For the past 100 years, the Caltech Y —an independent nonprofit formally affiliated with Caltech—has played a large role in the enrichment of student life. New Student Orientation, the little t freshman handbook, volunteer opportunities, and many lecture series, among a variety of other events and traditions, all started at the Y. To celebrate a century of the organization’s positive influence on campus, we look back at how it all started, according to an excerpt from a booklet written for the Caltech Y’s 75th anniversary in 1991.
On the evening of October 1, 1916, eleven students of the Throop College of Technology met to discuss the possibility of organizing a Young Men’s Christian Association chapter on campus. They wanted to introduce a sense of higher ideals and greater cohesiveness to the student body of their college and felt that the YMCA might provide the best means for accomplishing this.
But, to establish a Y on campus, they first had to overcome various obstacles— chief of which was a requirement by the national organization that the local executive officers be members of a Protestant church. The students resolved this issue by deciding to de-emphasize religion and emphasize social service instead—which was acceptable to the National YMCA. Robert A. Millikan had already arrived on campus as part-time director of physical research and it is probable he influenced this decision.
Max Carson, a senior, was elected the Y’s first president. He proceeded to outline the new organization’s goals as he saw them: to create a student employment bureau and an organization to welcome new students on campus, and to seek a means for bringing the desired higher ideals and a religious influence—even if low key—into college life.
During the remainder of the academic year, the YMCA sponsored a regular weekly Bible class, made plans to welcome the next freshman class, started Max Carson’s proposed student employment bureau, and began publication of a monthly newsletter. The officers also convened an assembly of the entire student body, during which they presented a short talk on the aims of the Y, listened to a mandolin solo, and joined in a recitation not only of the Lord’s Prayer but also in several yells for the debate and basketball teams. Finally, they heard a report from the state YMCA secretary on the social service programs the YMCA was conducting in European prison camps. Throughout the Y’s first year, help came to them from the regional and national YMCA organizations, and the state YMCA secretaries spent many hours on campus helping the Y develop its program and budget. The establishment of the employment bureau was particularly important. At that time, scholarships and student aid were virtually nonexistent and many students had to work long hours to meet expenses.
Today, the Caltech Y—which established a friendly separation from the YMCA in the 1970s when the Institute became coed—remains committed to providing educational, outdoor, community-service, cultural, and social activities for all Caltech students. To learn more visit caltechy.org.
Photo: Students attending Frosh Camp—which was established by the Caltech Y in the 1920s—play mountain golf at Camp Radford, located above Redlands, California. The photo is believed to be from the mid-1940s.