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HUD 3279

Harvard University Christian Association. Records of the Harvard University Christian Association and its predecessor organizations : an inventory

Harvard University Archives

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Descriptive Summary

Call No.: HUD 3279
Repository: Harvard University Archives
Creator: Harvard University Christian Association.
Title: Records of the Harvard University Christian Association and its predecessor organizations, 1802-1926.
Date(s): 1802-1989
Quantity: 3.3 cubic feet (44 folders, 30 volumes, 3 scrapbooks, 1 poster)
Abstract: From 1802 to 1926, The Harvard University Christian Association and its predecessor organizations, the Saturday Evening Religious Society in Harvard College, the Wednesday Evening Society, The Society of Christian Brethren in Harvard University, and The Young Men's Christian Association of Harvard University, worked to establish Christian fellowship and spiritual renewal at Harvard University, a sense of friendship and solidarity with Christian students in other colleges and universities, and philanthropic relations with foreign missionary movements. Membership consisted of both undergraduate and graduate students of different religious denominations.

Acquisition Information:

The Records of the Harvard University Christian Association were acquired through donation. Whenever possible the archivist noted the terms of acquisition in the descriptions and item lists.
The acquisitions are as follows:
  • 1869 Secretary of the Everett Athenaeum
  • 1871 The Society of Christian Brethren in Harvard University
  • 1878 The Society of Christian Brethren in Harvard University
  • 1904 R.E. Blakeslee
  • 1940 Phillips Brooks House
  • 1942 Raymond Dennett
  • 1943 Robert Luce
  • 1954 Andover-Harvard Library
  • 1962 Charles B. Gulick
  • (date of donation unknown) The Society of Christian Brethren in Harvard University
  • Processing Information:

    The Records were first classified and described in the Harvard University Archives shelflist prior to 1990. In November 2008, Dominic P. Grandinetti re-processed the collection. Re-processing included integrating and reorganizing the collection, re-housing materials in appropriate acid-free containers, establishing series arrangement, and preparing this inventory.
    Materials from the following collections were merged to form one collection, described in this finding aid:
  • Saturday Evening Religious Society in Harvard College (HUD 3770.500)
  • The Society of Christian Brethren in Harvard University (HUD 3278)
  • Harvard University Christian Association (HUD 3279)
  • The Young Men's Christian Association of Harvard (HUD 3892)
  • Call numbers were simplified and reassigned. A list of obsolete call numbers is included in this finding aid.

    Conditions on Use and Access:

    The Records of the Harvard University Christian Association and its predecessor organizations are open for research.

    Related Material

    Archival Materials

    Library Materials

    Historical Essay

    Introduction
    From 1802 to 1926, The Harvard University Christian Association and its predecessor organizations, the Saturday Evening Religious Society in Harvard College, the Wednesday Evening Society,The Society of Christian Brethren in Harvard University, and The Young Men's Christian Association of Harvard University, worked to establish Christian fellowship and spiritual renewal at Harvard University, foster a sense of friendship and solidarity with Christian students in other colleges and universities, and maintain philanthropic relations with foreign missionary movements. Membership consisted of both undergraduate and graduate students of different religious denominations.
    Early beginnings
    At the beginning of the nineteenth century, skeptical philosophies emanating from Europe became popular in the United States and challenged traditional philosophies, theologies, and beliefs. To counter this philosophical and theological threat, spreading also through Harvard College, a few religious Harvard students organized themselves into the Saturday Evening Religious Society in Harvard College on December 11, 1802, for the purpose of promoting the growth of "practical and experimental religion." Largely founded through the efforts of Eliphalet Pearson,Professor of Hebrew and Oriental Languages at Harvard, this devotional society spent their meetings in prayer and in discussions of the Scriptures. On September 29, 1819, a similar association was formed in the College called the Wednesday Evening Society. Since the the religious objectives of both organizations were similar, the groups united to form The Society of Christian Brethren in Harvard University (June 5, 1821).
    The Society of Christian Brethren in Harvard University
    Although its activities changed over the years, The Society of Christian Brethren continued to offer a practical approach to religion and to promote Christian life and spiritual renewal at Harvard. The membership represented several religious denominations including Episcopalians,Congregationalists,Presbyterians,Quakers,Methodists,Baptists,Unitarians,Universalists,Roman Catholics,Dutch Reformed,Lutherans,United Brethren,Huguenots, and Swedish Borgians. Weekly meetings were held during the college term, with members selecting passages from Biblical scripture for discussion. Conversation at meetings was open and a free exchange of ideas was encouraged. The meetings, usually led by students, were religious in nature, sometimes taking the form of a discussion group, with an average attendance of 20 men. Occasionally outside speakers were invited. Meetings usually consisted of prayer, a reading of the Scriptures, singing, the reading of an essay, singing, comments and prayers, singing, the reading of the Secretary's report, and a discussion of Society business. Early in its existence, the Society established a library for member use containing religious books of an evangelical character which were were circulated under the Society's direction throughout Harvard University.
    The Society emphasized Christian fellowship, kindness, and fraternal relations among its members to promote Christian unity on campus. Essays presented at meetings illustrated or enforced some passage of Scripture, religious doctrine or duty, described some missionary activity, or a religious enterprise which usually contained a sketch of the life of an eminent Christian. Typical readings included What is religion (1840), Characteristics of the Christian and impenitent person (1841), Christian Peace (1842), Lead us not into temptation (1861), and We cannot serve God and Mammon (1862).
    To support the "doctrines of Evangelical Christianity," the Society in September 1859 organized a committee to reach out to various Christian missionary groups. Outside clergymen were invited to speak on Christian missionary activities around the world and Society members regularly collected funds to support them. Some of the benefactors of these donations included the American Baptist Missionary Union (1861), the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (1861), the Episcopal Board of Foreign Missions (1882), and mission schools in India. In addition to these missionary works, the Society also collected religious papers and periodicals for distribution to Union sailors and soldiers during the American Civil War.
    After the Civil War, the Society sought to increase its membership and to strengthen the bonds of Christians on college campuses. "Christ Our Righteousness" was adopted as the Society's motto and the Society explored ways in which Christians could make their influence felt in colleges. The Society collaborated with other Christian groups at Harvard and held joint lectures, prayer meetings, and religious exercises with such organizations as the Saint Paul's Society and Christian Forum. Moreover, to reinforce the bonds of Christian fellowship across the campus, the Society began to provide relief assistance to any students who became sick or ill at Harvard, and also sponsored social meetings to introduce students to the works of the Society.
    The Young Men's Christian Association of Harvard University
    On April 21, 1886 the Society adopted the name The Young Men's Christian Association of Harvard University and joined the Intercollegiate Young Men's Christian Association of North America. The Society had become sympathetic to the ideas of the YMCA and its activities on behalf of Christian work,Bible study,evangelism, and intercollegiate fellowship. By the late 1880s Society members began attending and hosting YMCA conferences. The change in name followed other examples set by religious groups in other New England schools including Amherst,Brown,Dartmouth, and Yale. Unlike the Christian Brethren, which could be characterized as a prayer-meeting association to aid its particular members, the Young Men's Christian Association systematically organized in college campuses, met in convention, organized collegiate branches, and gave more time to the social aspects of college life. Although continuing the goal of cultivating an individual's religious life, the YMCA placed added emphasis on addressing community, national, and international religious issues.
    The chief interest of The Young Men's Christian Association of Harvard University was in outside philanthropy and charitable work, particularly in and around the Boston area. Over the next several years, Association members taught Chinese immigrants to read and write at the Chinese Sunday School in Boston, supervised a reading room for sailors to visit in their leisure moments on T Wharf, provided Christian guidance to troubled men at the Davis Street Industrial Home, visited and worked with young boys at the Riverside Alliance, and provided assistance at the Boston City Hospital and Cambridge City Jail.
    The Association also continued its Christian missionary activities on the Harvard campus. Meetings were held twice a week and offered critical biblical discussions given by professors, preachers, and other Christian leaders. Prayer weeks were held at the College on a regular basis and "Union" meetings with other religious societies were organized to demonstrate to the general College community that they were working for the good of the College. Furthermore, monthly socials with entertainment by College musical societies were offered to all students and the establishment of friendly relations with foreign students, especially those students from Japan,China, and Latin America, were encouraged. Finally, in the summer of 1890, the first handbook to "welcome new members to the University, to give information concerning the religious activity here, and especially information about the YMCA" was published by the Christian Association for members of the Freshman class.
    The Harvard University Christian Association and Phillips Brooks House
    On January 23, 1900 the Phillips Brooks House, dedicated to "Piety, Charity, and Hospitality, in Grateful Memory of Phillips Brooks," was established by the Christian Association, the Saint Paul's Society, the Saint Paul's Catholic Club, and the Harvard Religious Union, as a home from which these religious organizations could carry out their work. In 1904, the Phillips Brooks House Association was established by these same religious societies, as well as other groups that were working out of the Phillips Brooks House, as a federated type of organization to unite members of the Harvard University community who were interested in religious, philanthropic, or social service activities, but who did not wish to commit themselves to any particular religious affiliation. The new House Association elected a general secretary and executive committee representative of the various interests of the college men on campus. It assumed financial responsibility for the Phillips Brooks House and other matters of common interest that were formerly under the management of one or more of the constituent societies including social service work,library assistance,legal aid, and information services. Although the constituent societies of the House joined together in order to share expenses, maintain a common headquarters, and secretarial force, they still maintained their independence as unique organizations.
    The Christian Association continued its philanthropic and religious activities from the Phillips Brooks House. The Association sponsored student prayer meetings,Bible classes,Thanksgiving and Christmas Open Houses, and University Teas. It coordinated its activities with other religious societies at the House and scheduled Freshman dinners and banquets to attract new members. Discussion groups led by faculty during World War I were started by the Association in order to discuss topics on religion,economics, and politics. Members regularly participated in Student Volunteer conventions and other YMCA conferences. The Christian Association's connection with the Phillips Brooks House enabled it to help men both inside and outside the University; help which the Association would have found difficult to offer as an independent entity.
    Change in direction and the Roaring Twenties
    In the early twentieth century, the nature of the Christian Association's membership was becoming less evangelical, and as a result its connection to the YMCA movement more tenuous. Consequently in July 1904, the Association changed its name to the Harvard University Christian Association and in 1908 changed its membership requirement that members had to belong to an evangelical church to one which required that members "desire to be disciples of Jesus Christ in life and service, and to associate their efforts in the extension of His kingdom among young men." Unfortunately, this change of name did not help the Association recruit more members since by 1910, many students on campus were turning away from what they perceived to be the religious zealotry of the Christian Association. By 1914 the Phillips Brooks House Association was becoming more of an association of socially minded men who wished to offer service but who did not desire to subscribe to any particular creed or faith; thereby weakening the standing of the religious societies in the House. The secularization of the Phillips Brooks House Association accelerated when Americans, especially college-aged students, became disillusioned with the after effects of World War I. Engulfed by the secular spirit of the 1920s, interest in religion faded among students, including those at Harvard University. Interest in the Phillips Brooks House Association declined as students adopted a more individualistic and materialistic outlook on life. Religion had lost much of its appeal on campus and the Christian image of the Phillips Brooks House hurt its ability to attract members.
    Attempts to reestablish the religious spirit and work of the Phillips Brooks House failed in the early 1920s. By 1926, the Harvard University Christian Association had few members and the responsibility for much of its social work program had been assumed by the Phillips Brooks House Association. As a result, on March 18, 1926, the Christian Association voted to merge its existing standing committees with the Phillips Brooks House Association, effectively dissolving itself, and ending the Association's independent existence. In the fall of 1928, a reorganization of the House Association occurred and all the religious societies left the House, including the Saint Paul's Society and the Saint Paul's Catholic Club. By 1929, the Phillips Brooks House Association had become a fully secular organization.
    References

    Introduction

    From 1802 to 1926, The Harvard University Christian Association and its predecessor organizations, the Saturday Evening Religious Society in Harvard College, the Wednesday Evening Society,The Society of Christian Brethren in Harvard University, and The Young Men's Christian Association of Harvard University, worked to establish Christian fellowship and spiritual renewal at Harvard University, foster a sense of friendship and solidarity with Christian students in other colleges and universities, and maintain philanthropic relations with foreign missionary movements. Membership consisted of both undergraduate and graduate students of different religious denominations.

    Early beginnings

    At the beginning of the nineteenth century, skeptical philosophies emanating from Europe became popular in the United States and challenged traditional philosophies, theologies, and beliefs. To counter this philosophical and theological threat, spreading also through Harvard College, a few religious Harvard students organized themselves into the Saturday Evening Religious Society in Harvard College on December 11, 1802, for the purpose of promoting the growth of "practical and experimental religion." Largely founded through the efforts of Eliphalet Pearson,Professor of Hebrew and Oriental Languages at Harvard, this devotional society spent their meetings in prayer and in discussions of the Scriptures. On September 29, 1819, a similar association was formed in the College called the Wednesday Evening Society. Since the the religious objectives of both organizations were similar, the groups united to form The Society of Christian Brethren in Harvard University (June 5, 1821).

    The Society of Christian Brethren in Harvard University

    Although its activities changed over the years, The Society of Christian Brethren continued to offer a practical approach to religion and to promote Christian life and spiritual renewal at Harvard. The membership represented several religious denominations including Episcopalians,Congregationalists,Presbyterians,Quakers,Methodists,Baptists,Unitarians,Universalists,Roman Catholics,Dutch Reformed,Lutherans,United Brethren,Huguenots, and Swedish Borgians. Weekly meetings were held during the college term, with members selecting passages from Biblical scripture for discussion. Conversation at meetings was open and a free exchange of ideas was encouraged. The meetings, usually led by students, were religious in nature, sometimes taking the form of a discussion group, with an average attendance of 20 men. Occasionally outside speakers were invited. Meetings usually consisted of prayer, a reading of the Scriptures, singing, the reading of an essay, singing, comments and prayers, singing, the reading of the Secretary's report, and a discussion of Society business. Early in its existence, the Society established a library for member use containing religious books of an evangelical character which were were circulated under the Society's direction throughout Harvard University.
    The Society emphasized Christian fellowship, kindness, and fraternal relations among its members to promote Christian unity on campus. Essays presented at meetings illustrated or enforced some passage of Scripture, religious doctrine or duty, described some missionary activity, or a religious enterprise which usually contained a sketch of the life of an eminent Christian. Typical readings included What is religion (1840), Characteristics of the Christian and impenitent person (1841), Christian Peace (1842), Lead us not into temptation (1861), and We cannot serve God and Mammon (1862).
    To support the "doctrines of Evangelical Christianity," the Society in September 1859 organized a committee to reach out to various Christian missionary groups. Outside clergymen were invited to speak on Christian missionary activities around the world and Society members regularly collected funds to support them. Some of the benefactors of these donations included the American Baptist Missionary Union (1861), the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (1861), the Episcopal Board of Foreign Missions (1882), and mission schools in India. In addition to these missionary works, the Society also collected religious papers and periodicals for distribution to Union sailors and soldiers during the American Civil War.
    After the Civil War, the Society sought to increase its membership and to strengthen the bonds of Christians on college campuses. "Christ Our Righteousness" was adopted as the Society's motto and the Society explored ways in which Christians could make their influence felt in colleges. The Society collaborated with other Christian groups at Harvard and held joint lectures, prayer meetings, and religious exercises with such organizations as the Saint Paul's Society and Christian Forum. Moreover, to reinforce the bonds of Christian fellowship across the campus, the Society began to provide relief assistance to any students who became sick or ill at Harvard, and also sponsored social meetings to introduce students to the works of the Society.

    The Young Men's Christian Association of Harvard University

    On April 21, 1886 the Society adopted the name The Young Men's Christian Association of Harvard University and joined the Intercollegiate Young Men's Christian Association of North America. The Society had become sympathetic to the ideas of the YMCA and its activities on behalf of Christian work,Bible study,evangelism, and intercollegiate fellowship. By the late 1880s Society members began attending and hosting YMCA conferences. The change in name followed other examples set by religious groups in other New England schools including Amherst,Brown,Dartmouth, and Yale. Unlike the Christian Brethren, which could be characterized as a prayer-meeting association to aid its particular members, the Young Men's Christian Association systematically organized in college campuses, met in convention, organized collegiate branches, and gave more time to the social aspects of college life. Although continuing the goal of cultivating an individual's religious life, the YMCA placed added emphasis on addressing community, national, and international religious issues.
    The chief interest of The Young Men's Christian Association of Harvard University was in outside philanthropy and charitable work, particularly in and around the Boston area. Over the next several years, Association members taught Chinese immigrants to read and write at the Chinese Sunday School in Boston, supervised a reading room for sailors to visit in their leisure moments on T Wharf, provided Christian guidance to troubled men at the Davis Street Industrial Home, visited and worked with young boys at the Riverside Alliance, and provided assistance at the Boston City Hospital and Cambridge City Jail.
    The Association also continued its Christian missionary activities on the Harvard campus. Meetings were held twice a week and offered critical biblical discussions given by professors, preachers, and other Christian leaders. Prayer weeks were held at the College on a regular basis and "Union" meetings with other religious societies were organized to demonstrate to the general College community that they were working for the good of the College. Furthermore, monthly socials with entertainment by College musical societies were offered to all students and the establishment of friendly relations with foreign students, especially those students from Japan,China, and Latin America, were encouraged. Finally, in the summer of 1890, the first handbook to "welcome new members to the University, to give information concerning the religious activity here, and especially information about the YMCA" was published by the Christian Association for members of the Freshman class.

    The Harvard University Christian Association and Phillips Brooks House

    On January 23, 1900 the Phillips Brooks House, dedicated to "Piety, Charity, and Hospitality, in Grateful Memory of Phillips Brooks," was established by the Christian Association, the Saint Paul's Society, the Saint Paul's Catholic Club, and the Harvard Religious Union, as a home from which these religious organizations could carry out their work. In 1904, the Phillips Brooks House Association was established by these same religious societies, as well as other groups that were working out of the Phillips Brooks House, as a federated type of organization to unite members of the Harvard University community who were interested in religious, philanthropic, or social service activities, but who did not wish to commit themselves to any particular religious affiliation. The new House Association elected a general secretary and executive committee representative of the various interests of the college men on campus. It assumed financial responsibility for the Phillips Brooks House and other matters of common interest that were formerly under the management of one or more of the constituent societies including social service work,library assistance,legal aid, and information services. Although the constituent societies of the House joined together in order to share expenses, maintain a common headquarters, and secretarial force, they still maintained their independence as unique organizations.
    The Christian Association continued its philanthropic and religious activities from the Phillips Brooks House. The Association sponsored student prayer meetings,Bible classes,Thanksgiving and Christmas Open Houses, and University Teas. It coordinated its activities with other religious societies at the House and scheduled Freshman dinners and banquets to attract new members. Discussion groups led by faculty during World War I were started by the Association in order to discuss topics on religion,economics, and politics. Members regularly participated in Student Volunteer conventions and other YMCA conferences. The Christian Association's connection with the Phillips Brooks House enabled it to help men both inside and outside the University; help which the Association would have found difficult to offer as an independent entity.

    Change in direction and the Roaring Twenties

    In the early twentieth century, the nature of the Christian Association's membership was becoming less evangelical, and as a result its connection to the YMCA movement more tenuous. Consequently in July 1904, the Association changed its name to the Harvard University Christian Association and in 1908 changed its membership requirement that members had to belong to an evangelical church to one which required that members "desire to be disciples of Jesus Christ in life and service, and to associate their efforts in the extension of His kingdom among young men." Unfortunately, this change of name did not help the Association recruit more members since by 1910, many students on campus were turning away from what they perceived to be the religious zealotry of the Christian Association. By 1914 the Phillips Brooks House Association was becoming more of an association of socially minded men who wished to offer service but who did not desire to subscribe to any particular creed or faith; thereby weakening the standing of the religious societies in the House. The secularization of the Phillips Brooks House Association accelerated when Americans, especially college-aged students, became disillusioned with the after effects of World War I. Engulfed by the secular spirit of the 1920s, interest in religion faded among students, including those at Harvard University. Interest in the Phillips Brooks House Association declined as students adopted a more individualistic and materialistic outlook on life. Religion had lost much of its appeal on campus and the Christian image of the Phillips Brooks House hurt its ability to attract members.
    Attempts to reestablish the religious spirit and work of the Phillips Brooks House failed in the early 1920s. By 1926, the Harvard University Christian Association had few members and the responsibility for much of its social work program had been assumed by the Phillips Brooks House Association. As a result, on March 18, 1926, the Christian Association voted to merge its existing standing committees with the Phillips Brooks House Association, effectively dissolving itself, and ending the Association's independent existence. In the fall of 1928, a reorganization of the House Association occurred and all the religious societies left the House, including the Saint Paul's Society and the Saint Paul's Catholic Club. By 1929, the Phillips Brooks House Association had become a fully secular organization.

    References

    Series and subseries in the Collection

    Scope of the Collection

    Records document the administrative, religious, social, educational, and community activities of the Harvard University Christian Association and its predecessor organizations. Materials include constitutions, correspondence, scrapbooks, reports, addresses, newspaper clippings, reprints, financial records, committee reports, membership records, and ephemera. Meeting minutes represent the bulk of this collection.

    General

    This document last updated 2015 November 12.

    Obsolete Call Numbers

    The following list provides a map to call numbers that were made obsolete by the archivist during the 2008 re-processing. All the materials for the Records of the Saturday Evening Religious Society in Harvard College (HUD 3770.500), The Society of Christian Brethren in Harvard University (HUD 3278), Harvard University Christian Association (HUD 3279), and The Young Men's Christian Association of Harvard University (HUD 3892) now fall under the single call number HUD 3279, Harvard University Christian Association and its predecessor organizations.

    Container List


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