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Records of YMCA international work in Bulgaria

Identifier: Y.USA.9-2-50


Includes correspondence, minutes, reports, financial documents, pamphlets, constitutions, articles and other records of the YMCA movement in Bulgaria, primarily from the 1920s and 30s and mainly in Sofia. Correspondence primarily involves John Raleigh Mott, P. MacGregor Allen, Darius Alton Davis and Christo Yanev. A large portion of the collection concerns the building and development of the Sofia YMCA as well as the placement of P. MacGregor Allen in Bulgaria as a consulting secretary. An agricultural training program called the Bulgarian Farmer Boys, in which the Denmark YMCA assisted by receiving young agriculturists and assisting them with training and placement on farms within Denmark, is also documented. Also mentioned is the development of Camp Bor, a boys camp in the mountains of the Rila range, along with a fund that Allen began for the camp program. It was later transferred to an alternative Baltic refugee program due to the inactivity of the YMCA in Bulgaria after the onset of World War II.

The Sofia area records also include information concerning the North American relief effort for Russian refugees in Bulgaria, The Russian Refugee Training School, as well as North American Harvey Smith's involvement in its development. This program only ran from 1922 to 1924, but its development and history are documented in detail. The Bulgarian involvement in the Baltic conference of YMCAs in Riga, Latvia in 1928, is also mentioned through reports and correspondence. The YMCA in Bulgaria's relationship to the Orthodox church is mentioned in regards to conflicts between the two groups and also in eventual mutual support. The attack on all religious organizations by communist forces within the country is discussed as well. The closing of the YMCA is briefly mentioned within the collection. Later material involves visits to Bulgaria after the end of World War II and into 1970 after the YMCA had been closed.


  • Creation: 1922-1970
  • Creation: Majority of material found within ( 1920s-1930s)


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The YMCA movement in Bulgaria originated in 1889 but was confined for many years to the small protestant minority within the country. In 1910 multiple protestant groups joined to form the Federation of the Young People's Christian Organizations of Bulgaria. In 1911, after a visit from John R. Mott to the city of Sofia, a Student Christian Association was organized. The membership of this association was primarily from the Orthodox Christians. After graduating from the University many of these students became leading members of the city YMCA, thus reinforcing an Orthodox community within the YMCA and introducing an Orthodox religious element into the YMCA of Bulgaria. The Bulgarian YMCA was admitted to the World Alliance of YMCAs in 1918.

During World War I the YMCA's World's Committee became active among prisoners of war and Bulgarian soldiers. As an aftermath, the Sofia association became more vigorous and YMCAs were organized in several other towns as well. In 1922 the Sofia YMCA secured a national paid secretary, N. Alexiev. He helped the movement to develop on a wider basis and introduced the fourfold mission, a YMCA goal to improve the spiritual, mental, social and physical condition for young men. At the end of 1922 the YMCA in Sofia opened a technical school for Russian refugees. Harvey Smith, an American director of this school, was responsible for the introduction of the school to the Bulgarian YMCA and remained involved until it was closed in 1924 due to lack of available funding.

In 1923 a small building was purchased and an experienced North American secretary, P. MacGregor Allen, was invited as a consulting secretary. Allen gave another strong push to the YMCA movement by increasing the number of and training of native Bulgarian secretaries and laymen and assisting with the solicitation of funds for the Bulgarian YMCA. During this same time a grant from war work funds made the acquisition of a small building in Sofia possible. The existing Protestant church societies were strongly influenced by the YMCA idea. Many of them adopted the name of the YMCA and attempted to initiate associations. This brought some opposition from the pastors. In Orthodox communities, the church began to fear the new movement, as it was independent from the control of the church's hierarchy and intercongregational in nature. This resulted in the Orthodox church opening Orthodox youth organizations with limited programs, under direct control of the clergy. Allen was able to cultivate, over time, a friendly relation with the Orthodox community. A portion of the community remained continually hostile but the Orthodox metropolitan bishop of Sophia and the Orthodox theological faculty gave the YMCA their support.

By 1929 there were two full YMCAs in Sofia and Samokov, a YMCA Sea Camp for boys near Varna called Camp Chayka, and a successful Bulgarian Farmer Boys agriculture training program in cooperation with the Danish YMCA, where young Bulgarian agriculturists were sent to Denmark in order to receive hands-on training on farms. The financial depression within Bulgaria at this time was very difficult on the YMCA. The financing of the Y from local sources became extremely difficult. Funding was able to be found through international sources though financial setbacks became common place. A new Camp Bor, in the mountains of the Rila range opened in the early 1930s. It was considered a temporary camp spot due to a lack of swimming area and an inability for the permanence of a camp site but was well utilized for a Campfire program. A fund was begun by Allen in the early 1930s to keep Camp Bor programs open.

By the early 1930s the Communist opposition to the church in Bulgaria was prevalent. The Communist Party in Bulgaria was growing rapidly and the education of the priesthood was used to attempt to counter the challenges involving atheism and communism. Allen retired in 1938 and Paul B. Anderson was appointed to maintain contact with the Bulgarian YMCA through correspondence and visits. Allen remained in Sofia for a time to help, though not as an official representative of the North American Associations. In late in 1941, early 1942 the Bulgarian government, in the Three Power Pact with Germany, ordered the closing of all organizations of an international character. The YMCA was included in this and its properties were confiscated. After World War II the building was destroyed and the land confiscated again. Bulgaria's close tie with the USSR kept the YMCA closed until the 1990s when the movement was revived.

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 YMCA International, retrieved May, 1st 2013; and from the collection.


.6 Cubic Feet (2 boxes)


Correspondence, minutes, reports, financial documents, pamphlets, constitutions, articles and other records of the YMCA movement in Bulgaria, mainly in Sofia.

Processing Information:

Processed as part of Fast Processing Project II, February 2009, as collection FP005. Material has been minimally processed. Folder descriptions may be general and material has not been grouped into series.

Catalog Record ID number: 6684425

An Inventory of Its Records
Finding aid prepared by Lara Friedman-Shedlov and Melanie Doherty.
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Collecting Area Details

Contact The Kautz Family YMCA Archives Collecting Area