The YMCA of Boston College was not “the” YMCA, nor was it an official part of Boston College. It organized in 1875 when Boston’s Catholic newspaper, the Pilot, published a letter from Boston College President, Robert Fulton, SJ, proposing the organization and inviting the involvement of area Catholics. He intended it to be an alternative to the popular, Protestant, and evangelical Young Men’s Christian Association. With an initial membership of about 200, it provided social and educational opportunities. These included dramatic and musical productions, debates, lectures, and athletic contests. For example, during the bicycle craze of the late 19th century, it had an active cycling club known as the “Fulton Wheelmen,” after the president of both BC and the YMCA of BC.
BC’s campus – then in Boston’s South End neighborhood – consisted of two main buildings – the college building and the adjoining Church of the Immaculate Conception. Both offered spaces for YMCA members’ use, including the library, gym, meeting, and recreation rooms. The Association reciprocated over the years by raising money to provide academic prizes for students and donating funds to the school. For spiritual benefit, YMCA members all gathered annually for a retreat during Holy Week at the Church of the Immaculate Conception.
Lawyer and Black activist Robert Morris (1832-1882) lived near the campus and attended the Church of the Immaculate Conception.. Morris had a lifetime membership to the YMCA, and his son, Robert Morris Jr., was among its first elected officers – Librarian. In 1895, the Morris’ books were left to the Church of the Immaculate Conception by Robert’s widow Catherine; he majority of this library is now at the Burns Library.
Eventually, “College” was dropped from its name, and the Young Men’s Catholic Association of Boston moved to its new headquarters (a property provided by BC) and its numbers grew. Its annual reunion, referred to as the “college ball” was a highlight of the city’s social season for many years. The collection’s scrapbooks include ephemera from these events, including tickets and programs, which sometimes include members’ portraits and biographical sketches.
From the Association’s beginning, lectures were offered to members. Evening classes, taught by volunteers, were added in 1910, with business and vocational offerings – along with Catholic Philosophy. By 1914, there were 25 paid instructors and an enrollment of 2,600. In 1923, lay women were first admittedand earned credits toward degrees from the BC School of Education. The YMCA’s evening school was eventally well known to local Catholics for civil service test prep courses.
Ursula Magrath (1875-1930), an East Boston native, was affiliated with the YMCA as an instructor for over 20 years. At the time of her death, she supervised civil service and grammar classes. Magrathwas also the first woman to earn a degree at BC – a master of arts in 1926.
The collection consists of meeting minutes, scrapbooks, publications, and ephemera, dating from 1874-1941. Included with the publications are the programs and ephemera of the annual College Ball, including information about YMCA officers and members, along with material about courses, and career and trade preparation. To use the collection, visit Burns Library, see our access plan for details.
- Shelley Barber, Reference & Archives Specialist, John J. Burns Library
List of works consulted:
15th Annual Reunion (pamphlet), Mechanics Building, Entitled: “Brochure of Boston College and its Associations”, 1894 February 5, box 16, folder 5, Young Men’s Catholic Association of Boston College Records, BC2001-074, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.
Davis, Laurel, and Bilder, Mary Sarah. The Library of Robert Morris, Antebellum Civil Rights Lawyer & Activist, Law Library Journal 111, no.4 (2019): 461-508.
Dunigan, David R. A History of Boston College. Milwaukee: Bruce Pub. Co., 1947
Fulton, Robert J. to the Pilot concerning the formation of a Young Men’s Catholic Association of Boston, and Pilot article transcriptions, 1875, Box 1, Folder 6, Robert Fulton, SJ, President’s Office Records, BC1986-020B, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.
“FUNERAL OF VETERAN BOSTON TEACHER: ASSOCIATES PAY TRIBUTE TO MISS URSULA MAGRATH.” Daily Boston Globe (1928-1960), Oct 08 1930, p. 11. ProQuest. Web. 22 Dec. 2020.
O’Sullivan, Joseph F. “The Young Men’s Catholic Association of Boston,” The Stylus, vol. 19, no. 5, 6 Febraury 1906, pp.8-11. newspapers.bc.edu.
“URSULA MAGRATH, 30 YEARS TEACHER, DEAD: ON STAFF OF EAST BOSTON HIGH 20 YEARS LATER FIRST ASSISTANT DIRECTOR OF PRACTICE AND TRAINING.” Daily Boston Globe (1928-1960), Oct 04 1930, p. 2. ProQuest. Web. 22 Dec. 2020.
“Young Men’s Catholic Association, ‘A harmless recreation,’” p. 40-43. Birnbaum, Ben, Meehan, Seth, author, and Gilbert, Gary Wayne, illustrator. The Heights: an Illustrated History of Boston College, 1863-2013. Chestnut Hill, Mass.: Linden Lane Press at Boston College, 2014.
Young Men’s Catholic Association of Boston College Records, BC2001-074, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.