If you grew up during the 1970s, you are probably like me, the first thing you think of when you hear the acronym Y. M. C. A. is the song by the Village People. Yesterday, I was checking on information for a person who married into our family and discovered he was in a building whose "roomers" extended for pages and pages in the 1920 census for Memphis, Shelby County, Tennessee.(1) When I began to investigate the address, 245 Madison, I discovered it was the Y. M. C. A. I'm not exactly sure what the building would have been like inside in 1920. I had posted a query in the Tennessee Genealogical Society's Facebook group asking if anyone knew what was at that address in 1920 only a minute or two before I found the information on my own. If I'd been more observant, I would have seen Y. M. C. A. mentioned in the description at the top of the pages by the enumerator. There's even a note that there was no "head" there because the secretary of the "Y" lived "out in town." In spite of the fact that I answered my own question, several other people posted comments about the building's history. Cindy Rodgers found a link that describes several historic buildings in Memphis including the Y. The top floors of the building have now been turned into loft-style apartments. Some of them such as this one offered for sale don't appear to be in the best of shape, but it does give one a sense of some of the architecture in the building. Others for sale, such as this one, appear to have a great view of the baseball field. There's a history of the Memphis Y available at their web site.
This is not the first time I've run across a family member/connection in a Y. I once located a distant Lantz relative in a Y. M. C. A. in Newport, Rhode Island. As in the case above, the year was 1920. In this case, John P. Lantz, the son of Samuel Lantz and Sarah Zook, was the General Secretary of the Y. M. C. A.(2)
According to the YMCA's web site, the Y. M. C. A. was founded by George Williams in London in 1844. I found it interesting that the first "Y" for college students in the United States was at Cumberland University in Lebanon, Tennessee in 1856. I guess that there's more to Lebanon than Cracker Barrel. The Y in Cincinnati, Ohio (another city where I've lived) was the first to offer ESL (English as a Second Language) classes in that same year. They offered them to the German immigrants. Sometime in the 1860s, they began to offer affordable housing to farm lads who were moving to the "big city" and needed a safe place to live. If the web site is any indication, the rooms in these facilities were similar to hotel rooms. [You can read more about the history of their services at the link at the beginning of this paragraph.]
It is obvious from the large number of persons residing in the Memphis "Y" in 1920 that the facilities met a need. The young man I was following had indeed left a rural place some 450 miles distant. He fit the demographic of the persons to whom that housing was targeted.
Was it fun to stay at the Y. M. C. A.? I guess the approximately 250 young men residing at the one in Memphis in 1920 could tell you a definitive answer to that question. In the mean time, I'll just always think of it as a place where "You can get yourself clean; you can have a good meal."(3)
(1) 1920 U.S. Federal Census, Shelby County, Tennessee, population schedule, Memphis, Ward 4, SD 10, ED 83, p. 89 (stamped), sheet 5A (written), entry for O. W. McClure, dwelling 29, line 48; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : 29 June 2013); citing NARA microfilm publication T625, roll 1763. The enumeration of the YMCA begins on page 4A and continues through page 6B.
(2) 1920 U.S. Federal Census., Newport County, Rhode Island, population schedule, Newport Town, ED 52, sheet 17A (written), John P. Lantz household, dwelling 261, family 256, line
44; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : 4 Jan 2003); citing NARA microfilm publication T625, roll 1670.
(3) "Y. M. C. A.", from Village People, Cruisin' (New York: Casablanca, 1978), lyrics by Henri Belolo, Jacques Morali, and Victor Willis.