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Records of YMCA international work in Latvia

Identifier: Y.USA.9-2-27


Includes correspondence, minutes, reports, financial documents, development plans, pamphlets, newspaper articles and other records of the YMCA movement in Latvia and the Latvian YMCA movement in exile. Early correspondence involves the development of the YMCA in Latvia, its physical education work, a technical drawing of the association building in Riga and descriptions of the situation and history of the country of Latvia. Later correspondence involves the Latvian YMCA in Exile in both Germany and in Sweden. The discussion throughout this period in correspondence covers problems with funding this association and the programs that would best serve the needs among the displaced Latvian population. Most of the collection is focused on the Riga association though there is mention of and some correspondence from four associations outside of Riga as well.

Earliest programs that the YMCA in Latvia introduced were in the physical education department these included basketball and volleyball, which became quite popular. The YMCA in Latvia also introduced a boys' department which had a boys' camp that flourished, educational classes, a trade school, vocational guidance and religious meetings. Later programs oriented around the refugee situation. Activities included religious work, such as divine services, lectures and Bible study groups; educational work, such as publishing educational texts in Latvian, lectures, and the set up of a reading room; social work such as a relief fund; and physical education, such as basketball and volleyball. They also involved boys' activities that were organized within the Boy Scout movement.

The collection includes a small amount of material on YMCA work in Lithuania, as well as other parts of the Baltic region, including information about Estonians that were displaced along with the Latvians in both Sweden and Germany. Throughout the collection there is discussion of Baltic history, Polish refugees in Lithuania, Latvian refugees to Sweden and displaced Latvian citizens in German camps. Major correspondents in the collection include John Casper Greiner, John Brackett Lewis, Bertram Grant Mitchell, Oliver Jul Frederiksen and Hugo Ginters.


  • 1920-1989
  • Majority of material found within ( 1922-1946)


Language of Materials

English, Latvian

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.


In 1920 the Premier of Latvia asked the International Committee to undertake work in the Latvian army. Two secretaries were sent. The army work was conducted in Dvinsk and Rjeshitsa. The program in physical education and children's playgrounds was so popular that it was extended among civilians. In 1923 a constitution was registered for an association in Riga and in 1924 a board of directors was elected. For the civilian associations the North American staff was never large. In 1923 it was B. G. Mitchell and H. D. Anderson, and in 1925 it was J. Brackett Lewis and J. C. Greiner. In 1927 O. J. Frederiksen succeeded Lewis, who transferred to Czechoslovakia, and by 1930 only Greiner was left. Greiner remained until 1934.

For a short time the Latvians thought of the association as not belonging to them. This was due to the non-North American staff being largely made up of Russians. By 1925 however the non-North American staff was purely Latvian and the membership was also predominantly of the Latvian nationality. At first the Latvians regarded the YMCA as simply an athletic club but the YMCA began to introduce programs like educational classes, lectures, student groups and social events. The Riga association rapidly developed its program and was the only Latvian Association where all nationalities existing in Latvia; Latvian, Russian and German predominantly, met in joint activities. Volleyball and basketball were introduced and became quite popular. The boys' department and boys' camp were very successful. Various subjects were covered in the educational classes and a trade school was begun which became a precedent for similar schools. Vocational guidance for highschool students was introduced. Religious meetings were held for boys, group study of the life and teachings of Christ was promoted, and a religious-emphasis week on a nationwide scale was organized. By the end of 1932 there were four organizations outside of Riga.

In 1934 Greiner was demobilized and turned his post over to Zarrins, a Latvian trained in Geneva. By the end of 1935 four of the five men that had trained as YMCA secretaries in North America had resigned and a fifth accepted a post with the League of Nations, mainly for financial reasons. The Latvian YMCA had a hard time without a North American secretary. Despite the deteriorating financial state of the United States combined with the effects of the depression in Latvia, some financial assistance was still given by the North American association to support the programs for students and secondary boys, the national organization, a program for training secretaries, and a project for the unemployed. Occasional visits by Davis of the World's Committee and Lewis from Czechoslovakia helped to maintain contacts.

In 1937 the Latvian YMCA combined with the Latvian YWCA and the two formed the Youth Christian Association. This step was urged by the Latvian government to reduce the number of organizations in a small country. However, by 1939 the union was terminated as it did not prove to be a happy one.

In 1940 Latvia was occupied by the USSR. Under the Soviet occupation the YMCA was officially dissolved and the Riga building was taken over by the local authorities. However most of the YMCAs activities were carried on secretly and illegally. Numerous Latvian citizens disappeared during that time due to the discovery of these secret practices. During World War II, YMCAs sprang up spontaneously in camps for displaced persons in Germany. These YMCAs became rallying points for displaced Latvians. The Latvian YMCA in exile also carried on in Sweden where there was a large population of Latvian refugees. In May 1945, the first board of directors, in exile, was elected. The Latvian YMCA in exile focused on religious work, intellectual work, social work, physical education and boys' activities. The Latvian YMCA in Sweden held religious services, cycles of lectures and bible study groups. They organized an office for publishing school books in the Latvian language and set up a reading room for Latvian YMCA members in Stockholm. The Latvian YMCA in Sweden set up a mutual relief fund based on contributions from members. This was for those Latvian citizens who could not stand the hardships of the physical labor job market that they were forced into because of their displacement. This fund was on urgent need basis only due to the severe shortage of earnings among YMCA members as a whole. Among these other things, the Latvian YMCA in Sweden carried with them volleyball and basketball for entertainment and health purposes, and also organized within the boy scout movement.

The Latvian YMCA began to openly serve again in Latvia post occupation and became member of YMCA Europe in 1991.

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

Anderson, Harry Dewey (1922-1924) Lines, Ira Raymond (1920-1925)
Frederiksen, Oliver Jul (1928-1930) Mitchell, Bertram Grant (1921-1924)
Greiner, John Casper (1924-1934) Sommerville, Joseph John (1921-1924)
Lewis, John Brackett (1924-1928)
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 the collection, and from "YMCA Europe, YMCA Latvia 2006-2011" (


.6 Cubic Feet (2 boxes)


Correspondence, minutes, reports, financial documents, development plans, pamphlets, newspaper articles and other records of the YMCA movement in Latvia and the Latvian YMCA movement in exile, as well as YMCA work in other parts of the Baltic region, including Lithuania.


Biographical information on some of the secretaries involved YMCA work in Latvia (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, February 2009, as collection FP025. Material has been minimally processed. Folder descriptions may be general and material has not been grouped into series.

Catalog Record ID number: 6397074

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