Skip to Main Content

Rare Book Collection: The Watchman as Lens for American Culture

Before the Civil War, religious publications were a major source of information for Americans. These religious publications sprung up in every state and territory and were closely tied to particular denominations. Each denomination had its suite of publications - usually a full complement of formats like theological quarterlies, regional weekly periodicals/newsletters, and local newspapers. These publications were quite popular and widely distributed throughout most communities. These religious publications were among the first to capture the deepening divisions over Slavery, and often, these publications often inflamed these deep fault lines within America.

Within this dynamic print environment, there were interdenominational religious journals that attempted to move beyond theological and political schisms and promoted “Christian unity”. Some of the more important voices of unity included the first Young Men’s Christian Association journal, the Quarterly Reporter of Y.M.C.A’s in North America, which began in Buffalo in 1856 and then changed to the monthly Young Men’s Christian Journal in 1859.

After the Civil War, the call for “Christian unity” was a lively topic among all religious publications, and the number of interdenominational journals increased. The YMCA, which had grown after the War, issued periodicals in several cities. Of these, the most important title was The Watchman (1876-1932), published out of Chicago.

Front page of The Watchman

The Watchman (1876-1889) continued as the Young Men’s Era (1890-1898), and the Association Men (1899-1933), and documents the growth of the YMCA in America. Springfield College has a full run of these YMCA periodicals, primary sources that touch upon nearly all subjects from the period after the Civil War until the Great Depression.

Front page of The Young Men's Era