The Providence YMCA (it’s older than you think!)

>In January 1854 the General Assembly granted a charter to the Providence Young Men’s Christian Association “for the purpose of establishing and maintaining a Reading Room, Library, and other means for the improvement of the spiritual, moral, and mental condition of young men.” According to the 1880 annual report, any person of good moral character could become an associate member for $1 per year, or a life member for $20 at one time. The PPL has a run of the YMCA’s annual reports (1869-1907), which show that the library was ill-supported for years. In fact, throughout the 1870s the refrain is “we could not buy as many books as usual,” begging the question of when had the ususal amount of money been expended. Things turned around in the 1880s, as you will see from this excerpt from the 1882 Annual Report, which also articulates the moral purpose of the library: “The work of this association is multiform. It looks to the reformation of those who have gone astray, but especially to the saving from wrong-doing of those who are the children of christian parents, and of all who have not yet fallen into open ways of sin . . . among all the attractive and truly valuable agencies of this association, none are of greater importance or more clearly worthy of a liberal support at the hands of a benevolent christian public than a large and well selected library. The value of good reading is much more clearly seen than formerly. The debasing and demoralizing effects of reading the lower classes of books is every year more and more apparent from too frequent and painful facts. The quantity of reading done in any New England community is on the increase. Consequently, the evil or the good that may be accomplished by it is as rapidly increasing.” By 1891 the library and reading room of the YMCA had over 4,000 books and subscriptions to over 70 daily and weekly local, national, and international newspapers and magazines. There was a parlor furnished with artwork and games, as well as a hall which could seat 400 for talks, meetings, and concerts.

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