Archive of the YMCA (Young Men's Christian Association)

Scope and Content

The archive includes the minutes of the YMCA National Council, dating from 1882, together with minutes of many of its Committees. These Committees include the Officers Training and Nomination Committee (formerly the Secretarial Appointments Board), Finance and General Purposes Committee, War Emergency Committees, Education Committee, Physical Education Committee, Community Services Committee, Special Services Committee, Migration Department Executive Committee and a number of others.

In addition, there are minutes of a number of associated organisations including Inter-Council Committee (formerly the Committee for British Business, a joint Committee with the Scottish and Irish Associations), 1884-1970; the International Hospitality League/ Red Triangle Hospitality League, 1918-21; and the Council of Voluntary War Work, North Africa and Central Mediterranean Committee (a body with representatives form YMCA, YWCA, Catholic Women's League, Church Army, Church of Scotland, Salvation Army, Toc H), 1943-48.

There are substantial quantities of material relating to the YMCAs war work during the Great War which consists of various series of compilations of folders (often referred to as the First World War Green Books). These include photographs of war emergency work at home and abroad; printed reports, pamphlets, cuttings and some manuscript correspondence and notes about war work (organised by place or subject); binders of correspondence, printed material and photographs relating to military camp work; and compilation volumes of typescript records relating to the YMCAs war work including lists of workers.

The archive also includes a large collection of binders which contain printed and other materials relating to both local YMCAs and to the district unions. The materials in these binders (which date from the mid 19th century up to about 1922) include annual and conference reports, by-laws and magazines, advertising literature, published histories and programmes of events. They provide an enormous amount of information about the activities of these branches which ranged from religious, social and educational programmes to health education projects, youth clubs, libraries, gymnasia and other sporting facilities, training and other courses for young people. As well as acquiring printed material of local YMCAs, the National Council at one time encouraged these bodies to deposit their records centrally at its headquarters. As a result, the archive includes minutes, financial records, photographs and other material of a small number of local YMCAs and of unions of local YMCAs. These include, for example, minutes of the North Western District Union of YMCAs (1904-73) and of the Yorkshire Union of YMCAs (1915-76); and records of Penrith YMCA (1889-1964) and North Liverpool YMCA (1885-1936).

Complete sets of the various sequences of national YMCA journals, including YMCA Monthly Review (1884-89), The Red Triangle (1917-23) and the British YMCA Review (1936-39, 1948-61) have been deposited. Other publications such as national annual and conference reports, printed publicity and other literature are also available as is a set of the early Exeter Hall lectures, 1847-1865.

In addition, other deposited records include archives of the Association of YMCA Secretaries, which comprise minutes, conference proceedings, reports, journals and newsletters (1890-1980s); and a large collection of printed literature and publications of the World Alliance of the YMCAs and of national and international bodies of YMCAs around the world including North America and Asia. While this latter category of material is not unique, it constitutes an important collection which is not easily accessible elsewhere in the country.

The archive also includes a small quantity of papers of individuals connected with the YMCA. These include a diary and scrap album of Gypsy Smith, evangelist and YMCA war worker, who undertook mission work amongst troops in France in the First World War and who also promoted the YMCAs war work in this country; a diary of W E Shipton, Secretary of the City of London YMCA, 1851-80; and a diary of a visit to America in 1883 by William Hind Smith, then National YMCA Secretary.

Administrative / Biographical History

The YMCA, which originated in regular prayer and bible study meetings of young male shop workers, was established in 1844. George Williams, a draper's assistant, is acknowledged as its principal founder, and from very small beginnings the association quickly expanded with other branches opening both in London and elsewhere. Branches in Manchester and Leeds began in 1845, and by 1855 there were 40 local YMCAs outside London.

Although established as a non-denominational evangelical Christian movement, it soon began educational work and provided valuable opportunities for social and physical activities for its membership. For example, a series of very successful lectures was initiated in London in 1845 (held in Exeter Hall in the Strand, an important venue for meetings and concerts, from 1847), and local associations began libraries and introduced evening classes. In 1881, the London YMCA acquired Exeter Hall. These premises were used, from 1882, by the National Council of YMCAs, which was formed in that year to coordinate the work of all the local associations in England, Wales and Ireland. The YMCA organisation also rapidly expanded abroad, and in 1855 the first world conference of YMCAs was held in Paris where representatives of eight countries from Europe and North America met and the World Alliance of YMCAs was constituted. In the last 20 years of the nineteenth century, associations were set up in Africa, Asia and South America. The World Alliance now represents more than 100 countries and, while maintaining its Christian outlook, is particularly concerned with world development issues and with peace, justice and equality.

The work of the YMCA during the two world wars is well known. During the First World War, when the red triangle emblem was adopted by the movement, the major focus of the YMCA's work was the provision of YMCA huts. These were put up in this country and in the war zones of Europe and Africa to provide food and a place of rest for soldiers. The YMCA also set up the National Women's Auxiliary which recruited large numbers of volunteers for its war work. During the Second World War, the mobile canteen, known as the "Tea Car", was introduced to supply food and drinks to troops, other war workers and those made homeless by bombing.

The association is also famous for the familiar and ubiquitous YMCA hostel. The YMCA provided accommodation for young men from the later nineteenth century, and the first purpose built hostels were opened in Cardiff and London in 1912. After the second world war, the provision of traditional hostels, together with YMCA holiday centres and hotels, expanded, and the association still provides accommodation for young people in hostels, self catering flats and other centres.

Since the 1950s, the YMCA has focused on youth work, on health education and physical fitness and on training, and, although initially established for young men (which soon encompassed work with boys), the YMCA also provided opportunities for women and girls from the 1960s. From the 1970s, the association has particularly concentrated on the needs of the homeless, disadvantaged and unemployed and is now one of the largest youth and community organisations in the country. National developments and programmes of the last few decades include its National College to provide courses for youth and community work; Y Training Services, a professional training company which runs, for example, programmes for young people with special needs; the establishment and expansion of permanent centres to provide outdoor activities; the introduction of YMCA Day Camps for children during school holidays; and the establishment of an overseas development agency, Y Care International. Locally, YMCAs run youth clubs and social centres for young people, fitness classes, job clubs, restart programmes and courses for the unemployed, and drug and other health education projects.

Reference: University of Birmingham, Guide to Archives and Manuscripts ( ). Accessed February 2002.


The collection is arranged in the following temporary sections: Section A: Printed materials, 1866-1923; Section B: Early local YMCA association reports, 1838-1890; Section C: Sample printed literature of local associations and divisions/regions of the YMCA and of the National Councils of Scotland, Ireland and Wales, mostly 1950s; Section D: Records of local associations, divisional unions and the National Council of YMCAs, 1893-1973; Section E: YMCA publications, 1847-1996; Section F: Multi media audio/visual materials 1960s-1970s; Section G: Records of the YMCA Women's Auxiliary, 1926-1973; Section H: Records of Association of YMCA Secretaries, 1890-1991; Section I: Printed literature of YMCAs of the World, 1920-1990; Section J: YMCA minutes, 1882-1979; Section K: First World War Green Books, 1860-1922.

Access Information

Open apart from the minutes which are subject to a thirty-year closure period.

Acquisition Information

The first deposit was made by the YMCA in 1998 and an substantial addition was subsequently received in 2000. Smaller deposits are made on a regular basis.

Other Finding Aids

See full catalogue for further details

Conditions Governing Use

Permission to make any published use of any material from the collection must be sought in advance in writing from the University Archivist, Special Collections. Identification of copyright holders of unpublished material is often difficult. Special Collections will assist where possible with identifying copyright owners, but responsibility for ensuring copyright clearance rests with the user of the material.


Further deposits are expected.

Related Material

Papers of the YWCA (Young Women's Christian Association) are held at the Modern Records Centre, University of Warwick, Coventry.