Springfield College Archives and Special Collections has created a digital library chronicling the Young Men’s Christian Associations (YMCA) movement in the United States from the 1880s to the 1920s. Early YMCA work crossed racial, social, ethnic, and national barriers during a time when the fabric of the nation was becoming urbanized, experiencing rapid industrial growth, increasing immigration flow, and heightening international involvement. These collections depict the work of the YMCA and the YMCA Training School in urban and rural settings, during the Spanish American War and World War I, on Native American reservations, in educational settings, and through social and recreational programs.
In 1885 the first professional, comprehensive institution for the training of YMCA personnel began in Springfield (Mass.), as a YMCA Department within the School for Christian Workers, today Springfield College. The School was housed in a small gymnasium located in a building owned and operated by the School on State Street in the city. The Armory Hill YMCA rented space in the building. The first instructor of YMCA studies was Jacob T. Bowne, whose previous responsibilities had included the development of training programs for the YMCA’s national organizing body. Bowne’s personal collection created the foundation for the current Springfield College Archives and Special Collections. Luther Gulick, a nationally recognized leader in physical training and recreation programming, headed the Physical Department. It was a curriculum that quickly attracted and developed pioneers in the burgeoning fields of physical education, physical training, and amateur athletics. Early notable figures who came to the Training School as students and instructors include James Naismith (who created basketball as a winter game for Training School students at the Armory Hill gym in 1891), William Morgan (who invented volleyball at the neighboring Holyoke YMCA), and Amos Alonzo Stagg (who organized the Training School's first football program in 1890).
In 1890 the YMCA Department of the School for Christian Workers became formally incorporated as the International YMCA Training School at Springfield, and, by 1895, its new campus on the shores of Lake Massasoit was firmly established with two outdoor athletic fields, a dormitory, and gymnasium. Its library, which was housed in the gymnasium, was recognized as "one of the finest collections on the work of the YMCA and Physical Training to be found." The gymnasium served as a model for physical education facility architecture. Foreign YMCAs based the development of their YMCA training programs on the Springfield Training School model, and Springfield graduates were instrumental in the growth of YMCAs around the world.
With the outbreak of World War I, and under a mandate from President Wilson, the YMCA developed and coordinated a comprehensive program of field support services for troops in Europe. The Springfield Training School campus mobilized to create intensive emergency courses to train YMCA War Workers who would serve as recreational, educational, spiritual, and physical training leaders to troops stationed overseas.
This project was supported by the Institute of Museum and Library Services through a National Library Leadership Preservation and Digitization Grant. IMLS is a federal agency that fosters innovation, leadership and a lifetime of learning.