Ardmore Project Suburban Life in the Early 20th Century

The YMCA in Ardmore, Pennsylvania, 1904-1905


In October 2013, Ardmore lost an institution that had been part of the community for over a hundred years. The closure of the Mainline YMCA prompted our class to investigate what we could find out about the early history of the YMCA. In order to prepare ourselves for primary research on the subject, we read Paula Lupkin’s intriguing book, Manhood Factories: YMCA Architecture and the Making of Modern Urban Culture (Minneapolis, 2010). Lupkin’s work prompted us to think about: the significance of the location of the YMCA; what the building was like; what activities the YMCA promoted; who was involved in the institution and what were their motives.

What follows are summaries of newspapers reports on the YMCA from a local newspaper, the Ardmore Chronicle, in 1904 and 1905. Students first went to the Historical Society of Montgomery County in Norristown to look at the original issues of the Ardmore Chronicle and completed their research by using online digital copies of the paper that have been scanned by staff members of Special Collections in Falvey Library. As part of this exercise, each student also scanned in several issues of the Ardmore Chronicle and thereby contributed to the production of the digital library.


January 1904

The January 1904 issues of the Ardmore Chronicle provided frequent but brief reports about the local YMCA. These reports varied greatly in length, but little in terms of content. The topic the Chronicle discussed most often in connection with the YMCA was the organization’s “men’s meeting”. These Sunday meetings usually featured a guest speaker, typically a clergyman, and always a man. The January issues of the Chronicle made almost no mention of women’s participation, although further research might yield more insight to what role women played in the YMCA during this time period.

According to the newspapers reports, the Ardmore YMCA in January 1904 focused on the association’s original purpose to help “improve the spiritual condition of the young men”. The article on the YMCA’s men’s meeting in the January 30 issue demonstrated the religious focus of the association at this time. The article began by discussing the meeting held on the previous Sunday and stated that over 170 men attended. The meeting on the 30th provided a straightforward message about women to the young men in attendance. The article stated that the Reverend Dr. C. R. Blackall delivered an address on “Wine, Women, and Waste”. Blackall reasoned that these were the factors responsible for the destruction of men’s lives. The Reverend implied that women were temptresses and would thereby encourage rowdy and undisciplined behavior amongst young men. By pursuing a good, Christian lifestyle, and by staying away from women and drink, men would be able to lead a stable and successful life.

The only other mention of women in the January 1904 issues was a report about a musical performance. The January 23, 1904 article stated briefly that Miss Elizabeth Colby, a lady cornetist, “contributed fine selections last Sunday”. Colby’s presence speaks little to her participation as a woman in the YMCA but more about the idea that music was a sophisticated and cultured activity, perhaps one that could set a good example for the young men who attended that day.

In 1904, the Ardmore YMCA clearly had strong ties with the young men of Haverford College. The school was frequently referenced in various issues of the Chronicle. For example, the January 9, 1904 issue reported that Robert E. Speer gave an address that “had a most deep impression on the listeners”. With strong religious ties, its linkage to the all-male Haverford College, the continual growth and attendance of men’s meetings and its male speakers, the Ardmore YMCA during 1904 was still devoted to its mission of guiding young men to their potential, and therefore viewed women as having little to nothing but ruin to contribute to men’s lives.

- Cherisse Smith

February 1904

The final column of the Ardmore Chronicle in all of the February 1904 issues included a directory of the Merion Title Building. This directory listed the Merion Title and Trust Co., Ardmore Hardware Company, Post Office, Ardmore Chronicle and Ardmore Printing Co., and offices for township board members including the Treasurer, Clerk, and Commissioners. The Metropolitan Life Insurance Co., Telephone Exchange, Public Library and Women’s Club of Montgomery County, Banyan Tree Lodge, Ardmore Council, Blue Jacket Tribe, and Montgomery Encampment were also listed. The building tied together businesses, local government, and social groups of Ardmore. Further research may reveal how the local Y.M.C.A. interacted with these other groups, as it opened temporary headquarters in the Merion Title Building in 1904.

The Y.M.C.A certainly developed relationships with different parts of the community, especially Haverford College. On February 6, 1904, “Haverford College Notes” mentioned that “President Sharpless…spoke to the college Y.M.C.A. last Wednesday evening.” This article revealed that there was a Haverford College Y.M.C.A., and that college members—including the President—were involved in the Y.M.C.A. This article demonstrated that the Ardmore Y.M.C.A.’s mission included and appealed to college students, and that there was an interactive relationship between the Y.M.C.A. and Haverford College.

On February 6, 1904 the Chronicle announced the opening of Y.M.C.A headquarters and asked “the good people of Ardmore” to supply attractive furnishings, magazine subscriptions, and board games. Members addressed this request to “those who realize the value of the association to Ardmore,” showing that Y.M.C.A. members believed that the association would influence young men in the local area to better shape the community. The request for board games showed that Y.M.C.A. members embraced leisure activities, although they could not afford pool rooms or gymnasiums. Nevertheless, the Y.M.C.A. Committee hoped to soon have a Y.M.C.A. building “with all the necessary features provided for, including a reading room, library, gymnasium, and other departments.” The article directed all contribution concerns to W.C. Reinhold, chairman of the Rooms and Library Committee. It then listed the President (Wilbur) and all members appointed to Executive, Finance, Membership, and Rooms and Library Committees. There was a notice about Sunday afternoon Young Men’s Meetings, which were “increasing in popularity” with attendance exceeding 100 men. The notice listed speakers for upcoming meetings including “Reverend Crowell” and “Reverend Rowland,” both of Philadelphia. The article offered information on membership applications, stating that about 40 men had already applied. Sustaining members were instructed to forward their names to the association’s Secretary with a subscription of $10 or more.

An article entitled “Y.M.C.A. Room Is Now Open,” appearing in the Chronicle on February 13, described the recently opened headquarters of the Lower Merion Y.M.C.A. It mentioned impressive oak furnishings and board games which had been donated in addition to “a number of the current magazines and newspapers,” indicating that the Y.M.C.A. offered leisure and literature for its members. Yet, the simply furnished, rented room contrasted with the large buildings constructed in big cities like New York and Chicago, which were filled with amenities and housed rooms for education, sports, and social activities.

- Katie Hickey

March 1904

The articles in The Ardmore Chronicle for the month of March revolved around two main themes: lectures and continued development in the form of a library. In fact, the very first mention of the Y.M.C.A. under the “Week’s Local News Briefly Told” for March 5, 1904, was about a lecture. The one-liner said, “Every man, young and old, should hear I. Newton Boyd to-morrow evening, at the Y.M.C.A. meeting, on the subject, ‘Appetites that Unmake Men.’” This brief mention was interesting for two main reasons: first, it gave a glimpse of the types of lectures the Y.M.C.A. held and the moral influence it was trying to have on the community. Second, the fact that it reported “every man” and included “old” men, specifically shows how the target audience was not just young men for this particular lecture and suggests the importance the Y.M.C.A placed on this topic; yet, this begs the question of how often groups other than young men were welcomed.

The very last report of the Y.M.C.A. in the March issues also focused on a lecture. In the March 26, 1904 issue, a small paragraph under the heading “Ardmore Y.M.C.A.” was written about William W. Chambers, Jr., of Rosemont and how he made “a stirring appeal to the members of the Y.M.C.A.” on the subject of “character.” Although he was “not a preacher nor a son of a preacher,” the article went on to say that “his audience was as much impressed as if the ordinary preacher had spoken.” The paragraph concluded by saying that Mr. Clarkson Clothier would address the meeting the following Sunday, and “all who can should attend.” This paragraph, like the last, also provided insight to the values and ethics that the Y.M.C.A. was trying to encourage. Lastly, though the article ended with “all who can should attend,” this was likely intended for the members of the Y.M.C.A., or at least restricted to men only.

Aside from these lectures, another important event that occurred for the Y.M.C.A. was the donation of a library, according to an article published on March 5, 1904. The article entitled “Books for Y.M.C.A Room: A nucleus For a Library.—Young Men are invited to the Room Every Night But Sunday,” explained how Mr. Joshua L. Baily presented the “cheerful headquarters” of the Y.M.C.A. with books and a “nucleus of a library.” All of the books were related to temperance, and a list of these was provided in the article, which once again shows the formative influence the Y was trying to exert over its members, not only through events like lectures but also through the available leisure activities. Additionally, the target audience was defined as “young men over 16 years of age,” and 7-11 year olds who were inquiring about the Y were “urged to go home.” Therefore, although the Y sometimes broadened its audience during events like lectures, it was clearly focused on the moral development of young men rather than children.

- Noor Shaik

April 1904

The April 1904 issues of the Ardmore Chronicle portrayed the Y.M.C.A.’s dual role in the community as an institution that shaped the moral formation of its members and provided entertainment for the community at large.

The core objective of the Y.M.C.A.’s mission in Ardmore was the fostering of Christian morality in young men. As reported in the Ardmore Chronicle, Y.M.C.A. events like the “Men’s Meetings” were meant to develop young members into industrious men through secular and religious means. In a lecture to the April 3rd Men’s Meeting, Mr. Sharpless, President of Haverford College, discussed the topic of “habits,” drawing from “not only the proven truths of science, but the experience of his life work in the education of young men.” President Sharpless supported his advice on habit-formation with science and personal experience. Later in the same meeting, this message would be given a religious twist. Mr. Howard B. Arrison presented a bible and pulpit to the Y.M.C.A. in honor of William K. Joralemon, who had been his Sunday School teacher. Mr. Arrison, in brief remarks, extolled the virtues of his former teacher and mentor whose “mode of living” was an example of what President Sharpless had just described. In this Men’s Meeting, the Ardmore Y.M.C.A. displayed their commitment to moral formation along Christian lines, even if they needed to use secular arguments to facilitate it.

To support its moral mission, the Y.M.C.A. used entertainment as both a fundraising method and a possible tool for outreach. In the month of April, the Chronicle advertised a lecture titled “A Tour of the World in Eighty Minutes” in almost every issue. This lecture, detailing a tour around the globe, would be illustrated by stereopticon views of the locations discussed. The lecture placed special emphasis on topical locations like Japan, which at the time was at war with Russia. All proceeds would benefit the Y.M.C.A., offering members of the community the opportunity to see exotic places and to support the Y.M.C.A.’s moral mission. The use of exciting lectures totally unrelated to their central, moral, mission was not only a fundraising opportunity, but could have also been an entry point into the Association. Additionally, musical performances at Men’s Meetings suggests that for some, a nice lecture on morality may not have been enough. The Chronicle on April 9th credited “good speakers and music” for the anticipation that the weekly meetings garnered in the community. The Ardmore Y.M.C.A. was not only a place to hear an uplifting lecture, but also a place to enjoy some nice music.

Y.M.C.A. events announced in the Ardmore Chronicle presented an image of an institution focused on the goal of moral formation. At the same time, it was an institution that was willing to use forms of entertainment to address accepted realities. The association needed money to function and music may have enticed more young men than lectures did.

- Colin Owens

October 1904

On October 1st, the Ardmore Chronicle announced that Men’s Meetings would be held at the Merion Title Hall, at 4pm the next day. The Reverend L.Y. Graham would deliver a keynote speech entitled “Half-baked People.” The President of the Lower Merion YMCA, Dr. B.K. Wilbur, also was scheduled to give a short address at the meeting, as were several other clergymen. Religion remained a major issue for the Ardmore YMCA in this period, and the Chronicle issues for October made no mention of gymnasiums, physical fitness or similar features that are common in YMCAs today.

The Chronicle provided only a brief mention of the YMCA in the issue for 8 October. While virtually no information was given about the people who went to the YMCA, the context of the article did shed light on the workings of the institution. This particular Y was advertising the lectures that were to be given later that year. By the turn of the century, the institution as a whole had begun to undergo major shifts in identity and function, as the focus on classrooms, lectures and education, gave way to a new emphasis on physical fitness and ideas of “manliness”. But in Ardmore, according to the Chronicle for October, the YMCA still pursued earlier religious and educational objectives.

On October 15th, the newspaper discussed that the following day, a professor from Haverford College named Jones would give an “interesting address” to the meeting. The paper also promised that there would be a baritone singer there named Mr. Ingram. The Men’s Meeting lecture series seemed to be reaching a high point, as the highly esteemed orator, Reverend Pohlman, was slotted to make a speech the following week. Pohlman was the pastor of one of the largest congregations in the entire city of Philadelphia, and was expected to put on quite a speech for the crowd that day. The paper concluded by specifying that “all men” were welcome to attend the event.

These articles, taken together, demonstrate that the Ardmore YMCA was behaving more like a relic of the old YMCA concept; in the past, it was simply a place for young men, an institution that was established as a place to learn and foster the minds of the aforementioned youth. Women were never explicitly given the right to come to the YMCA, even when a very prominent pastor from the city came to give a speech.

- Chris Cruz

November 1904

Articles in the November 1904 Ardmore Chronicle pertaining to the Ardmore YMCA all discussed a reception for current and prospective YMCA members to be held on November 21. An article on November 12, 1904 entitled, “Reception for members: Board of directors of YMCA will entertain” promoted the reception and encouraged Y members and their friends to attend. It advertised refreshments to be served by the Ladies’ Auxiliary as well as a musical programme. An article on November 19, 1904 entitled, “Local News Brief” followed up the previous YMCA article and served as a reminder of the meeting that would take place on the 21st. It again encouraged all members, friends of members or men interested in the Y to attend.

An article on November 26, 1904 entitled, “YMCA building for Ardmore” discussed the YMCA reception and provided insight to the culture and structure of the Ardmore YMCA in 1904. One of the most interesting features of this article was the role of the Ladies’ Auxiliary. Although the Ladies Auxiliary was briefly mentioned in the first two articles, other than providing refreshments its purpose remained unclear. However, in the November 26th article the Ladies Auxiliary was described as an association of ladies working towards the inclusion of women interested in the YMCA movement. It is important to note that the role of the Ladies’ Auxiliary in the YMCA seemed limited at this point. The women were not given a voice in YMCA matters, but were only given the responsibility of serving refreshments.

The article then reported on the speech of Dr. B.K. Wilbur, president of the YMCA. In his speech, Wilbur emphasized that in order to move forward, the Board of Directors would have to work with the members of the YMCA as “one man”. One of his talking points was about the Dirigo Club house which he hoped to raise funds for and purchase. In addition, he stated that the YMCA was going to be a “permanent organization to benefit the young men of this community…”. Therefore, it was the duty of all members of the community to help the organization. Also, the article made a point of discussing the support that three clergymen attending the reception offered the organization as a whole. These clergymen believed that the work of the YMCA was something that the churches had yet to commit to properly, and might fail to do in the future. The article concluded by stating that by the end of the reception, a significant number of people had become members and many others promised to join.

- Jack Piontkowski

December 1904

The cover story of the December 3rd issue of the Chronicle documented the possible move of the YMCA to the Dirigo Club in Ardmore. The article stated that if events went according to plan, then the Dirigo Club “will be transformed into a fine home” for the Ardmore branch of the YMCA, which, as stated in the previous issue of the Chronicle, should be of interest to “every man in Ardmore”.

This move was given a lot of press for two reasons. First, the YMCA, with its name and reputation, would most likely bring with an increase in business and positive influences to the area. Second, there was an extensive history behind the Dirigo Club building, particularly in regards to politics. The article gave a detailed explanation of the rich history of the building, showing how it was worthy and in the community’s best interest to have the YMCA take over this building.

The building’s name stemmed from the original name of the Ardmore Republican Club, the Dirigo Club, first organized in 1888 for the presidential election. The building’s name, “Dirigo”, meaning “I lead” in Latin, was fitting, seeing as it was the clubhouse that served as the headquarters for the Republican politicians of the area. With the completion of the building in Ardmore in 1890, the club “took an active part and was recognized as an important factor…throughout the state”. Not only did the men who utilized this building have influence in the immediate area, but their power extended throughout the state.

It is important to note that this building always remained very much a “man’s” building. The men who entered this building, before and after its transfer, certainly had an influence on society in Ardmore. The article pointed to such prominent men as H. Legrand Ensign (President), Howard Roberts (Vice President), Governor Hastings, Congressmen John Dalzell, Robert Yardley, Irving Wagner and John B Robinson who enjoyed the many perks of the club.

Having its own building, demonstrates the power of the Republican Party in this area at the beginning of the 20th century. As was customary for the time, dinner parties and “notable occasions” were held there and only garnered more influence for the building and the organization behind it. The Dirigo building, rich in history, certainly seemed like the perfect place for the YMCA to start a new branch.

- Melissa Eckels

January 1905

On January 21, 1905, the Ardmore Chronicle published an article titled “Prominent Divines Visit Ardmore,” which praised the YMCA’s role in bringing prominent Philadelphia ministers and laymen to Ardmore as part of its Committee on Sunday Afternoon Meetings. The article suggested that these lectures were the Y.M.C.A.’s most important contribution to the community, claiming that “if the Young Men’s Christian Association has accomplished nothing else since its inception,” it has produced the influx of speakers. The article listed several of these speakers, including politicians such as Governor Pattison and Congressman George McCreary and religious figures such as Rev. Dr. James M. Crowell and Rev. Dr. A. J. Roland. Furthermore, the article claimed that this list of “splendid speakers has by no means been exhausted,” underscoring the Y.M.C.A.’s important role in attracting notable cultural, political, and religious figures to the area.

After praising the Y.M.C.A. as a cultural hub, the rest of the article advertised an upcoming lecture at the Y.M.C.A. On the last Sunday of January 1905 the Chronicle announced that the Y.M.C.A. would host Rev. Kerr Boyce Tupper, a nationally-known speaker and minister on Seventeenth Street in Philadelphia. Unlike many of the previous lectures at the Y.M.C.A., Dr. Tupper’s lecture proposed to “invite the ladies” rather than just the men who “have hitherto monopolized these meetings themselves.” After being told of his new audience, Dr. Tupper intended to make his lecture applicable and appealing to both sexes. The article concluded by suggesting that if both ladies and men attended Dr. Tupper’s lecture, the ladies “may find themselves invited on other special occasions.” Prior to Dr. Tupper’s lecture, women were rarely invited to any of the men’s lectures or meetings, and Dr. Tupper’s lecture may indicate a shift in the role that women played in the Ardmore Y.M.C.A. The article did not mention the topic of the lecture, nor what precipitated the extended invitation to the women of Ardmore.

- Janine Perri

February 1905

Throughout February 1905, the Y.M.C.A. called for a series of meetings to determine Ardmore’s interest in enlarging the Y.M.C.A. The low attendance at the first meeting led to a crisis for the Y.M.C.A., but the crisis was ultimately resolved at future meetings and underscored the importance of the Y.M.C.A. to the community.

On February 11, 1905, the Ardmore Chronicle printed an article titled “Local Y.M.C.A. to Enlarge,” inviting all men to an important meeting on February 13 to elect a new board of members and discuss the future of the Y.M.C.A. Most importantly, the Y.M.C.A.’s committee on building wanted to give a “special report” about plans for expansion.

However, the meeting on February 13 was poorly attended. A circular placed on the first page of the Chronicle on February 18, 1905, with the headline “Do the People of Ardmore Really Want a Y.M.C.A?”,claimed that although the meeting was heavily advertised in newspapers, churches, and men’s meetings and that 90 personal invitations were sent, only 14 people attended. The circularput in a “final call” to the people of Ardmore to determine if they wanted a Y.M.C.A. The circular announced that the directors of the Y.M.C.A. would “not secure a Club House” until they heard “what [the people of Ardmore] [thought] about it,” and so scheduled another meeting for February 20 to give men “one more opportunity” to express their opinions. The second page of this issue of the Chronicle had a brief article titled “The Last Call,” which expressed the “hope…that this forcible appeal…may awaken the interest of the many young men…who would reap a rich return in…the benefits and advantages which a Y.M.C.A. would give them.”

According to “Good Response to the Call,” an article printed on February 25, the Ardmore Y.M.C.A. crisis quickly ended after the February 20 meeting. Nearly 100 men attended the meeting and were “willing and anxious to help the work along.” With the decision to proceed with an Ardmore Y.M.C.A., the board of directors continued with the transfer of the Dirigo Club property to the Association. The Dirigo building would be “transform[ed] into a comfortable place for the young men of this vicinity to spend their evenings” and would include features such as “reading rooms, games, and a gymnasium.” The article called for a “lending hand” in financing the alterations to the new building. Furthermore, the new board of directors was announced as I. Newton Boyd, H.B. Van Horn, W.W. Woodruff, J.W. Strohm, and H.L. Yokum. Treasurer Yokum printed the annual list of receipts and expenditures of the Y.M.C.A., and the balance at the end of the fiscal year was $56.82. The next step for the board to take was to complete the transfer of the Dirigo Club, elect officers, and determine the “method of incorporation.”

Aside from the crisis of the meetings, the February 18, 1905 and February 25, 1905 editions of the Chronicle announced a concert and entertainment on March 9in the Masonic Hall, sponsored by the Y.M.C.A. and the Bryn Mawr Band.

- Janine Perri

May/June 1905

The late spring of 1905 was a time of development for the Ardmore YMCA. The May 27th issue of the Ardmore Chronicle included an article that detailed the progress recently made by the group. The Board of Directors was planning for the organization’s move to a new location, the old Dirigo Club on Lancaster Avenue. Henry L. Reinhold, Jr. volunteered to be the architect for the task of modifying the building. His plan called for an extension of the space in order to fit all the needed facilities including: a library and reading room, an auditorium with a 300 person capacity, a bowling alley, a gymnasium with lockers and shower baths, and a billiard and pool room. The article also noted that the organization’s development was marked by the hiring of a general secretary. The hire, H. K. Bruckner, was recommended by the Harrisburg Y as “a young man thoroughly interested in the work and specially adapted for the task of interesting the young men of Ardmore and vicinity”. The article concluded with a strong plea for membership. The Chronicle claimed that the Association would provide wonderful opportunities for all young Christian men, and urged all to join and experience the benefits for themselves. The location move illustrates the Association’s desire for its chapter of the Y to become a more prominent and influential organization in the community.

With the construction plans underway, the Committee needed to raise a good deal of money in order to finance their ambitions. In an article appearing on the front page of the June 3rd edition of the Ardmore Chronicle, all citizens of the area were urged to donate money. The argument was made that the Y would make the entire community a better place through its “making of better men”. Membership was another great way to contribute. Young men were told to not delay any longer and request an application. The two types of membership were “Library” and “Full”. The library membership cost $2 a year and granted access to all the facilities except the gymnasium. The full members, paying $5 a year, could enjoy all of the aspects of the Y. The push for funds demonstrates the need for support from the community in order to achieve its goal. The Y believed that there was a reciprocal relationship between their organization and the community, each benefitting from the other.

The months of advancement culminated with the incorporation of the Ardmore YMCA. On Monday, the 19th of June, the charter for the organization was going before the Court of Common Pleas of Montgomery County to be approved and made official. Making the chapter an incorporated organization gave validity to the group. The Ardmore YMCA had made great strides recently, coming a long way from its small men’s meeting held in the Merion Title and Trust building. Its future looked bright with the planned moved into a new building with all the modern facilities of a big YMCA in the city.

- Kristen Hunter