram Grant (1918-1921)

Moraller, Erich Ludwig (1906-1912)

Moran, Hugh Anderson (1916-1919)

Nelson, Claud Dalton (1917-1919)

Niederhauser, James Edward (1919-1920)

Ostergren, Ralph C. (1919-1918)

Phelps, George Sidney (1918-1920)

Riley, Charles Wood (1918-1921)

Robertson, Clarence Hovey (1917-1918)

Ropes, Ernest Chapin (1919-1921)

Scott, Roderick F. (1913-1914)

Simmons, Arthur Aborn (1917-1922)

Somerville, James, Jr. (1917-1918)

Somerville, Joseph John (1916-1920)

Sonquist, David (1919-1920)

Swartz, Philip Allen (1913-1915)

Historical information taken from History of the YMCA in North America,by C. Howard Hopkins, and from the collection.


32 boxes (approx. 13.4 cubic feet)


Records of YMCA work in Russia and the Soviet Union consisting primarily of correspondence among YMCA secretaries working in Russia, as well as correspondence and reports to YMCA leaders in the Unites States on matters relating to programs, relations with the Orthodox Church, finances, membership recruitment, and work with World War I soldiers and prisoners of war.


These documents are organized into the following sections:

  1. Correspondence
  2. Work in Europe
  3. Russia and China
  4. YMCA Press
  5. Printed Material
  6. Cities.
  7. Russian Church
  8. Donald Lowrie Files
  9. David Sonquist Files
  10. Miscellaneous


Biographical information on most of the secretaries involved in Russian work (see list of individuals in the historical note) is available in the YMCA Biographical Files (Y.USA.12), separately cataloged in the Kautz Family YMCA Archives.

The personal papers of Ethan T. Colton, Sidney G. Phelps, Paul B. Anderson, and Nicholas Goncharoff add valuable information to the various components of YMCA work in Russia and later with Russians in various places in Europe. These materials are separately cataloged in the Kautz Family YMCA Archives.

Personal papers of Donald Lowrie are available at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Archives.

Additional information about YMCA work with the post-World War I Russian diaspora can be found in the Records of YMCA Work in France (Y.USA.9-2-47) and the YMCA Russian Publishing Work Files (Y.USA.50).

Processing Information:

Accession Y20201221 added November 2021.

Catalog Record ID number: 5006206

An Inventory of Its Records
Finding aid prepared by Lara Friedman~Shedlov,
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