The summer of 1928 was a busy time for young John Welles. Although his schooling was going well, he fought to maintain top spot in the grade standings just ahead of the lovely, yet annoying, Garland Griffin for whom he was developing serious feelings. Also on the young man’s mind was the odd behavior of one of his best friends, Claude Willoughby.
Claude’s personality was always fiery and his temper unpredictable, but as of late, John knew there was something more going on with his friend than Claude would admit. The truth of the situation almost becomes clear to John during an afternoon spent at the YMCA with Claude and their friend, Sam Feldman. What John discovers aren’t the facts in their entirety, but what he assumed was bad enough. Only later does the full truth come out, and by then, John has absorbed Claude’s secret as his own.
My research on the YMCA led me to the Y’s own history page. I’ll direct you there for a comprehensive overview, but I do want to point out some tidbits about this benevolent organization that I found to be most interesting:
In 1844, industrialized London was a place of great turmoil and despair. For the young men who migrated to the city from rural areas to find jobs, London offered a bleak landscape of tenement housing and dangerous influences.
Twenty-two-year-old George Williams, a farmer-turned-department store worker, was troubled by what he saw. He joined 11 friends to organize the first Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA), a refuge of Bible study and prayer for young men seeking escape from the hazards of life on the streets.
Although an association of young men meeting around a common purpose was nothing new, the Y offered something unique for its time. The organization’s drive to meet social need in the community was compelling, and its openness to members crossed the rigid lines separating English social classes.
Years later, retired Boston sea captain Thomas Valentine Sullivan, working as a marine missionary, noticed a similar need to create a safe “home away from home” for sailors and merchants. Inspired by the stories of the Y in England, he led the formation of the first U.S. YMCA at the Old South Church in Boston on December 29, 1851.
I pressed on with my research because I needed to know what the YMCA was like specifically in the 1920s. What I came across confirmed something I had heard about on a television show back in the 1970s but assumed was intended to be a funny portion of the storyline: swimming nude at the Y. I’ll direct you to Eric Markowitz’s 2014 article, “Until Fairly Recently, The YMCA Actually Required Swimmers To Be Nude,” because it has to be read to be believed. While nude swimming may have been the standard in the 1920s, I’ll allow potential readers to envision the above-mentioned scene based on what he or she is familiar with in regards to swimming at the Y.