Atherton YMCA

YMCA Goes to College

Growing Up with the University of Hawai‘i

The first University YMCA was established in 1856 at Cumberland University in Tennessee to foster the leadership development of college students.

The YMCA of Honolulu got its UH start in 1908 at the College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts located in McKinley High School. In 1912, the Y followed the newly named College of Hawai‘i to Manoa and continued its work from a “cubbyhole” in Hawai‘i Hall. By 1922, University YMCA was formally organized and was one of the largest and most active groups on the UH campus with 115 male members out of the total 290 male students.

Atherton YMCA

In March 1931, the Atherton family wanted to “erect a building to serve as a home for young men students of the University of Hawai‘i.... that would also serve as the center for University YMCA activities.” Built in memory of its namesake, the Charles Atherton House on University Avenue was dedicated on June 1, 1932. In 1995, the Mary Atherton Richardson House, named in honor of his sister, was purchased by the Y.


In November 2017, the Atherton YMCA property was sold to the UH Foundation, and the Atherton YMCA will return to and establish a branch on the Manoa campus where it can expand its offerings to high school and college students from all walks of life.

(Pictured) 1924 UH student gathering. Early University YMCA programs included Bible study and discussion groups, friendship clubs, business meetings, staged socials, University Night for high school students, and weekend student conferences.
1926 UH YMCA delegates at Asilomar Intercollege Student Conference in Pacific Grove, CA. In 1922, YMCA sent the first UH delegation to an intercollege conference, bringing the little-known university to the attention of mainland students. The YMCA also inaugurated the first UH student exchange program in 1922 which the YMCA ran until UH took over the program in 1933.
( 1921 Students at a University YMCA conference in Kane‘ohe.

The UH yearbook, Ka Palapala, reported that in April 1921, attendees of the YMCA’s first University conference voted to petition the legislature. They asked for the construction of dorms to increase fellowship and school spirit among students and faculty.
From 1938 to the early 2000s, YMCA Frosh Camps held at Camp H.R. Erdman eased the transition from high school to college for new students. In 2019, YMCA Frosh Camps have been revived! 

YMCA Camp Erdman ➔