Morse Hall, originally built to host Silas Paine’s library and museum, today honors the memory of Richard Cary Morse, who served as General Secretary of the YMCA in charge of international operations from 1872 to 1915.
Morse came from a remarkable family. His grandfather, Jedidiah Morse (1761-1826), was a minister and educator, active in missionary work to Native Americans, and the author of Geography Made Easy (1784), the first geography written in the United States. Richard’s father, Richard Cary Morse Sr. (1795-1868), was a minister and the founder of The New York Observer, a weekly newspaper. Richard’s uncle, Samuel F. B. Morse (1791-1872), had two careers, one as a famed painter and the second as the inventor of the telegraph.
Richard Cary Morse (1841-1926)
Richard Jr., a handsome six-footer, went to Yale where he rowed for Yale’s crew team. He graduated in 1862, and did graduate work at Princeton and the Union Theological Seminary. In 1867, not sure what to do with himself next, he was persuaded by his family to join the staff of the New York Observer, as the religion editor.
One of Morse’s early assignments for the paper was to cover a New York convention of the YMCA, then in its infancy. The YMCA made a profound impression upon him and he in turn made an impression on the YMCA’s leader, Robert McBurney, who offered him a job, and a career. In 1869, Morse became the editor and publisher of the Association News. In 1872, he became the first General Secretary.
When the Silver Bay Association was formed, Morse was very supportive. He later wrote, “From its beginning, the undertaking enlisted my heartiest sympathy and at the outset I was able to lend a hand in securing what was needed to purchase the property of 1,500 acres, beautiful for situation on one of our most beautiful lakes.”
Morse’s YMCA work took him across the Atlantic 50 times, including relief work in France during World War I. He also found time to author three books and teach at Silver Bay’s “summer schools” for YMCA professionals.
He was much loved, and his generosity took many forms. In his papers is a letter from William A. Hunton, the son of the first African-American YMCA secretary, thanking Morse for the financial support that helped Hunton attend Harvard.
In 1915, when Morse resigned as the general secretary of the International Committee, he was offered a pension, but chose to continue in active service. At a conference that year, it was noted that Morse had not lost his edge. “While Mr. Morse is in his seventy-third year, the statement will go without challenge that he showed himself the most keen, alert, interested and interesting man on the Conference grounds or in the discussions of the Institutes at Black Mountain or Silver Bay.”
Richard Cary Morse at 73, at the YMCA Lake Geneva (Wisconsin) campgrounds; photo by George C. Blakslee
Morse Hall, July 2009
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My Life with Young Men: Fifty Years in the Young Men’s Christian Association (1918) by Richard Cary Morse
“Died. Richard Cary (‘Uncle Richard’) Morse” in Time magazine, January 3, 1927
Note: The early photo of Morse Hall which leads this piece was taken by J.S. Wooley. Note the skylights which provided light for the library and museum, and Silas Paine’s home on the far right, today Paine Hall.