Skip to main content

Student work records

Identifier: Y.USA.36


SCOPE AND CONTENTS OF THE COLLECTION Minutes, correspondence, reports, topical files, publications, conference material, and other records documenting the work of the YMCA with students on college and university campuses in the United States and Canada. Also included are records concerning other national and international Christian student groups with which the Student YMCA worked. State records comprise the largest section of the collection. This material includes constitutions, handbooks, programs, reports, newsletters, and other records for student associations in 46 states, five Canadian provinces, and the District of Columbia, with California, Illinois, Ohio, and Pennsylvania particularly well-represented. Minutes and correspondence of the National Student Council, National Student Committee, National Student Assembly, and National Association of Student YMCAs can be found under the heading, "Governing Bodies." This section also includes scripts, funding proposals, and other materials from the History Theatre Troupe program. Among the records of other student Christian groups, the World Student Christian Federation forms the largest section, including conference material, reports, publications, and records on post-World War I European student war relief efforts.


  • Creation: 1879-2010
  • Creation: Majority of material found within ( 1900-1970)


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.


HISTORY OF THE STUDENT YMCA MOVEMENT After coming to the United States in 1851, it did not take long for the Young Men's Christian Association to begin spreading to the nation's college and university campuses. With their concentrations of young men separated from their usual family and church influences and thus prey to the temptations of gambling, drinking, and bad influences in general, academia was a natural home for the work of the YMCA. The first student associations were formed at the Universities of Michigan and Virginia in 1858, and many others were either established or evolved from existing student religious societies in the following decade. YMCA work among students increased after 1870, largely due to the work of Robert Weidensall. Weidensall, along with Robert Morse and Adam K. Spense, was instrumental in passing a resolution at the International Convention of 1870 officially calling for the Association to "extend their work in this important field." The resolution opened the way for Weidensall to focus his fieldwork efforts on campuses. In the next five years he visited 37 colleges and founded Ys in 24 of them.

The Student Department was officially formed in 1877, and Luther Wishard was appointed by the YMCA International Committee as the first full-time secretary for student work at the national level. He served as executive secretary of the Student YMCA until 1888, when Charles K. Ober and John R. Mott assumed joint responsibility for YMCA student work. Rapid growth in the student movement followed the establishment of the department. By 1891, there were 345 college member associations and by 1900, 628 associations. The movement reached its peak in 1921 at over 730 associations comprising almost 94,000 members.

The early years of the student YMCA were characterized by an emphasis on personal religion -- evangelism, prayer meetings, and Bible study, complemented by "neighborhood work" in jails, rescue missions, and other social agencies, and devotion to the missionary cause. The nation-wide summer student conference was an important modus operandi of the student YMCA beginning with the 1886 "summer school for Bible study," directed by Dwight L. Moody in Northfield, Massachusetts. This conference also led to the formation of the Student Volunteer Movement for Missions, which served as the missionary arm of the Student YMCA.

With the tremendous growth of colleges and universities in the late 19th century, the Student YMCAs soon expanded their services to meet the needs of the rapidly expanding academic communities. The Student YMCAs pioneered much of what is now referred to as Student Services on most campuses, including student counseling, financial aid, housing services, orientation, freshman camps, international student services, and religious advisors. During the first two decades of the 20th century, the Student YMCA was strongly influenced by the Social Gospel doctrines that were prominent at the time and a corresponding shift in the view of Bible study as a means to illuminate contemporary problems. In student conferences after World War I, intense concern for social problems such as race, labor, and war dominated the agenda.

Student YMCAs reached their peak of popularity and growth in the 1920s, when there were over 700 Student YMCAs on roughly 1000 campuses in the United States. The decade was also one of increasing tension between the Student YMCA and its parent body as the students sought more control of policy-making and freedom to establish a more liberal membership basis. The tension reached a head in 1927 when the students threatened to withdraw from the YMCA movement. Ultimately, YMCA leadership agreed to grant the Student Department divisional status along with the home and foreign divisions of the YMCA National Council. The National Student Council of YMCAs, composed of students from different campus YMCAs as well as staff from the Student Department became the governing body of the Student YMCAs.

The first cooperative effort of the Student YMCA, the Council of North American Student Movements, was dissolved in 1918. In 1922, the Council of Christian Associations, essentially a cooperative effort of YMCAs and YWCAs was formed. The CCA was succeeded in 1935 by the National Intercollegiate Christian Council (NICC), which was succeeded by the National Student Council YMCA/YWCA (NSCY) in 1951. The YMCA also participated in other cooperative movements, including the World Student Christian Federation and the United Student Christian Council. Beginning in 1934, many regions of the country developed Student Christian Movements which united YMCA, YWCA, and denominational campus groups.

During the 1930s there was a lessening of tension between the parent and Student YMCAs and a renewed emphasis on evangelism and Bible study. At the same time, Student YMCAs began a slow but steady decline in numbers, going from 731 in 1920 to 594 in 1930 and 480 in 1940. This decline resulted from colleges taking over some functions formerly performed by the YMCA, increased denominational and cooperative work, and the general climate of the times. As the YMCA celebrated its centennial in 1955, the Student YMCA was still an active organization but had lost its central role in American college and university life. In 1970, the YMCA closed the Student Department. The discontinuation of direct support from the national office resulted in in a dramatic decline in the remaining Student YMCAs, with 200 student associations closing by the middle of the decade. Despite attempts to revive and expand the student YMCA movement during the 1980s and 1990s, the total number of student associations never rose above 40 after the mid-1970s.

A renewed effort to revive the student YMCA movement was undertaken starting in the mid-1970s, and the National Association for Student YMCAs was formed in 1979 as a coordinating body. Itwas active until sometime the late 1980s or early 1990s. The International Alliance of Student YMCAs was formed at the St. Louis General Assembly in 1997. By 2007 it was known as the Coalition of Campus YMCAs. By the end of the decade, however, there were only 17 campus Ys in the United States, some functioning as branches of larger metropolitan YMCAs, and by 2019 the number had shrunk to less than half a dozen.


Large portions of this history note are borrowed directly from "Guide to the Archives of the YMCA - Student Division (Record Group no. 58)," Yale University Library, Divinity Library Special Collections, compiled by Martha Lund Smalley.

Additional sources include "The University of Minnesota and the U-YMCA," University of Minnesota History Department "major paper" by Jill Elaine Jacobson (1986); "What Happened to the YMCA Student Movement," University of Minnesota student paper by Kaori Kenmotsu (1992); and C. Howard Hopkins, History of the YMCA in North America, (New York: Association Press, 1951).


90 Cubic Feet (225 boxes)


Minutes, correspondence, reports, topical files, publications, and other material documenting the work of the YMCA with students on college and university campuses in the United States and Canada. Also included are records concerning other national and international Christian student groups with which the Student YMCA worked. .


ORGANIZATION/ARRANGEMENT OF THE RECORDS These documents are organized into the following sections:

  1. History and Background
  2. General and Topical Files
  3. Student Field Councils
  4. State Records
  5. Governing Bodies
  6. Conferences
  7. Other Christian Student Groups
  8. Publications and Printed Material

Physical Location

See Detailed Description section for box listing.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Material on the Coalition of Campus YMCAs was transferred from the YMCA of the USA in 2018 by Will Weaver.


RELATED MATERIALS A significant collection of records of the YMCA Student Division are available in the Yale University Divinity School Library as record group no. 58.

Processing Information:

Processed by: Chan Harries, March 2006. Additional material (Y20180511) added December 2019.

Catalog Record ID number: 4734816

An Inventory of Its Records
Finding aid prepared by Chan Harries and Lara Friedman-Shedlov.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Collecting Area Details

Contact The Kautz Family YMCA Archives Collecting Area