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[p. 16]

Medford young men's Christian Association.

by Benjamin Pratt Hollis.
[Read before the Medford Historical Society, April 7, 1906, by C. H. Loomis.]

In the autumn of 1866, thirty-nine years ago, a movement was made in Medford to establish a Young Men's Christian Association. To that end, the various churches in town were requested to discontinue the evening worship on a certain Sunday and meet in a union service at Mystic Congregational Church. The meeting, which was well attended, was presided over by Mr. Baxter E. Perry, and the principal speaker was Mr. L. P. Rowland, secretary, at that time, of the Boston Young Men's Christian Association. A substantial collection, taken at the meeting, provided the embryo society with funds to commence its work.

The first meeting of the Association was held December 31, 1866, when the following officers were elected:—

President,Baxter E. Perry.
Vice-president,Joseph L. Goldthwait,Methodist.
Elisha B. Curtis,Baptist.
Eleazer Boynton, Jr.,Mystic Congregational.
Almarin F. Badger,First Congregational.
Gardiner P. Gates,Episcopal.
Treasurer,Alonzo E. Tainter.
Secretary,Charles E. Joyce.

On the fifth of April, 1867, the society took possession of a room in Usher's building on High street, subsequently occupied by the Medford Savings Bank. The apartment was well furnished with magazines, newspapers and suitable periodicals, and the walls hung with appropriate pictures.

The following extract from the constitution will show the reason for its existence:—

‘The object of the Association shall be the improvement of the spiritual, mental and social condition of Young Men.’

At the second choice of officers, in 1867, Charles H. Merrill, of First Congregational, was substituted as vicepresident. [p. 17] Mr. Badger had resigned soon after his election, and Francis H. Kidder had been chosen to fill the vacancy. At the same time Charles E. Joyce tendered his resignation, and Arthur T. Tufts was elected to the office of secretary.

At the third election, in 1868, when the membership numbered ninety-two, the following board was chosen:—

President,Daniel W. Wilcox.
Vice-president,Charles C. Newcomb,Methodist.
Elisha B. Curtis,Baptist.
D. B. Callender,Mystic Congregational.
Francis H. Kidder,First Congregational.
Benjamin P. HollisEpiscopal.
Treasurer,Alonzo E. Tainter.
Secretary,Arthur T. Tufts.

A literary class, a Bible class, and a course of lectures were maintained, with occasional interruptions, for two years.

The Association was sustained in a more or less flourishing condition until the spring of 1869, when, at the annual meeting in March, this entry upon the records tells the story of its dissolution:—

‘It has long been apparent to the members that the Association has failed to accomplish those objects for which it was organized. The past year it has accomplished but little. Various attempts have been made to infuse life, but they have not been successful. Feeling that the Association was practically a failure it was moved by the Secretary, that the Executive Board be authorized to sell all the property of the Association, including the lease of the room, and use the proceeds, after paying all bills, to their best judgment; and that when the meeting adjourn that it adjourn sine die.’

Thus, after an existence of less than three years, the Young Men's Christian Association of Medford came to an end. To attribute the cause of the non-success of the undertaking, or enterprise, would require an extended dissertation upon the conditions that operated at the time. One remark, dropped at a meeting by one of the clergymen of the town, in the course of an address, may be cited. It was innocently uttered, but blighting in its [p. 18] effect upon the minds of those who listened: ‘I shall not be with you much.’

The aloofness of Episcopalians, the self-centered interests of the Baptists, the multifarious activities of the members of the Mystic and Methodist communions, and the willingness of the clergymen to allow matters outside their own parishes to run without special help, coupled with the absence of that subtile spirit of self-sacrifice which animates the true missionary, the undeveloped correlative element that sees the need of unity in Christian effort—these may be recorded as some of the causes of its failure. The causes were known to some, the fact was deplored by many. This may be considered a drastic arraignment of the existing incumbents, and, in extenuation, it may be pleaded that it is thought by many that such societies sap the life and weaken the energy of the churches.

But let us suppose the institution had been sustained and could now be numbered with the one thousand six hundred kindred associations in the land, its capacity for the improvement and entertainment of young men, increased by the addition of a gymnasium, bowling alleys and a swimming pool, supplemented by the opportunity to participate in in-door games, and the encouragement of ‘current topics’ discussions, what a vast benefit might have accrued to Medford, what a powerful influence for good upon her future!

Since then two other efforts have been made to establish beneficial associations, the ‘Improvement Society’ in 1884, and the ‘Good Government Club’ in 1900. The former survived about two years, the latter a shorter period.

In the light of these experiences, may not the question be asked most significantly, ‘Has Medford made the most of her opportunities?’

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