Amanda, here’s my paper, have fun. I’m leaving this weekend for a conference at Yale. I should be back late Sunday night, so I’ll have your review done by then or sooner. Thanks, Brad
The Relationship Between the Young Men’s Christian Associations of Dickinson College and the Carlisle Indian School.
Brad Benton, Dickinson College, Class of 2008
By the time the Carlisle Indian Industrial School opened in 1879, almost every American Indian was living on a reservation. It was also during this time that the American Government initiated a plan to “civilize” some of the Indians on the reservations by bringing them into white American culture. In order to do so, Indian schools, such as the he Carlisle Indian School (CIS) were founded on the principle that by removing Indians from reservation culture and life, American Indians could effectively be converted to and assimilated into white American culture. To accomplish these goals, Indians brought to the CIS were taught English, arithmetic, and social manners and were given training in certain practical, industrial skills. Another method of assimilating the Indian students into white culture was to instill traditional Christian morals and ideals into the students.
The students were required by the school’s first superintendent, Richard Henry Pratt, to attend one of the churches in Carlisle to learn the stories of the Bible and to gain an appreciation of the Christian religion. Pratt also held English Bible study courses to further the religious aspects of the educational process. A final manner in which Pratt and the CIS attempted to instill religious virtues into the Indian students was to encourage them to hold Bible study groups among themselves and to establish religious student organizations. One such organization that was founded at the CIS was the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA). Almost every young Indian at the CIS participated in the activities put on by the YMCA and it played an integral role in the Christianization and education of the Indians that had been brought to Carlisle.
The actions of the YMCA at the CIS were not such spiritual activities in Carlisle. Nearly two miles away in downtown Carlisle, the same types of spiritual activities were taking place at the Dickinson College YMCA. Home to several hundred students in the 1880s, Dickinson College offered a diverse curriculum and drew students from all over the region. While attending Dickinson College, students formed and took part in a number clubs and organizations on campus. One of the most predominant was the YMCA. The YMCA at Dickinson provided a wide array of spiritual services to the students of Dickinson, including Bible study and spiritual lectures, and interacted citizens of Carlisle. As a result of taking an active role in Carlisle, the Dickinson YMCA forged a relationship with its counterpart at the CIS. The relationship with Dickinson could have potentially benefited the CIS YMCA members by providing them with the opportunity to interact with members of white American culture. Though more importantly, this relationship afforded the two YMCAs the benefit of interacting with each other and working together to further their common goal of developing strong moral and religious foundations in its members.
The YMCA at the CIS viewed the Indians at the school in the same light as they viewed American college students. That is, to make young Indian boys into strong men with an endowed sense of self and connections that will help him succeed in the futures. The Association sought to strengthen its member’s moral and religious fiber and help the Indian Schools meet their educational and social assimilation goals. The CIS conducted many of the same activities that it did on college campuses, such as Bible class and tried to organize meetings between other convert Christian Indians. During such events the YMCA members were taught the stories and lessons of the Bible as means of instilling Christian virtues into their lives.
The existence of the YMCA at the CIS also played an important role in furthering the development of the social skills the CIS wanted to instill in the Indian students. The Association was able to address these social goals by providing a forum for Indians to interact with each other to learn how to conduct themselves in a social environment as well as developing their speaking and debating skills. By drawing Indians at the CIS together into the YMCA, it also developed a sense of community among its members and acted as a deterrent to returning to the reservation where it may be assumed that all progress that had been made toward assimilation would be lost. The YMCA effectively acted as cohesive organization that brought together a number of Indian students and worked to instill Christian values in them throughout their time in Carlisle.
At the Carlisle Indian School, the YMCA’s influence was lauded by school Superintendent Friedman in 1911 who wished that the YMCA’s activities could be expanded. As evidence of the YMCA’s positive influence on the students of the CIS, Friedman pointed to a number of successful graduates of the school that were active members in the YMCA during there time at the CIS. After graduation, a number of YMCA graduates returned to their reservations to work as teachers, superintendents, and community leaders. Several CIS graduates even obtained prominent positions in “white society” and, as the YMCA and Friedman seemed to believe, were able to thrive in this environment because of the values they learned from the YMCA at the CIS. Several of these prominent individuals are Charles E. Dagenette, the President of the American Indian Association, and manager of the Department of Indian Employment and Howard E. Gansworth, a Princeton graduate and member of a prestigious manufacturing firm in Buffalo, New York.
While the YMCA at the Indian School was being established in the 1880s, the Dickinson College chapter was undergoing a transformation into a stronger and more respected student body organization. As with the Indian School, the Dickinson YMCA was on campus to serve the spiritual needs of the many of the students by conducting Bible study classes and attempting to be a guiding moral force in the lives of Christian students by keeping students in line with Christian morals during their time at college. The YMCA aimed to prepare men to enter the world with a strong set of morals and character. In order to accomplish these goals, the Dickinson YMCA routinely held weekly meetings, usually on Fridays and Sundays, during which time the Bible would be read and studied and speakers would be heard. It was not uncommon for Dickinson faculty to speak at these meetings nor was it rare for traveling members of the YMCA to come to Dickinson to address the Association at the college. The college newspaper, The Dickinsonian, generally reported that these meetings, both regular and with guest speakers, were well received by the members of the YMCA and the student body as a whole. It was also during the late 1880s and early 1890s that the YMCA received new spaces to operate on campus. In June 1889, the YMCA received a newly refurbished room in which to hold meetings and in June 1890 work commence on transforming an chapel on campus to what later became known as YMCA Hall. The YMCA also had a reading room and library in Dickinson’s Bosler Hall and conducted some of it activities in Bosler Hall throughout this period.
The Dickinson YMCA was not limited to conducting activities solely for the enjoyment of its members. The YMCA worked to better the on campus environment for all students by conducting a number of on-campus activities to better the lives of the students. Most prominent among these events was the YMCA’s ongoing “Star Course” which took place over in the mid 1890s. The Star Course was a set of lectures, concerts, and other performances that was put on for the entire campus by the YMCA. The YMCA recruited faculty members to present lectures and other inspirational speakers from outside the Dickinson community. The Star Course was extremely well received by the students of Dickinson and represented one of the organizations most successful endeavors.
The activities of the Dickinson YMCA also stretched beyond the campus and college community and into the town of Carlisle. On a number of occasions the YMCA or members of the YMCA worked in conjunction with the Carlisle YMCA to organize events for the people of Carlisle. Such was the case in 1890, when the two organizations put on a well-received entertainment show for the townspeople. Further, the members of the Dickinson YMCA traveled to the local jail to work with prisoners and to try to help them in any way possible as part of the YMCA’s Outpost Program. Also, the Missionary Band, a group closely associated with the YMCA that specialized in spreading information about missionary work abroad, traveled to the local Carlisle churches and gave speeches regarding the benefits of missionary work. Missionary work played a strong role in the Dickinson YMCA as many members went to pursue missionary work in Asia and Africa. It was also common for past YMCA members and outside speakers to come to Dickinson to recount their experiences as missionaries. Throughout its time on campus, the YMCA remained a permanent feature of Dickinson College life. Even when the YMCA experienced a slight decline in attendance during the late 1890s, the organization still remained a popular and influential student organization.
The two YMCAs, while located at different educational facilities, were within two miles of each other in Carlisle. It was not uncommon for members of the CIS YMCA to work or meet with members of the Dickinson YMCA. The two organizations shared common goals and used comparable methods to reach these goals. As such, the Dickinson and CIS YMCA’s began to meet on a somewhat regular basis to hold what were called Union Meetings. These meetings were typically held at Dickinson College and during these meetings there would be discussions of popular and religious topics. Such was the case in November 1887, when the first Union Meeting of the Dickinson and CIS YMCAs was held in Dickinson’s Bosler Hall. During the meeting, presided over by Dickinson’s Abraham Lincoln Dryden and the Indian School’s Luke Phillips, the members prepared and presented three minute speeches and heard speeches from several reverends as well as the president of Dickinson, James McCauley.
This first meeting went so well that it was continued and held for the next three weeks in the Dickinson College Chapel. The Union meetings between the two YMCAs continued with some regularity and typically received a large turnout when they were held, as was the case at both the 1890 and 1892 meetings. Following the 1890 meeting, which was held in part at the Carlisle Indian School and at Dickinson and included members of the Carlisle YMCA, The Dickinsonian announced the college YMCA would now gladly accept Indian members at there regular Friday night meetings. The Dickinson YMCA had further contact with the CIS when it recruited the Indian School Band, which was of notable talent during this time period, to perform during the Star Course in February 1895. It is also probable that members of the CIS YMCA heard speeches presented by Dickinson members of the Missionary Band when they traveled to local churches and spoke about their missionary experiences.
It is also important to note that the religious and spiritual services afforded to students at both the CIS and Dickinson College were not limited to male students. Both Dickinson and the CIS had a Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA). The YWCA at both institutions offered the same types of services and spiritual guidance as the YMCA and the same type of relations between the YWCAs at Dickinson and the CIS developed. The women of the YWCA at Dickinson routinely traveled to the CIS to conduct Bible study classes with Indian students and in 1910, the YWCA from Dickinson was invited by the CIS to take part in the joint YWCA/YMCA Annual Reception at the Indian School. In this case the Dickinson YWCA preformed for the audience a sketch entitled “A College Stunt.” It seems that the two YWCAs interacted in a similar, though smaller manner than the YMCAs. Despite this smaller scale of interaction, the two organizations, like the YMCAs, were still able to come together and work towards their shared religious and moral goals.
The shared purpose of these two organizations allowed them to collaborate in order to meet their goals of spreading Christian morals into the lives of their members. These inter-institutional links probably further helped to meet the CIS’s goals of assimilating Indians into white culture. The meetings gave the Indian students the opportunity to interact with white students at Dickinson and from this exposure, the Indian members of the YMCA and YWCA had the opportunity to practice their spoken English and to witness first hand how white culture operated. These collaborative experiences were effective in meeting the ultimate goal of the CIS by creating the potential for the CIS students to learn about and potentially adopt traditional Christian morals while interacting with white culture. The ultimate goal of strengthening the moral and religious fiber of the members of each organization at Dickinson and CIS was also undoubtedly furthered by the cooperation of the YMCAs and YWCAs at each institution.
Adams, David Wallace. Education for Extinction. Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 1995.
“For an Equal Chance with Other Men.” Association Men: The Magazine of the Young Men’s Christian Association. No. 11(1911): 485-492.
“Locals.” The Dickinsonian. June 1889, 10.
“Locals.” The Dickinsonian. December 1887, 9.
Ryan, Carmelita S. “The Carlisle Indian Industrial School.” Thesis, Georgetown University, 1962.
“YMCA Notes.” The Dickinsonian. June 1890, 17.
“YMCA Notes.” The Dickinsonian. April 1890, 12.
“YMCA Notes.” The Dickinsonian. November 1892, 13.
“YMCA Notes.” The Dickinsonian. February 1893, 16.
“YMCA Notes.” The Dickinsonian. December 1894, 14
“YMCA Notes.” The Dickinsonian. February 1895, 22.