Mary Church Terrell

Remarks Made in Portsmouth, Va. - 12 November 1920

Mary Church Terrell
November 12, 1920— Portsmouth, Virginia
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Remarks Made in Portsmouth Va. Nov. 12, 1920.

Nothing could afford me more genuine pleasure than to speak at a meeting called in the interest of our girls. We frequently say that the boys and girls of to day are the men and women of tomorrow. But, if actions speak louder than words, there is no doubt that many of us express this thought without realizing what it means. We declare that the boys and girls of to day will be the men and women of tomorrow as a poll parrot utters words he has been taught to say without having the slightest idea what they mean.

The best proof of the fact that many of us say the boys and girls of to day will be the men and women of tomorrow as a poll parrot talks, is the painful manner in which thousands of our boys and girls have been neglected. The civilization of a country is tested by the manner in which it cares for its women, its boys and girls. If the physical welfare of the boys and girls of one generation is not looked after properly, the men and women of the next and succeeding generations may be stunted in growth and be weak. When one think how few efforts have been put forth in the past by so-called, highly civilized nations to care for the physical well-being of their youth, the wonder is that there are so many men and women who are strong and sturdy to day. It seems nothing less than a miracle that there are so many able0bodied men and robust women, when we remember how our children have been allowed to disregard the rules of health,

But, if the physical welfare of our youth has been shamefully neglected, the moral and spiritual development has been disregarded all the more. It is only recently that even highly civilized nations have begun to realize that it is the duty of the State to provide for the moral and spiritual development of its future citizens. It was because a patriotic, far-seein man realized that if some special effort were not made to promote the spiritual and moral welfare of the young men of London that the first YMCA was established there in 1844. now seventy six years ago. Before that time even the most-highly civilized and the most Christain nations in the world had done little or nothing to provide especially for the religious training of young men except that offered them in the church. The morals of the young men of Great Britain were declining with such alarming raphidity. They were plunging into dissipation of all kinds so fast that George Williams the founder of the YMCA, felt that unless something were done speedily, the morals of thousands of young men in England would be smirched and ruined beyond repair.

At first efforts were made by the YMCA only to provide for the religious training of young men. There was np use trying to close the nation’s eyes to the fact that the great majority of young men had ceased to go to churc Religious services alone made slight appeal to the rank and file of the young men. But the music halls, the saloons and places of evil repute were gathering them in by the housands. So the founder of the YMCA was early imoressed with the fact that if nothing were done for the instructio recreation and amusement of the young men whom they wanted to benefit, the organization would fail to accomplish much of the work it had hoped to do. And so it was decided to have noted speakers deliver lectures on subjects which would instruct, enlighen and interest young men. Social functions were given, a gumnasium was inaugurated and everything was done to draw young men from the unfluences which were sapping their vitality and destroying them body and soul.

Eleven years after the YMCA was founded, the YWCA was formed. Its founde a Mrs. Robarts of Bostons organized the center in 1855. It was the first effort of the kind made in the United States to promote the spiritual and moral welfare of young women outside the church. For, while young women had not deserted the church in 1855 to the shocking extent practiced by young men, nevertheless they had begun to remain away from the church in rapidly increasing numbers. Long before the Emancipation Proclmation was signed, therefore, lo years before their colored sisters were even fre it was deemed necessary to put forth herculean efforts outside the church to save the young white women of the United States, so many of whom were forsaking the straight and narrow way in which their grandmothers trod to wande off into by and forbidden paths.

Terrell, Mary Church. “Remarks Made in Portsmouth, Va.” Mary Church Terrell Papers. Library of Congress. 12 November 1920.