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Sometimes you find items in the archives that perfectly reflect the place where the New York YMCA was situated at a particular point in time. Recently, for example, an archivist found a couple of minute books buried in a box of miscellaneous Board meeting minutes from the early 1900s. The two volumes were called White Cross Committee minutes, and were dated 1885-1893.

Nothing startling so far, but I happened to know that the White Cross Committee and its associated groups were an important part of a moral purity movement that flourished in the last decades of the 19th century in New York and other urban centers. The idea was to revive the chivalry of the Middle Ages and eliminate the double standard that allowed men to "sin" without consequences while women, referred to in a New York Times story covering the organizing meeting as "objects of lust," were cast out and had only one option - the streets. At the organizing meeting several hundred young men signed a pledge card that committed themselves to seeking sexual purity.

In its efforts to eliminate the double standard, the White Cross Army seems very forward thinking. In other ways, of course, it seems quaint. However, in both instances, it shows that the New York YMCA was at the forefront of cultural and social issues, seeking to improve the lives of people in the City of New York in many different ways.

In the annual report of the New York YMCA for 1886 (page 25), you can see a fuller description of the movement and its association with the YMCA. Check it out at


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