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Records of YMCA international work in Argentina

Identifier: Y.USA.9-2-5


Annual reports, correspondence, building records, and printed material documenting the American YMCA's international work in Argentina, primarily Buenos Aires and Rosario.


  • 1883-1980s.


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Use of Materials:

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The first YMCAs in Argentina, dating from the 1870s, were chiefly for English-speaking young men, mainly from England and Scotland. An early contact with the American YMCA was in 1884 when a group of six young men sent an inquiry to the International Committee of YMCAs of North America about Association methods. Myron Clark, the general secretary of the Y in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, visited Argentina in 1900. As a result of that visit, a request for a secretary for Argentina came to the International Committee. In 1901, Bertram A. Shuman arrived in Buenos Aires and founded a YMCA there in 1902. He was joined in 1903 by Charles J. Ewald, who focused on YMCA work among students. Using money raised in Buenos Aires as well as a fund obtained by John R. Mott, a building was erected in 1912.

In 1914, the South American Federation of Young Men's Christian Associations (Federación Sudamericana de Asociaciónes Cristianas de Jovenes) was formed, bringing together the YMCAs of that continent for comprehensive planning and fellowship. Inaugurated at a conference in Montevideo, Uruguay and attended by secretaries from the Associations and representative leaders of the Protestant churches of the continent, it was considered by some "the most representative interdenominational and international gathering ever met in Latin America to consider in a scientific way the intricate problems of this field." One of the central issues was the basis of active membership. While the YMCA was Protestant in origin, in Latin America it was operating in a region which nominally was overwhelmingly Roman Catholic. Ultimately an agreement was reached to open membership to young men who were either members of an evangelical church or who affirmed in writing "their faith in Jesus Christ as their Divine and only Saviour, the sufficient source of moral strength for the individual and society . . .and their purpose to unite with other Christians, irrespective of church affiliations for extending Christ's influence among young men . . ." This alternative permitted Roman Catholics as well as Protestants and also those without church membership to be active members.

The onset of World War I brought financial difficulties, complicated by tensions among British and German members. The Y persevered, however, and continued to grow. In 1916 Emmanuel A. Galland was sent by the International Committee to help with the students. Soon he was reporting Bible classes for students in Buenos Aires, contacts with high school boys, and efforts in other student centers in Argentina. A National Committee for Argentina was created in 1919, as well as a national physical directorship and the first summer institute for the Association physical directorship.

While the membership was primarily British and Protestant at the outset, concerted efforts were made to attract Argentinians as members and leaders. By 1925, only two North American secretaries remained -- Shuman as general secretary and Frederic W. Dickens as physical director. The other posts were filled by nationals, including F. Camerini Zabban, who served as joint general secretary with Shuman. In 1926, the Central Association had 4,400 members. Other developments of the 1920s included the acquisition of a site for summer camps and for community work, growth in boys' work, and the selection of Dickens to train the country's representatives in the Olympic games.

After 1930, no North American secretary was resident in Argentina, partly because of the costs of the foreign work. Thereafter only occasional assistance came from North American secretaries, and they were on the staff of the Continental Committee and not allocated exclusively to Argentina. Despite the strains of the depression, the Argentinian Y continued to grow. In 1938 a new and much larger building was completed and dedicated. There were 8,000 members, said to be the largest number in any YMCA south of the equator, and there were twelve secretaries, all nationals.

Besides the Association in Buenos Aires, two other YMCAs were organized in Argentina, at Rosario, in December 1929, and in Bahia Blanca. Both were begun on local initiative stimulated by secretaries of the Continental Committee. Both were inaugurated at a time when the depression was deepening and when Roman Catholic influences were tightening. Both struggled financially, particularly since the Roman Catholic Church later gained increased power in the government and the latter reduced its financial support to the Associations. Both were served by Argentinian secretaries and to neither was a North American secretary assigned.

The following is a list of individuals who served as YMCA secretaries in Argentina, along with their dates of service:

Bell, John Burton (1966-1969) Hull, Angus Clifton (1911)
Conard, Philip (1906-1908) Hurrey, Charles du Bois (1908-1911)
Dickens, Frederic William (1920-1932) McKnight, William Asbury (1912-1913)
Ewald, Charles Jefferson (1903-1911) Phillips, Philip P. (1912-1921)
Ewing, Harry Ernest (1910-1930, 1933-1934) Shuman, Bertram Arthur (1901-1931)
Field, Jay Clayton (1913-1925) Sims, Laura (1980-1982)
Galland, Emmanuel (1917-1922) Underwood, Herbert George (1917-1918)
Historical information largely adapted and quoted 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 Scott Latourette.


2.5 Cubic Feet (7 boxes)


Annual reports, correspondence, building records, and printed material documenting the American YMCA's international work in Argentina, primarily Buenos Aires and Rosario.

Processing Information:

Processed as part of Fast Processing Project II, 2009, as collection FP002. Material has been minimally processed. Descriptions of box contents are very general.

Catalog Record ID number: 5593681

An Inventory of Records
Finding aid prepared by Lara Friedman-Shedlov.
Language of description
Script of description
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Collecting Area Details

Contact The Kautz Family YMCA Archives Collecting Area