Skip to main content

Records of YMCA international work in France

Identifier: Y.USA.9-2-47


Includes correspondence, minutes, reports, financial documents, pamphlets, maps, journal and newspaper articles and other records of the YMCA movement in France, with the majority of the collection focused between the 1920s and the 1970s. A great deal of the collection concerns youth work done in France for Russian refugees as well as Paul B. Anderson's Russian Service supervision in Paris. Within this area of the collection is also material covering the YMCA Press in France and the printing that the press did for the Russian refugee population. United States YMCA assistance with Russian relief work and the YMCA Press is also documented within this portion of the collection.

Building projects to which the United States YMCA provided assistance form another major topic of the collection. The YMCA's Building for Brotherhood Program and World Youth Fund are mentioned, among other aid programs such as the James Stokes Society that were offered to France for the rebuilding of the YMCA post World War II. In later years within the collection, mention is made of Morocco and specifically the Casablanca YMCA as an African YMCA founded by the French YMCA. A Eurafrican training school is also mentioned in Lyon, primarily in terms of budgetary information and support. Camp projects and training programs make up a significant portion of the collection as well, though again primarily in terms of budgetary information and plans.

Most of the collection documents work in Paris, though there is also significant mention of Le Havre, Lyon, Toulouse, and the Isère region of France as well as Morocco, Africa. There is also documentation of Russia and the economic and social conditions of the USSR and Eastern Europe touching on events leading to World War I through the post-World War II iron curtain. Correspondence and reports involve James Stokes, Paul B. Anderson, Lawrence Edgar Denison Aplin, Ira Robert Constad, Tristan Mercier, Charles Gullion, Hugo Grassi, Nicholas T. Goncharoff and the Goncharoff project and Nikolai Alexandrovich Berdyaev.


  • 1869-1989
  • Majority of material found within ( 1920s-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 French YMCA was founded in 1851. In 1855 they hosted the first international meeting of nine countries' YMCAs, which resulted in the definition of the Paris Basis, a group of principles guiding the YMCA's mission and purpose as a whole. This meeting also created a central international committee that would eventually become known as the World Alliance of YMCAs. Before World War II most of the French YMCA activity was centered in Protestant churches. The YMCA provided for the religious training of youth as well as other activities such as informal education, social activities, sports, camping and etcetera.

A Russian YMCA movement in France developed alongside the French National YMCA movement, though it remained autonomous. Among the hundreds of thousands of Russian immigrants moving west in the wake of the Russian Revolution, there were many of student age and a considerable number of intellectuals. In 1923 the regular work of the Russian Student Christian Movement was inaugurated and approved. The movement spread to several countries including Yugoslavia, Germany, Czechoslovakia, and France. Along with the educational program, the YMCA aimed to preserve and develop the spiritual Christian values of the Russian culture by the publication of the theological, philosophical and other literature forbidden in Soviet Russia. The YMCA Press, the publishing arm of the YMCA, initiated in Geneva and supported by the United States, was used to publish many works by the elite Russian refugees and immigrants who were settled in France. The YMCA Press in France and the Russian Student Christian Movement (RSCM) became very close. They shared a building for many years. Within this building the YMCA Press created a technical school and lectures of the Religious-Philosophical Academy and the RSCM created a Sunday school, clubs for teenagers, chapels, summer camps, conferences and more.

French YMCAs were affected greatly during World War II. In 1940 France was occupied by German forces. The French YMCA lost its ability to assemble membership and, through captivity as prisoners of war, the greater part of its pre-war secretaries. Many members were forced into labor or deportation. Many of the French YMCA secretaries also died in the bombardments. More than twenty national or regional training camps were held during these years of occupation and the training of new leaders was continued. Due to this effort the French YMCA was able to persevere. The French YMCA tried to face their new situation with a change in outlook. The need to young men wherever they might be led the YMCA towards work in secret foyers or clubs. The use of mobile canteens also assisted with reaching separated groups and isolated individuals. Many YMCA secretaries and volunteers occupied themselves with this effort. As the liberation of France advanced, this secret activity became official through the opening of military foyers in the cities along the line of passage for the Allied troops, including Castres, Nîmes, Aix-en-Provence, Valence, and Lyon to name a few.

After the war the churches excluded the YMCA from their programs because they wanted to direct the youth programs as strictly church programs. Since many buildings that the YMCA had built were taken over by the church, the YMCA had to develop a separate identity. Matthew Asensi, a YMCA member, took leadership in the rebirth of the YMCA in France. He traveled among the villages and cities to reignite the spirit of many of the inactive associations. Camp Joubert became the center for leadership training.

1955 meetings of the World Alliance of YMCAs in Paris developed the initiative to launch a ten year development program that spanned 1957 to 1967. In 1962 the North American International Committee offered its assistance with $60,000 for a new six story YMCA building in Lyon and the services of fraternal secretary Larry Aplin. During this ten year period a large modern gym was built in Le Havre, a training center in Melun and new dormitories at Echery and Sanary camps. An old hotel was also purchased at Toulouse and a training center at Avignon. Paris, the central location, sponsored each regional association, foyer and establishment in France though centers of the program of the Committee of Action, the official body carrying out the ten year plan. They were separate from the National Y until 1969 when they were merged with the French National YMCA. The YMCA Press, Russian Student Movement and Les Editeurs Reunis remained apart with little communication with the French National Movement.

A second ten year development program, 1967 to 1977, saw the completion of a new YMCA cultural center at Nîmes, a Barta community center near Toulouse and facilities for a camp at Aresquiers among other projects. Tristan Mercier became the Secretary of the French YMCA and set up aid for more than 40 Chilean refugee families in Paris. A five year plan of exchanges between professional personnel of France, Canada, Mexico and the United States, meant to lead to new and permanent cooperation between YMCAs, was established in 1973. The French YMCA sought to maintain development and growth throughout the years. It became a member of YMCA Europe in 1974. As of 2010 the French YMCA maintained a commitment to its members bringing together 23 communities and focusing on the areas of tourism and education. It also focused greatly on youth job training, cultural programs and charity work.

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

Aplin, Lawrence Edgar Denison (1959-1969) Kennedy, Joseph Francis (1945-1947)
Chaffee, Herbert Watson (1920-1932) Lamb, Charles Stanley (1925)
Davis, Darius Alton (1915-1919) Schroeder, Louis Charles (1920-1925)
Dilley, Earl E. (1920-1922) Wagner, Hubert Hudson
Duffy, Edward Francis (1919-1928)
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 UCJG YMCA France,, 2010; retrieved January 3, 2013; from YMCA Europe, "YMCA France,", 2011; retrieved January 3, 2013; and from the collection.


4.7 Cubic Feet (13 boxes)


Ccorrespondence, minutes, reports, financial documents, pamphlets, maps, journal and newspaper articles and other records documenting YMCA work in France, especially youth and publishing work done in France for Russian refugees.

Physical Location

See Detailed Description section for box listing.


Records concerning the Russian Student Christian Movement, Chekhov Press, the YMCA Press, and other France-based Russian publishing activities is separately cataloged at the Kautz Family YMCA Archives in the Russian Publishing Work Files.

Processing Information:

Processed as part of Fast Processing Project II, April 2009, as collection FP019. Material has been minimally processed. Folder descriptions may be general and material has not been grouped into series.

Catalog Record ID number: 6677095

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

Revision Statements

  • February 2023: Revised to include file level description of Box 6

Collecting Area Details

Contact The Kautz Family YMCA Archives Collecting Area