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Records of YMCA international work in Liberia

Identifier: Y.USA.9-2-33


Includes correspondence, minutes, reports, financial documents, pamphlets, maps, journal and newspaper articles and other records of the YMCA movement in Liberia. Much of the collection concerns building projects that the Liberian YMCA was undertaking; including two separate secretarial residences and the main YMCA building in Monrovia. The bulk of the collection focuses on Monrovia though some of it includes other locations in Liberia such as Cape Palmas, Cape Mount, Sinoe, Nimba County, and Harbel, among others.

Portions of the collection discuss various relief efforts undertaken both by the Liberian YMCA and for the Liberian YMCA. Within this material there is discussion of the 1980 military coup and the 1989 Liberian Civil War. The destruction of the Yekepa YMCA located in Nimba County and the withdrawal of YMCA secretary John Arku to the Republic of Guinea is mentioned within this area of the collection. The same time period includes references to various relief groups also working in the country, such as the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), the Red Cross (United States and international), the Catholic Relief Society (CRS), the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the International Red Crescent and the National Disaster Relief Commission, among others.

Liberia YMCA development projects such as the Rural Community Development Project and the Rubber Plantation Project are a significant portion of the collection. The financial difficulties facing the Liberian YMCA during the 1980s and 1990s are also well documented within this collection. Correspondence within the collection significantly involves David Howell, Arthur W. Hardy, Daniel Penick Tyler, Kenneth B. Turpin, Donald Payne Greer and John Arku. The years spanned by the collection are 1919 to 1991 though it primarily covers the time period of the 1950s through the 1980s.


  • 1919-1991
  • Majority of material found within ( 1950s-1980s)


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 earliest efforts to start a YMCA in Liberia occurred in 1881 in Cape Palmas. This small group, begun by Bishop Samuel D. Ferguson, continued on for approximately six months. In 1906 the bishop's son attempted to revive the group. Again, it only lasted a few months.

Hilary Richard Wright Johnson, grandson of U.S. President Andrew Johnson, brought the YMCA idea to Monrovia with him in 1919. Under his leadership, the YMCA resonated with the population of Monrovia and the Sunday afternoon programs became popular. Following Johnson's early death, one of his students, James Boymah McCritty, revived his work. McCritty became executive secretary and formed both an executive committee and an advisory board. He also acquired lots where future YMCA buildings would stand. In 1935 McCritty left to study in the United States and Jacob Brown was elected secretary. During Brown's administration an emphasis was placed on sports, open forums and a collection of funds for property and a building. The ideas of honorary patrons and a board of trustees were also introduced. C. L. Simpson, Liberia's Secretary of State and an interested and active promoter of the Liberian YMCA also made contact for the first time with the World's Alliance of YMCAs on his visit to the League of Nations in Geneva, Switzerland.

In 1935 Samuel David Thomson, grandson of Bishop Ferguson, organized a YMCA in Cape Palmas along with Ernest C. B. Jones . A board of directors was organized and committees were set up. For a number of years the association continued with meetings, and occasional programs.

McCritty returned to Monrovia in 1940. He opened a YMCA reading room and established a “community chest” to secure finances. He also organized a YWCA in 1941 to serve the young ladies of the community. Frederick P. Hibbard was also active in promoting the work during these years. With the help of YMCA Mixers, a group of young men organized in 1944, assistance was made available from abroad. On his visit to the United States in 1945, C. L. Simpson made a request to the International Committee of the YMCAs of North America for program assistance, and in 1947, a decision was reached that some assistance in strengthening the Liberian association would be given. Trained leader David N. Howell arrived in Liberia in 1949.

The movement continued to spread throughout the country during the 1950s and 1960s. An association was organized in River Cess in 1950 through efforts of J. Hamilton Travers, Joseph Nelson and Charles Johnson. A year later in Lower Buchanan a board was established and the first employed officer, H. G. Greenfield, was secured to carry on the work with Joshua Harmon as chairman. Provisional committees were established in Cape Palmas, Sinoe and Cape Mount in 1951. An association was organized in 1954 in Tchien and a Harbel association was organized at approximately the same time. The Sinoe association was organized in 1956, a provisional organization in Marshall was set up in 1957, and an association was organized in Sanniquellie in 1961. The first YMCA building was constructed in Monrovia and opened its doors to the public in 1954. A gymnasium and a boys' wing were added in 1960 as part of the Buildings for Brotherhood program of the North American YMCAs. By 1953 there was growing concern for the interior part of the country. The first YMCAs were organized on or near the coast of Liberia but as inland associations such as Tchien and Sanniquellie emerged, programs were extended to other areas. Hi-Y clubs became popular as well as the National Men's Assembly. The meeting of the National Older Boys' Conference was the first time in Liberia's history that high school boys from every high school in the country had come together for a meeting. Members of the first National Young Men's Assembly carried ideas back to their various homes and YMCA groups, and boys' clubs were organized in many interior schools. YMCAs were organized in six centers throughout Liberia and a total of over seventy groups spread across the country; 25 of them being in areas that did not previously have a YMCA presence. At the end of 1968 there were 6023 YMCA members in Liberia.

The Liberian YMCA became a full member in the World Alliance of YMCAs in 1953. Dr. Charles D. Sherman of Liberia was elected president of the World Alliance of YMCAs in 1955, re-elected for a second term in 1957 and a third in 1961.

A major project during the the 1970s was leadership training with potential professionals, high school and college youth and with laymen. In 1971 the American secretary in Liberia had retired leaving a lack of strong leadership. In response, arecruitment program was implemented in 1972 to increase the number of young men on scholarships to train as YMCA secretaries. Also in 1971, William Tubman, the Liberian president died and was replaced by William Richard Tolbert Jr.. With the change in the political administration in Liberia came a severe financial crisis. The poor economic circumstances of the community made it necessary for the Liberian YMCA to restructure its method of delivering services to people. A development project was established in 1974 for the assistance of rural communities, which made up seventy percent of the population. This project was backed by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The Liberian YMCA, with the colaboration of USAID, also implemented a Rubber Plantation Project in 1974. This project sought to fight unemployment, the level of low income in Liberia, a lack of technical and vocational training present within the country, a lack of community and youth involvement within their communities, and the lack of funding for the YMCA for development projects.

In 1980, as a result of a military coup led by Master Sergeant Samuel Doe of the Krahn ethnic group which overthrew and killed President Tolbert and formed the People's Redemption Council to govern Liberia, the YMCA lost most of its patronage base and support. The YMCA in Liberia was put in a very serious financial position. In 1984 the Peace Corps and USAID funded a YMCA craft shop project that served to further increase training opportunities and funding for the YMCA in Liberia. By 1985 the Liberian YMCA was only primarily active in Monrovia, Yekepa and Harbel, though Sinoe, Maryland and Cape Mount still had weak structures. By 1987 only two of the six branches were operating with a professional executive and carrying out programs. A beach house rental project intended to create income for the National Council of Liberia was not complete and required an additional $18,000 in repairs. Due to the financial situation in Liberia no programs could be developed and no staff employed or dismissed. With the help of the United States YMCA's International Division the YMCA in Liberia began a revitalization campaign. As the YMCA rehabilitation progress was underway in 1989, the First Liberian Civil War began. Yekepa YMCA, located in Nimba County where the fighting began, was looted, damaged and the YMCA Secretary in Yekepa, John Arku, had to flee to the Republic of Guinea.

Relief activities were carried out in the early 1990s coordinated by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). They involved relief organizations such as the Red Cross, CARITAS, the Catholic Relief Society (CRS), USAID, International Red Cross, International Red Crescent and the National Disaster Relief Commission, among others. The challenges of working during this period of revitalization and the number of other relief organizations in the field limited the YMCA in Liberia's participation in the relief effort. The Liberian YMCA did however work with the Student Committee of Nimba County, seeking to assist displaced students and also sent some essentials to YMCA members who fled to Guinea or to Cote D'Ivoire.

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

Dixon, James Floyd (1963-1966) Howell, David Newton (1949-1972)
Gay, Milton F. Jr. (1963-1964) Livingston, Kenneth W. (1962-1964)
Greer, Donald Payne (1969-1973) Oranch, Michael J. (1983)
Hardy, Arthur Wesley (1955-1956) Tyler, Daniel Penick (1957-1962)
Hargrave, Edward (1975-1978) Wright, Ronald L. (1972-1974)
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; from "World Alliance of YMCAs, YMCA International" (, 2010; retrieved August 2, 2012); and from the collection.


3.6 Cubic Feet (9 boxes)


Correspondence, minutes, reports, financial documents, pamphlets, maps, journal and newspaper articles and other records of YMCA international work in Liberia, especially in Monrovia, as well as as Cape Palmas, Cape Mount, Sinoe, Nimba County, and Harbel, among other areas.

Physical Location

See Detailed Description section for box listing.


Biographical information on some of the secretaries involved YMCA work in Liberia (see list of individuals in the historical note) is available in the YMCA Biographical Files, separately cataloged in the Kautz Family YMCA Archives.

Processing Information:

Processed as part of Fast Processing Project II, March 2009, as collection FP027. Material has been minimally processed. Folder descriptions may be general and material has not been grouped into series.

Catalog Record ID number: 6411312

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

Collecting Area Details

Contact The Kautz Family YMCA Archives Collecting Area