Uncle Charlie and Constitution Day 1919

Maybe I’m not a ‘good American’ but I had never heard of Constitution Day till doing some genealogical research on my husband’s great-uncle CHARLES KINGSLEY CALHOUN. I came across an article, dated Sunday, Sept 7, 1919, in the New York Times listing C. K. Calhoun, Associate General Secretary of the Y.M.C.A., as requesting all of the 2100 branch secretaries in the U.S. to assist in making Constitution Day (Sept 17th) a success.

 

CALHOUN CHARLES K 1919 NY Times Constitution Day
7 Sept 1919, The New York Times

In this particular year, the drive was to provide “an antidote for the poisonous doctrines of present-day radicals” (i.e. Communists). That quote was from a second article, written in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn, NY).

CALHOUN CHARLES K 1919 Brooklyn Eagle Constitution Day
8 Sept 1919: The Brooklyn Daily Eagle

Interesting. My husband’s grandfather, ALEXANDER CALHOUN, had become (around this time) a Socialist and his brother, Charlie, was waging an American-wide campaign against Socialism’s big brother, Communism. (For the differences between the two, look here: http://www.diffen.com/difference/Communism_vs_Socialism) THAT was very interesting, indeed. It goes a long way in explaining the two brothers living separate, and not very close, lives.

Uncle Charlie had a lifelong career at the YMCA. At age 19, (in the 1891 Canadian Census) he was living at his parents’ home in Ottawa and his occupation was YMCA Secretary. I had no idea what that meant. Was he a clerk? No, apparently not. The job of a YMCA Secretary was the running of an actual YMCA. Now…he may have been an Assistant Secretary, given his age. The YMCA, at that time, was not an athletic club, as my local Y was…before it shut down altogether…but a place for Christian fellowship and an early social service organization that helped all sorts of people get a foothold in their communities and provided all kinds of services to help them do so.

By 1901, Charlie had moved to Montreal and was (according to the 1901 Canadian Census) again working as a Secretary, YMCA. He was earning a whopping $1200 a year, while his father, ROBERT CHARLES CALHOUN, working as a Manager and age 51, was earning $1000/yr. His sister, GRACE CALHOUN, a teacher, was earning only $325/yr. He was obviously a man of some consequence already. That same year, he married the boss’s daughter, EFFIE MARGARET BUDGE.

In 1908, Charlie was named Canadian Field Secretary of the International YMCA, another step up…he was responsible for all of Canada. He was a good fundraiser and traveled Canada, helping Associations with their building campaigns. His earnings, according to the 1911 Canadian Census was a whopping $3000/year, three times what his father was earning (still listed as $1000/yr).

In 1917, Charlie had been moved up to the really big leagues, New York City.   World War One was on and Charlie was the New York City Secretary of the YMCA War Work Council. Charlie must have been a top-notch fundraiser. Here is a description of the work that was done by the YMCA through the War Work Council:

  • Throughout World War I, the YMCA provided morale and welfare services for the military. By war’s end, the YMCA, through the United War Work Council, had operated 1,500 canteens in the United States and France; set up 4,000 YMCA huts for recreation and religious services; and raised more than $235 million—equivalent to $4.3 billion today—for relief work.

After the War ended, Charlie was the Associate General Secretary of the YMCA New York City, and I found him organizing Constitution Day. Charlie had come from humble beginnings in Fenelon Falls, Ontario, Canada…son of Irish immigrants and the eldest of a big family. Without a college degree but with a great intellect and a great work ethic, he worked his way up to a really powerful and socially important job with the then-powerful YMCA. Bravo, Uncle Charlie!

 

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