I spent much of the evening working on the second of my two encyclopedia articles. They are not due until mid-February but I am determined to hammer them out and move on to other things. Besides, when it’s this cold out what else is there to do? This one is about the early years of the Y.M.C.A. I am really killing three birds with one stone. First, there is the article itself. Then, it ties in with the Roosevelt Sr. project; Roosevelt was not a major factor in the history of the Y, but good friends like William E. Dodge Jr. were. Finally, the YMCA ties into something I am hoping to do at Governors Island this summer. The Y faded a little during the Civil War when its membership fell. It was probably just as well. Many of its leaders were preoccupied with important work for the U.S. Christian Commission at the time.
Things were different a half century later. By 1917 the YMCA was fully entrenched and better able to help in a larger, more systematic was than it was in 1861 when it was only a decade old. The Y contributed here in the United States, and in France as well. It was hugely influential. The Governors Island YMCA, for one, helped so much in the war effort during the First World War.
I have been having too much fun reading old reports in Google books and the like. I have also been reading old New York Times articles to cross-check facts and get a sense of the spirits of the period. Brooklyn was an independent city until 1898. So, in the early 1850s its YMCAs had their own bureaucracies and infrastructure. About 120,000 lived here. It was a large city, but its residents prided themselves on its small time feel. One letter to the editor from April 1854 caught my eye and made me laugh out loud. Alas it is not signed but the writer opines of the city across the river: “Brooklyn, so near to New-York, the focus of all good and bad influences.”