Youth Groups: American Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA)


Figure 1.--

The YMCA expanded in countless American communities. Often YMCA were organized around specific groups such as universities, railway workers, military services, industrial as well as urban areas, and blacks in both northern and southern cities. The YMCA which began as an exercise program in poorly designed gynasiums developed into sophisticated programs of health and physical education that proved so popular that they came to symbolize the "Y" in the popular mind. The "Y"s work provide the foundation for modern physical education programs in the public schools. Part time and evening classes prved extrodinarily helpful to young men of modest means. Many "Y"s organized low cost summer camp programs for urban youth. The Y played a major in popularizing the summer camp program for American boys--making the experience available to boys from families of modest means. When the BSA was founded in 1910, 400 local YMCA summer camps were already serving 15,000 boys. The Y in America also played an important role in the fledgling Boy Scout movement. YMCA Executive Edgar M. Robinson, in fact, played a major role in the early Scout movement.

Organization

Often YMCA were organized around specific groups such as universities, railway workers, military services, industrial as well as urban areas, and blacks in both northern and southern cities.

Exercise and Health

The YMCA which began as an exercise program in poorly designed gynasiums. The idea was to put Christian principles into practice through programs that build healthy spirit, mind and body. At the time there were few gym facilities open to individuals of modest income. Thus exercise and health was central to the YMCA from the beginning. The idea proved popular and developed into sophisticated programs of health and physical education that proved so popular that they came to symbolize the "Y" in the popular mind. The "Y"s work provide the foundation for modern physical education programs in the public schools.

Swimming

As the YMCA became successful, individual Y's could afford moreextensive facilities and one of the facilities that proved most popular were swimming pools. These were commonly the only indoor, all year swimming pools open to city residents of modest means. We are not sure when and where the first Y swimming pools were built. We know Y pools were functioning in the early-20th century. It became very common for YMCAs to have swimming pools which becamne one of tge most popular facilities. Along with the pools the Ys offered a range of swimming classes. The Y's cooperated with the Red Cross to promote swimming saftey and life guard training. The Y also promoted iys swimming progeram at its extensive system of summer camps. Y's organized swim and diving teams which competed with other Y's and swim clubs. The Y steadily expanbded its swimming program throughout the 20th century. It eventually expanded to include families and people with disabilities. In addition to helping youth feel safe around water, swim activities develop kidsí problem-solving abilities and bolster their self-esteem.

Education

Part-time and evening classes proved extrodinarily helpful to young men of modest means.

Immigrtion Assistance Program

Immigrants arriving in America during the 19th cenntury almost no institutionl support. The Government offered no assistace and was primarily concerned with excluding those immigrahts that might requirecassistance. One of the many organizations that responded to the needs of immigrants was the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA). Growing awarness of the problems ebcountered by immigrant families led the YMCA to address that need. The YMCA set up a comprehensive immigration program (1907). The YMCA addressed immigrant needs at embarkation and debarkation ports, in transit, and after arrival. The YMCA service program included bureaus of information, employment, legal aid, medical aid, banking advice, courses in English, citizenship, naturalization procedures, and other mtters. The YMCA appointed an agent at Ellis Island. The YMCA orogram relied heavily on distributiing published materials.

Summer Camping

Many "Y"s organized low cost summer camp programs for urban youth. The Y played a major role in the summer camp program. Our information is still limited, but I believe that the summer campmovement ws founde in America duringthe late 19th century and the Y played a major role in that movement. There must be some research done on the American summer camp movement, but I have been unble to find a helpful study yet. I would be interested in any informative sources tht readers may have found. The Y popularized the summer camp program for American boys--making the experience available to boys from families of modest means. When the BSA was founded in 1910, 400 local YMCA summer camps were already serving 15,000 boys. Summer camp can be quite expensive. The Y camps were not free, but they the fees were modest bringing a camp experience possible for a wide range of American chilfren.

Scouting

YMCA Executive Edgar M. Robinson played a major role in the early Scout movement. Surprisingly, his name is often not included on a list of American Scouting founders despite the key role that he played. Robinson was an experienced YMCA summer camp director. He had 20 years' experience in youth work when the BSA was founded in 1910. At that time few if any Scouters had any experience at all with youth work. Robinson did not have the chaismatic personality of other early Scouting leaders like Seaton and Beard. But he proved a highly effective manager. A few YMCAs set up troops even before the BSA was founded. The YMCA began establishing its summer camping prohram in the late 19th century. By the time the BSA was founded in 1910, the Y had an effective summer camp program underway and had acqyuired considerable experience. Some Y camps were using elements of the Scoutcraft skills being developed by Baden Powell in England. When Robinson learned in early May 1910 that William D. Boyce had actually incorporated the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) months earlier, he was concerned about the potential impact on the YMCA. Boyce controlled the Boy Scouts and potentially the future of Scouting in America. Robinson with two colleagues traveled to Chicago to meet Boyce. They found that that Boyce indeed had title to the BSA name, he had not yet recruited any boys or set up and organization to do so. Robinson urged Boyce to work with the YMCA, which had the experiebce and organizational skills to turn the BSA into an actual functioning organization. Not only vould the Y set up Scouting, they could provide a source of Scoutmasters. Not only did Boyce do so, but he agreed to turn over the management of the BSA to Robinson and the YMCA. Robinson had struck up a frienship with Ernest Thompson Seton as part of his Y summer camp work, He asked Seton to merge his Woodcraft Indians into the BSA and work with the new organization. Seaton and Robinson then approached men who had announced plans for their own Scouting organizations and got all but one of them--the publisher William Randolph Hearst and his American Boy Scouts--to come into the BSA. Robinson's helped organize the BSA's National Committee. Seton was named chairman. Robinson declined overtures to become the BSA's permanent executive secretary because, he said, "my attachment to the YMCA was too strong to allow me to consider it." His attention was called to an enterprising young lawyer in Washington, D.C., named James E. West. While like himself, not a charismaric leader, and Robinson saw in him a stable man willing to tackle the mintutia necessary to effectively administer the growing organization. He decided to recruit West for the BSA. At first West was not anxious to assume responsibility for the organization which was not yet financially soind. West finally accepted the challenge and started work as the BSA's new chief on January 1, 1911. He proved to be an able administrator. [Petersen] West ewas a strong leader and in desiore to direct the BSA he alienated some of the founders like Boyce and Seaton. He soon established his authority and served until 1943.

Other countries

No information developed yet.

Sources

Peterson, Robert. "The BSA's 'forgotten' founding father," Scouting Magazine.







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Created: November 15, 1998
Last updated: 8:10 PM 9/24/2010