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"The tonic of wildness": religion and the environment at the YMCA of the Rockies




Blankers, Ellen, author
Alexander, Ruth, advisor
Lindsay, James, committee member
Hutchins, Zachary, committee member

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Americans in the 1920s and 30s were fascinated with the idea of a pure, untrammeled wilderness, particularly as an antidote to the perceived depravity and degeneracy of urban environments. Looking for sites of wilderness that might promote environmental engagement among children and adolescents, American educators and parents identified the YMCA of the Rockies in Estes Park, Colorado, as a place that perfectly embodied the ideal wilderness. Summer programs at the YMCA of the Rockies encouraged participants to actively engage with the wilderness setting of the region while simultaneous reaching for spiritual and moral growth. The summer camps and programs offered at and through the YMCA of the Rockies provided opportunities for children to engage with an ideal wilderness and thereby strengthen their relationship to the divine, improve their moral character, and build up their physical health. By analyzing the culture and context of the 1920s and 30s, the ways in which the summer programs promoted their camps, and the extent to which campers embraced and internalized the lessons offered at these summer programs associated with the YMCA of the Rockies, this thesis will deepen historians' understanding of the critical role that early-twentieth-century wilderness values were intended to have towards leading young boys and girls toward lives of spiritual, moral, and physical uprightness. It will also reveal significant differences in the way that wilderness values and camp settings were expected to shape the maturation of boys and girls.


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