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YMCA - Student Division Records

Call Number: RG 58

Scope and Contents

It is obvious that a collection of this size cannot document in a complete way the activities of such a large and long lived organization as the Student Division of the YMCA. The documentation available in this collection is very thorough in selected areas and extremely valuable for the insight it provides on the changing character of YMCA concerns. The papers are also valuable for the way in which they complement other archival collections at the Divinity Library to provide a detailed picture of the development of religious work among college and university students in the United States.

The correspondence of Student Division secretaries in Series I is primarily that of David R. Porter and A. Roland Elliott. It covers the period from the formation of the Student Division in 1927 to A.R. Elliot's departure in 1943. Correspondence of John R. Mott, who served as executive secretary from 1890-1915, is found in RG 45. The extensive files of correspondence document the daily administrative routines of the executive secretary office, including innumerable letters relating to raising, receiving and disbursing funds. Policy questions and the development of the Student Division are also dealt with in letters exchanged with YMCA notables, as well as many American and international religious leaders.

The correspondents of David R. Porter and A. Roland Elliott include J. Maxwell Adams, Guy V. Aldrich, James C. Baker, Eugene Barnett, Harold W. Colvin, Raymond B. Culver, William H. Danforth, G. Sherwood Eddy, A.J. Elliott, R.H. Edwin Espy, Thomas W. Graham, Lyman Hoover, Kiang Wen Han, Wilmer J. Kitchen, Paul Limbert, Francis P. Miller, John R. Mott, Clarence P. Shedd, Robert E. Speer, George Stewart, Willard Uphaus, Henry P. VanDusen and Willem Visser 't Hooft. The Student Division work with Black students is documented in correspondence with Herbert King, Channing Tobias and Max Yergan. Information regarding YMCA cooperative work with the YWCA in available in correspondence with Grace Towns Hamilton, Elizabeth Harrington, Genevieve Schneider, Helen Morton, and Winifred Wygal.

The activities of the complex network of interrelated administrative bodies surrounding the YMCA-Student Division are documented in the correspondence, minutes, reports and printed material found in Series II. The alphabetically listed organizations of Series II can be separated into these basic categories:

  1. Council of North American Student Movements (1915-1918)
  2. Council of Christian Associations (1922-1933)
  3. National Intercollegiate Christian Council (1935-1951)
  4. National Student Council YMCA/YWCA (1951-1960)
  5. Student Christian Association Movement (name for assemblies during NICC period)
  6. Student Christian Council
  7. Committee of YMCAs
  8. National Board of YMCAs
  9. National Council of YMCAs
  10. International Committee-Student Department (1901-1922)
  11. National Council of Student YMCAs (1922-1924)
  12. National Council of Student Associations (1925-1933)
  13. National Council of Student Christian Associations (1933-1944)
  14. National Student Council of the YMCA (1944-1953)
  15. Spiritual Emphasis Committee
  16. Student Secretaries Association

The complexity of the bureaucracy is hinted at in an undated memorandum of the National Student Committee which explains that "The National Council of Student Christian Associations is an auxilliary assembly of the National Council of the YMCA. It nominates the membership of its ad interim body, the National Student Committee. The National Student Committee serves as a subcommittee of the National Board of the YMCA which is the ad interim body of the National Council of the YMCA. It is difficult to distinguish clearly between the functions of these various organizational bodies."

Papers in the topical files of Series III touch on various subjects. The section on disarmament dates from 1921 to 1935 and documents the work of YMCA-related organizations such as the Intercollegiate Disarmament Council and the National Student Committee on Disarmament. An extremely valuable selection of papers related to the membership basis of the YMCA dates from 1896 to 1927. Sections on work with Black students, preparatory school work, recruiting and training efforts, the Universal Day of Prayer for students, and voluntary study all demonstrate the evolution of student YMCA program emphases. Three folders labeled "David R. Porter personal archives" contain material gathered by Porter to document his work and writings regarding the YMCA during the period 1908 to 1954. These topical sections, which were established in the Student YMCA files, are supplemented by related material in other series. For example, papers related to preparatory school work are found not only in Series III but also in Series IV among the New England region material.

The Student YMCA adopted a decentralized field council organizational set-up in 1922 and the subdivisions in Series IV, Regional and Local Association Activities, generally correspond to the field council regions. Correspondence, financial material, reports, minutes and printed material are included in this series. Most extensively documented are the various regional summer student conferences. The Northfield conference, for example, is documented from its origin in 1886.

The material in Series V, Publications, Studies, is divided into four categories:

  1. 1. Correspondence between the YMCA Publication Department and Student Division
  2. 2. YMCA printed pamphlets
  3. 3. Studies sponsored by the YMCA
  4. 4. Publications and papers of related groups, including periodicals of regional Student Christian Movements and various denominations.

The photographs of Series VI are largely related to student conferences. They are primarily group photographs and date from 1907-1947.

The collection also includes two addenda, one added in 2010 and one in 2013, which expand on the material in the core collection.


  • 1886-1967


Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.


  1. Correspondence of Student Division secretaries, 1916-1943
  2. National committees, commissions, councils, 1899-1958
  3. Topical files: national policy and program emphases, 1896-1954
  4. Regional and local association activities, 1886-1967
  5. Publications, studies, 1907-1954
  6. Photographs, 1906-1933
  7. 2010 Addendum, 1910-1956
  8. 2013 Addendum, 1922-1949

Related Materials

The papers are also valuable for the way in which they complement other archival collections at the Divinity Library. Added to papers of John R. Mott, Clarence P. Shedd, Robert Wilder, Luther Wishard, Henry Burt Wright, G. Sherwood Eddy, Frank Knight Sanders, Harlan P. Beach, Lyman Hoover, the World Student Christian Federation, the Student Volunteer Movement, the Student Christian Movement in New England and New England Commission for United Ministries in Higher Education, the YMCA archives provide a detailed picture of the development of religious work among college and university students in the United States.


41 Linear Feet (100 boxes)

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog

Persistent URL


Documentation in this collection provides insight into the changing character of YMCA concerns. Extensive files of correspondence, minutes, and reports document the daily administrative routines of the executive secretary office, policy questions and the development of the Student Division. Topical files contain material on disarmament, work with Black students, preparatory school work, recruiting and training efforts, the Universal Day of Prayer and voluntary study. Documentation on regional and local association activities, pamphlet and periodical publications and photographs are also included. The Student Department of the YMCA, established in 1877, was involved in religious work among college and university students. Its headquarters were located in New York, with member associations on campuses throughout the United States.

Biographical / Historical

The first Young Men's Christian Association was organized by the Englishman George Williams in June of 1844. The idea spread quickly to the United States and by the 1850s YMCAs were being formed at various colleges and universities. YMCA work among students increased, largely through the efforts of Robert Weidensall, until, in 1877, the intercollegiate branch was established as a separate department of the International Committee of the YMCA. Most instrumental in organizing the Student Department was a young man named Luther Deloraine Wishard, who in 1877 became the world's first full-time student Christian movement secretary.

Wishard served as executive secretary of the student YMCA from 1877 until 1888 when Charles K. Ober and John R. Mott assumed joint responsibility for YMCA student work. In 1890, Ober moved to another position in the YMCA hierarchy and Mott served as executive secretary of the Student Department until 1915 when he was replaced by David R. Porter. The majority of the Student YMCA archives available in this collection were accumulated under the leadership of executive secretaries Mott, Porter, A. Roland Elliott (1934-1943) and R.H. Edwin Espy (1943-1955).

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 nationwide summer student conference as 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.

Rapid growth followed the establishment of the Student Department in 1877. By 1891, there were 345 college member associations and by 1900, 628 associations. The Student YMCA reflected the changing tone of religion in America during the first two decades of the 20th century as, under the leadership of John R. Mott, the Student Department assimilated social gospel doctrines well before the parent YMCA. YMCA evangelism began to tend away from emphasis on individual conversion and take on a stronger ethical tone, particularly in the social evangelism campaigns of Raymond Robins and John L. Childs. From 1908 on, the trend in Bible study was away from content study and towards the view of Bible study as a means to illuminate contemporary problems.

World War I's enormous impact on the Student YMCA continued nearly until 1920 because of the military training programs of many colleges and universities. In student conferences after World War I, intense concern for social problems such as race, labor and war had replaced the earlier interest in YMCA methods. C. Howard Hopkins has written of D.R. Porter's term of leadership (1915-1934): "The two decades of his secretaryship spanned the most difficult period the student movement had known, a time in which student life reflected not only the dynamic shifts taking place in the American college and university but also the revolutionary changes in the total cultural pattern of western civilization" (C. Howard Hopkins. History of the YMCA in North America. N.Y.: Association Press, 1951 p.639). In 1919, students and their leaders procured the passage of the "Social Creed of the Churches" at the International Convention and for the first time the Student Department was attacked as "radical" by certain elements of the parent YMCA. The 1920s saw increasing tension between the Student YMCA and its parent body as the students sought more control of policymaking and freedom to establish a more liberal membership basis. The tension reached a head in 1927 when the National Student Committee members, D.R. Porter, and his staff all resigned. They withdrew their resignations only when the Student Department was given co-ordinate divisional status along with the home and foreign divisions of the YMCA National Council. During the 1930s there was a lessening of tension between the parent and Student YMCAs and a renewed emphasis on evangelism and Bible study. The number of member associations declined as the years went by 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.

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. The Student Christian Movement of New England archives (Record Group No. 57) provide an interesting case study of how the YMCA interrelated with the SCM movements.

As the YMCA celebrated its centennial in 1955, the Student YMCA was still an active organization but it had lost its central role in American college and university life.

For more information on the Student YMCA see:

  1. Hopkins, C.Howard. History of the YMCA in North America (New York: Association Press, 1951).
  2. Morgan, William H. Student Religion During Fifty Years: Programs and Policies of the Intercollegiate YMCA. (New York: Association Press, 1935).
  3. Shedd, Clarence P. Two Centuries of Student Christian Movements (New York: Association Press, 1934)
Guide to the YMCA - Student Division Records
Compiled by Martha Lund Smalley
1979, 2010, 2013
Description rules
Finding Aid Prepared According To Local Divinity Library Descriptive Practices
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

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