THE YMPCA IS BORN
It is likely Colonel Morgan’s power as a speaker had more to do with the formation of the Young Men’s Progressive Civic Association (YMPCA) than any other single factor. That he discussed the Parkway issue was certainly, to his advantage.
Essentially St. Louis was suffering in 1915 from what still remain problems … traffic congestion and depreciation of property values due to the presence of unsightly buildings.
The Parkway was designed to remedy both situations by means of a 300-foot-wide, tree-lined thoroughfare dividing North and South St. Louis. Enough property was to be secured by the city through condemnation to actually clear a strip one-half mile wide from 12th to Grand, between Lawton and Pine Streets.
Building the Parkway would not only necessitate the razing of ancient buildings on condemned property, but increase the value of adjoining districts since the new thoroughfare would be an attractive addition to the city with its park like borders and center islands.
Presented with such a progressive plan as the Parkway, it is not surprising that Colonel Morgan was capable of inspiring young men to action. Actually, the Colonel was the sort of man who could have secured backing for almost any cause. He was a typical example of a fast-disappearing breed … the ward politician. An official in the Eagles and a member of many other organizations, Morgan at the time, held the position of superintendent of the city workhouse. He was one of the most loyal backers of Mayor Kiel’s administration and was continually making speeches.
The bond issue to make the Parkway possible was eventually defeated despite the talks of Morgan and others, but it served at least one purpose … it goaded Giessenbier to organize the YMPCA.
About a week after hearing Morgan, Giessenbier visited him at Parkway headquarters and explained that he and other members of the Federation of Dancing Clubs had come to the conclusion that there was more to life than dancing.
Hy’s idea was to organize a group of men, 18-30, with the purpose of,
“bringing the young men of our great city together into one grand body with that great purpose of fellowship, advancement and everything which would make a good boy a better boy, a good student a more proficient scholar and a good citizen a better citizen.”
Morgan recognized the potential of Giessenbier’s idea, and offered his help. Hy planned a trip to Cleveland to look into the Young men’s Business Club there and morgan obtained a letter of introduction for him form mayor Kiel to mayor Baker of Cleveland, Ohio.
This letter was actually presented to Giessenbier by Morgan at a meeting of from six to nine key members of the Federation on August 6, 1915. It was the conclave that it was officially decided to organize a civic association.
Giessenbier took his trip to Cleveland and also investigated young men’s groups in several other cities. He found that clubs existed, but none of them served the purpose he envisioned for the YMPCA in St. Louis.
YMPCA logo from 1916. Remnants of this logo still are part of the lapel pin worn by Jaycees around the world today.
IT WAS ON OCTOBER 13, 1915, THAT THE YOUNG MEN’S CIVIC ASSOCIATION WAS OFFICIALLY BORN .. AND THIS DATE IS THE FIRST REALLY IMPORTANT ONE IN THE CHAIN OF JAYCEE HISTORY AS IT DEVELOPED IN ST. LOUIS. THIRTY-TWO MEN WERE PPRESENT FOR THAT HISTROIC MEETING, HELD AT THE MISSION INN.
Anschuetz’ Mission Inn was on of South St. Louis’ finest restaurants in 1915. Giessenbier’s father was head waiter there and through his connections the Federation and YMPCA secured a meeting place.
The organization was to soon outgrow the bounds of the Mission Inn, although members for many years would patronize the establishment. An atmospheric German restaurant, the Mission Inn was also a popular summer meeting place, for it had an attractive outdoor beer garden. The Tsing Tau German Marine Band was often featured in concert.
The famous old birthplace of the YMPCA was demolished in 1937 and an A & P Grocery store took it’s place. It was appropriately marked with a bronze tablet so that passersby would know that this is where Jaycees had its start.
The chief remnant of the Mission Inn itself is a stained glass window which for years was part of the archive display
at the War Memorial Headquarters in Tulsa, Oklahoma and has now since been moved to St. Louis.
THE BIG BOOM
Appropriately enough, young Hy Giessenbier was elected as first president of the YMPCA, with Andy Mungenast as
secretary and Walter F. Koch the treasurer. William H. Smith was vice-president. Serving on that first board of directors
were Darby Lyons, Henry Wolken, Albert Muller, Matthew B. Ungermann, Alfred Schwerdtman, W.J. Mitchell, Claude Ellis and George Koch.
In some ways that early civic organization, the YMPCA, was to be one of the most successful jaycee venture in history. Beginning with a mere 32 members, membership was to swell to 750 by March 1, 1916. This within a period of only 6 months a new group was to achieve strength that can be topped by relatively few Junior Chambers today.
It is fortunate that Colonel Morgan was on hand to guide the YMPCA during its early days, for he brought with him all of the knowledge of a professional politician. As a worker in the wards of St. Louis, he knew how to contact people and just what a meeting needed to attract interest. His importance in the molding of the YMPCA can hardly be overemphasized. For almost two years, he attended virtually every meeting of the YMPCA and eventually the Junior Citizens … a name which was acquired in August of 1916. He was recognized for this by being made the organization’s first honorary member.
From the very beginning, the YMPCA leaders realized that two things were necessary if growth was to take place. First, the organization must be active … actually work for the betterment of the community rather than merely discuss it. Second, the necessity of having really interesting general meetings was never forgotten. It was also known even then that good attendance at meetings was the secret to securing active workers and more members.
One of the key measures taken to insure lively meetings was to secure well-known speakers. The first of these, on October 28 saw City Counselor Charles Daues discuss “The conditions that Confront the Progressive Young Men of Today.” Then on November 18, mayor henry W. Kiel made his first appearance before the YMPCA.
It was at the October 28 meeting that the decision was made to embark on a full-scale membership campaign. The goal was set for 500 members, but this was exceeded by 250 before the deadline of March 1, 1916. The influx of new members represented almost every trade and profession, with salesmen, clerks and bankers in the majority. Louis Reidel was the top individual in soliciting new members and was presented a loving cup for his work.
The success of the organization’s first membership campaign can be attributed to three factors which will be discussed here.
The first of these was that the YMPCA was a new organization and one without competition from similar groups. There had long been a need for a young men’s civic organization and as with any new appealing product, there were buyers.
The second and equally important was the fact that the YMPCA officers knew that even the best product needs to be explained and endorsed. To carry out these ends, a pamphlet was printed listing reasons for joining the group and containing favorable comments from St. Louis civic leaders.
Among these boosting the YMPCA in this pamphlet were such men as Mayor Kiel, Colonel Morgan, Aldermen’s President Julius Haller, Judge of the Court of Appeals Albert D. Nortoni and Wilbur Jones a leading young attorney.
The reasons for joining the YMPCA as set forth in the pamphlet are also interesting. They were:
- It will put you in close touch with the wide-awake young businessmen of your own age, whose acquaintance is invaluable to you.
- It will give you the opportunity of hearing experts and debates on every civic problem.
- It will give you a wider knowledge of business and civic matters by hearing at its meetings the masterminds of our country.
- It will give you a wider social acquaintance, so desirable in business by the young men of today and open the door for you to some of the best entertainments of the younger social set.
- It will connect you with a movement which is rapidly becoming national, knitting together the young businessmen of the country.
- It will make you an integral part of a powerful force in St. Louis, in business and civic matters of the present as well as the future and will distinguish you form others by your association with this organization.
This sample pamphlet, a vital document of early Jaycee history, set forth the object of the organization:
“The purpose of this association shall be to educate its members by study and discussion, irrespective of religion or politics, of business, national and civic problems and other such other subjects and pursuits as will advance the character and efficiency of its members.”
It was also stated in a two-line motto in that pamphlet that:
“This organization shall adopt no resolutions favoring any political or religious parties or persons.”
That last particularly important today. Even now, as an organization speaking for young men and women, the United States Junior Chamber of Commerce never takes sides on purely partisan issues.
Official city recognition of the YMPCA came on November 30, 1915, as the association was enrolled as a member of the mayor’s Conference of Civic Organizations. Officially backed, the new groups could fully utilize its greatest asset … the fact that that it was to be an organization of ACTION and not just talk. This fact, more than anything else, was to distinguish it from a myriad of other organizations.
With membership increasing rapidly, the YMPCA began early in 1915 to shape its committee structure, realizing that a breakdown of activities into areas was necessary for most efficient operation.
Among the first committees, coming into existence early in 1916, were those on Greater St. Louis, Know St. Louis, Traffic, River Transportation, parks, Volunteer Military training and Conventions.
The first recorded fellowship activity of the YMPCA was the Glee Club, organized in February of 1916 by Vernon Behymer.
Within months after its founding, the YMPCA was beginning to resemble the Junior Chamber chapter of today. More correctly, within months of its founding, the YMPCA had begun to form into a model for countless Jaycee groups to follow through the years.
Further consideration of the YMPCA is not possible without bringing into the picture one of the most important men in the history of the Jaycee movement … Clarence Howard.
In january of 1916, Clarence H. Howard was inaugurated as president of the Business Men’s league of St. Louis, an organization which was to become the St. Louis Chamber of Commerce during the same year.
President of Commonwealth Steel Castings Company, Howard advocated a Young Business Men’s League in his inaugural address. He visualized this as a group that would develop parks, improve housing, conduct an Americanization campaign, work for better public schools and such projects as free vacant lots of litter and weeds.
As head of a million-dollar firm and president of the Businessmen’s League, Howard was on of the key leaders in St. Louis. It is easy to see why his interest in a young men’s group was encouraging to the members of the YMPCA.
Howard’s address had an immediate effect on Hy Giessenbier and Andy Mungenast, close friends as well as president and secretary of the YMPCA, for the day following Howard’s address they went to his office and said, in essence:
“The YMPCA is the group for which you have been looking and this young men’s organization is already booming.”
From that date, Howard recognized the sound leadership and basic good purpose of the YMPCA and perhaps became its strongest backer. He was a financial “Angel” of the jaycee movement until his death in 1931. His greatest influence was exerted in the years 1916-1927.
Full consideration of Clarence Howard, both man and his place in the Jaycee movement can be reviewed here. Here it need only be said that he began to attend YMPCA functions and on March 9, 1916, invited the membership to meet at a hall on the grounds of his estate.
Howard was also the featured speaker at the first annual banquet of the YMPCA, held on March 30, 1916 at the American Annex. This dinner is listed by many old-timers as one of the highlights of early Jaycee history.
The most important thing to be remembered in considering Howard, Mayor Kiel, Colonel Morgan and other early backers, is the YMPCA was not engaged in any fight with the city leaders. From the start, the older men of the community recognized the need for a young men’s group and offer their cooperation. The YMPCA did not suffer form antagonism of older men, but actually received the assistance. In later years, there was to become conflict between Junior and Senior Chambers at a local level, but this was not the case in St. Louis during the formative period.
The Democratic National Convention of June, 1916, offered the YMPCA the opportunity of undertaking the first extensive civic project. realizing that unsightly litter in vacant lots near Union railroad Station and the Coliseum might case visitors to form an unfavorable impression of St. Louis, it was decided to clear this debris as a gesture of civic pride.
St. Louis Memorial Arts Museum at 19th and Locust. YMPCA first headquarters.
This project s a landmark, for it set a precedent that would continue through
Jaycee history … dirty work was not a deterrent to action. The YMPCA knew that the littered properties would not become cleared by mere discussion … it would
take work. With this in mind, the members, supplied with wagons and shovels furnished by the city, set forth to clean the lots.
When the actual convention came in June, the YMPCA also assisted in the reception of delegates, with visitors from the State of washington being assisted
by the YMPCA. Over 200 members participated on the welcoming committee.
Another extensive YMPCA project in 1916 was a survey of blighted districts in the
city regions lying east of Grand Avenue, from the southern to northern city limits. Inspections were made and reports given on issues such as sanitary conditions
and fire hazards. The official report was made to the Department of Streets and sewers and as a result the head of that department, Charles M. Talbert, commended the young men of the YMPCA.
Perhaps the first tangible symbol of Clarence Howard’s support came in June
1916 when he secure the Memorial Arts Museum at 19th and Locust Street as
headquarters for the YMPCA.
The actual building had been donated by Robert S. Brookings, President of Washington University of St. Louis. Some 20 year later, the Brookings Foundation, which had been set up by this educator was one of the first true “sponsors” of the United States Junior Chamber.
Although not in good condition at the time, the old museum was molded into a suitable headquarters for the YMPCA. Over 100 members devoted to to administering to the “paint-up, clean-up, fix-up” treatment.
Once at home in the museum, the YMPCA began to attract even more attention. This is reflected by an editorial of July 10 in the St. Louis Republic:
“Have the citizens of St. Louis noted what is going on at Nineteenth and Locusts Streets?
There is just one yawning gap in the series of St. Louis commercial, civic and educational institutions. Somehow our captains of industry, of commerce and of education have overlooked the period in a young man’s life which intervenes between 18 and30 … a period when the young man, with school left behind and first contact with the workday world still fresh in his memory, is poor in money and relatively limited in experience, but rich in physical vigor, opulent in hope and enviably hospitable to new enthusiasm and new ideas. This is an age of efficiency, of the conservation of waste; and nowhere is there so much available power going to waste as in the “older young crows” of those who will run the machinery of this town in a quarter of a century hence.
The Memorial Arts Building is renewing its youth; window boxes and flower beds already adorn it without, and painters, decorators and plumbers are busy within. This monumental structure, long ago consecrated to the fine arts, is shortly to be devoted to the finest art of all … the art of developing love of country, civic intelligence, civic energy and the sense of human fellowship in the minds and souls of boys and young men.”
This building, which became known as “Inspiration Point” at the suggestion of an early member, Carl E. Sommers, was one of the first indications that the YMPCA was going “big time” in St. Louis.
Spring of 1916 saw another development, but one not so favorable to the YMPCA. An effort had been made to seek affiliation with the Business men’s league, shortly to become the Chambers of Commerce, but for some reason, it was a failure. Even with howard’s endorsement, the League wanted more time to evaluate the YMPCA before granting affiliation. The League staunchly favored the young men’s group, but like Chambers of Commerce, then and now, was on the conservative side and took a “wait and see” attitude.
One result of the failure to affiliate with the Business men;s league was to change the name of the the YMPCA to the Junior Citizens. The switch officially took place on August 24, 1916 and for the first time the term Jaycee … used in the form of J. C. in those days … was employed.
“The request made of us by one who has proven himself to be our friend at all times (Howard), is to take a name that will distinguish us from the great multitude of civic organizations of like kind and character that are in existence today. The name “Junior Citizens” would be distinct, alone and in itself would designate more clearly our organization than the name we now have.
You know of the great friendship now existing between our organization and representative men of this city. Boys, by the change, that friendship will grow stronger and stronger.”
The influence of Howard and Giessenbier won out and the YMCA became a thing of the past. Whether or not Junior Citizens was actually a better name is open to debate for several times in future years there would be suggestions calling for the Junior Chamber of Commerce to become the Young Men’s Civic Association. Such a title will probably never be adopted for the initials YMCA are identical to those of another large organization … the Young Men’s Christian Association.
There were many side factors, but it is probable that Howard’s work in bringing the term “Junior” into the organization’s name at this point was to forever attach that prefix to its title. Howard was a friend, but his tendency to paternalism resulted in the word “Junior” which some present day Jaycees even today resent.
Be this as it may, as the Junior Citizens, the movement was to grow stronger than ever before.