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International work building files

Identifier: Y.USA.9-4


Includes correspondence, minutes, reports, financial records, pamphlets, maps, newspaper articles and other records regarding the building projects of the North American YMCA’s international work division, especially during the post-world war eras, when reconstruction was a major focus of the YMCA's activities. Maps and photographic documentation make up a significant portion of this collection. Many of the maps and other larger documents as well as images have been relocated to the YMCA Archives flat files collection and the photo collection.

YMCA building plans make up a large portion of the collection as well. Included with these plans are uniform YMCA guidelines for building design, swimming pools, electrical and plumbing schemes, among other documents. These reports regulated the standards to which a YMCA building was to be built and influenced the layout of the YMCA branch buildings. The Building Bureau of the International Committee of the YMCA is the main creator of most of these records. This office acted as a point through which ideas accumulated, using YMCA building experiences to disseminate corresponding plans throughout the association as a whole. They provided sketches and working drawings, supervision of construction and consulting services to various YMCA locations. Correspondence related to building design, blueprints and specifications also makes up a part of this collection, as does equipment lists, maps of building areas and building proposals.

Charts, property holding agreements and budgetary documents summarizing the amount spent on building projects and the value of property in foreign lands also form a portion of the collection. References to finances, indemnities, special projects specific to individual, international YMCAs, foreign building funds, Army/Navy branch building funds, the World Service Building Program, the Buildings for Brotherhood Program, the Rockefeller family donations, and other donations and grants are made throughout the collection as well. Major correspondents in the collection include Paul B. Anderson, Arthur Cortis James, Marvin Jay Ludwig, John William Ogg and Frank Van Hart Slack.


  • 1902-1978
  • Majority of material found within ( 1902-1967)


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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 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.

Development projects, providing agricultural, economic and educational opportunities in rural areas were common aspects 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. In 1913 a Building Bureau was established under the leadership of Charles Sumner Ward. Its attention was entirely focused on fundraising until 1915 when architectural resources were added and a new employee, Neil McMillan, a trained architect familiar with the workings of the YMCA, was hired to lead a new planning division. Requirements for YMCA buildings became standardized and principles to building a proper YMCA building were distributed in the form of pamphlets and reports. The YMCA's Foreign Building Fund Program also assisted with the with the procurement and allotment of funds for overseas building projects. This ensured the continued development of the YMCA’s international presence.

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.

The YMCA also played an active role in reconstruction following the second world 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. In 1958 this International Committee launched a fundraising campaign known as the Buildings for Brotherhood program, leading 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.


3 Cubic Feet (3 boxes)


Correspondence, minutes, reports, financial records, pamphlets, maps, newspaper articles and other records regarding the building projects of the North American YMCA’s international work division, especially during the post-world war eras, when reconstruction was a major focus of the YMCA's activities.


See also the Kautz Family YMCA Archives Flat Files (Y.USA.51), which include many larger blue prints, building plans, maps, and sketches that were removed from this collection for separate storage. Additional material related to the YMCA's building work are separately cataloged in the YMCA Building and Furnishing Service Records.

Processing Information:

Processed as part of Fast Processing Project II, August 2009, as collection FP63.

Catalog Record ID number: 9973519673801701

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

Contact The Kautz Family YMCA Archives Collecting Area