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International work subject files

Identifier: Y.USA.9-3


The records, arranged alphabetically by subject, are comprised of correspondence, reports, minutes, memoranda and print concerning various aspects of YMCA work abroad. Testimonials about the necessity for and success of foreign work along with financial campaigns to fund the work, particularly with regards to China, India and Latin America, are of particular interest. A large amount of material is devoted to the evangelistic efforts in foreign countries and the changing attitude and philosophy as concerns the YMCA's missionary aspect. Much of the collection regards relationships, be they between the YMCA and other Christian churches, the YMCA and the people of foreign countries or the Foreign Work department's relationship with other departments within the association. During a time of expanding international work, a section of the material concerns how the YMCA was viewed by the people of foreign countries, particularly in China and India. Much of the correspondence is from foreign secretaries in the field concerning life abroad. Sub-sections of the collection include international boys work, the training of indigenous leaders, and the position of the Association during both World Wars. Major correspondents and contributors include Paul B. Anderson, Ethan Theodore Colton, Darius Alton Davis, George Sherwood Eddy, Charles Jefferson Ewald, Edward Corbin Jenkins, John Raleigh Mott, John D. Rockefeller Jr. and John D. Rockefeller Sr.

A large portion of the files concern budgetary matters encompassing several programs and countries that the North American YMCA had interest in. Many specific funds are mentioned throughout the collection, including the World Fellowship Fund, the War Emergency Fund, the Stabilization Fund, the Laura Spellman Rockefeller Fund, the World Youth Fund, the Davidson Fund and the United Forward Fund. The pros and cons of the utilization of community chests are also discussed in reference to the budgeting of international work. The response to the financial challenges of the Depression are a large focus, documented through material such as cost-of-living reports and correspondence involving the Rockefeller family, a major Depression-era donor. The World Youth Fund is a major focus especially during the years after World War II, when the reconstruction of a large portion of Europe was also being discussed. Aspects of the changing world, especially the Far East and Eastern Europe, and the effect of this upon YMCA approach and policy are also discussed heavily within this section. The collection also includes reports from conferences discussing budgetary matters, World Service policy and war work. Major conferences documented include the Lake Mohonk Conference of 1942 and the Lake Placid Conference of 1944.


  • Creation: 1869
  • Creation: 1889-1967


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The North American YMCA began initial steps towards the organization of international activity during the YMCA's first Student Christian Conference, at Mount Hermon, Massachusetts, in 1886. A group of one hundred students signed a pledge to participate in volunteer work in foreign countries, including John R. Mott, the future and first general secretary of the YMCA’s International Committee. The conference in addition to requests for assistance from missionaries in India, led YMCA leaders to organize the International Convention in Philadelphia in 1889, which would formally establish the basis of YMCA international work.

Trained North American secretaries began travelling to a variety of foreign countries where they established and staffed YMCAs. These fraternal secretaries would help the associations they worked with to become self-sustaining, self-governing and self-propagating. Secretaries acquired buildings, recruited and trained native staff, and performed special educational and administrative duties. The North American YMCA soon organized a subcommittee to oversee international work, known as the Foreign Department, or Foreign Committee. By 1900, eighteen YMCA secretaries were serving in India, Japan, Brazil, China and Ceylon (Sri Lanka), growing to 106 fraternal secretaries serving in fourteen nations in the following decade.

Boys work was a major focus beginning in 1901 in Madras, India, and became a defining feature of the YMCA's work abroad. Development projects, providing agricultural, economic and educational opportunities in rural areas were another common aspect to YMCA work overseas. In 1910 a building fund campaign was begun by Mott. A large donation by John D. Rockefeller towards this fund began a continual financial relationship between the Rockefeller family and the North American YMCA.

During World War I, the YMCA served six million men in camps, hospitals and prisons while assisting another twenty million on the battlefield. The post-war era brought changes to the YMCA’s international work. Many people were displaced from various lands. Peacetime operations in Europe, grown from what had been done during the war, called for extra funds. For several years these enterprises were carried on under what was known as the Overseas Division of the National War Work Council. Community Chests also became a way to organize and conduct social work and control expenditures.

The focus of the international YMCA movement after the war shifted from missionary-driven evangelism to social welfare and departmentalized specializations including physical activity, health, education, and boys work. The publishing and distribution of educational material became commonplace, buildings were erected, national committees firmly established and secretaries sent overseas generally had experience in more specific areas than before the war. A program for foreign students, Student Ambassadors, who were temporary residents in the United States, also was added. Plans were developed to introduce students to friendly people within the United States, aid them with their passage, adjust them to conditions within the United States, and help them return to their home countries with the moral equipment necessary to give service to their academic training. The goal was to provide leadership and materials to aid local associations in developing community knowledge in other lands and to end the moral and financial support needed from the North American movement.

By 1925, YMCA international work had reached its high point, with 229 fraternal secretaries serving alongside 693 native secretaries. However, beginning in 1927 the YMCA's Foreign Department was faced with a serious deficit of over a million dollars. In mid-1928 a Stabilization Fund, that had been started in earlier years and primarily raised by Mott before his retirement, was utilized to offset deficits for 1927 and 1928. John D. Rockefeller Jr. made continual, large donations to the Stabilization Funds of the late 1920s and early 1930s in order to assist the YMCA with its deficit. A retrenchment period began in many areas.The situation was worsened with the crash of the global economy in 1929. By 1933 the number of oversea fraternal secretaries was reduced to 81. Though some YMCA work was forced to cease, other work weathered the crisis because of the support of established native secretaries. The International Committee was integrated into the YMCA’s National Council in 1936 and the Foreign Department was renamed World Service.

During World War II the YMCA reinitated its war work, serving prisoners, troops and refugees. During the war the YMCAs international board sought to also maintain contact with board and staff members in "protective custody" within axis nations. They also strived to continue work within countries where the YMCAs remained open, answer emergency appeals from partner movements and keep on top of items such as leadership training; all the while maintaining war work. The YMCA also played an active role in reconstruction following the war. In 1947, the YMCA launched the World Youth Fund, which raised $5,755,000 towards the construction of 66 buildings and the return of 641 secretaries to work abroad.

In 1950 the National Council was reorganized and the International Committee was dissolved and reorganized to include the World Service of both the United States and Canada. Recruitment became increasingly important activity. An improved recruiting program with the establishment of scholarship aid was discussed in 1954 in order to provide a future flow of professionally trained persons. The International Committee also launched a fundraising campaign known as the Buildings for Brotherhood program in 1958. It led to the construction of 112 new buildings in 35 different nations.

In 1970 the United States and Canada began to administer separate World Service programs, leading to the formation of the International Division under the National Board, which was established to replace the International Committee of the US and Canada. In 1973 the YMCA began its relationship with USAID after the development agency made a $1.2 million grant to the International Division. By 1981 just six American YMCA personnel served abroad, overseeing larger geographic regions. On top of that, additional personnel were assigned to individual nations, responding to individual problems or circumstances. Throughout the 1990s the YMCA's International Division continued to provide funding for developmental work with the establishment of new associations and an emphasis on student work-hosting exchange programs and international conventions to foster international fellowship.

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, and from the collection.


6 Cubic Feet (15 boxes)


Subject files comprised of correspondence, reports, minutes, memoranda, and printed material concerning various aspects of YMCA work abroad, especially financial issues, boys' work, and war work.


The records are arranged alphabetically by subject.

Processing Information:

Processed as part of Fast Processing Project II, August 2009, as collection FP59.

Catalog Record ID number: 9973518886701701

An Inventory of Its Records
Finding aid prepared by Davis Svingen, Mel Doherty, and Lara Friedman~Shedlov.
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Collecting Area Details

Contact The Kautz Family YMCA Archives Collecting Area