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John Raleigh Mott

long-time general secretary of the American YMCA; recipient of the 1946 Nobel Prize for Peace

John Raleigh Mott

John Raleigh Mott was born in Livingston Manor, New York, on May 25, 1865; his family moved to Postville, Iowa, soon after his birth. At the age of 16, he enrolled at Upper Iowa University, a small Methodist preparatory school and college, where he studied history and literature and was a prize-winning debater and orator. Transferring to Cornell University in 1885, Mott was unsure whether he would study for the law or to go into his father's lumber business; he ended up choosing neither career.

On January 14, 1886, Mott attended a lecture by J. Kynaston Studd, a former English cricket star and co-founder of the Cambridge Mission to China. What Mott heard that day made an impression, and from that time he devoted most of his life to presenting Christ to students. Elected president of the Cornell Christian Union, he represented it at the first ever international, interdenominational student Christian conference. That conference resulted in formation of the Student Volunteer Movement (SVM) in 1888, of which Mott was made chairman.

Mott graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1888 and immediately accepted a traveling secretary position with the national student Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA). He kept his position as chairman of the SVM until 1920, during which period he saw more than 8,000 student volunteers go abroad. In 1895 he helped found the World Student Christian Federation (WSCF), and within 21 months he personally organized 70 associations and 5 indigenous national movements in the Orient and Australasia. He served as general secretary of the WSCF until 1920.

Organization and chairmanship of the 1910 World Missionary Conference in Edinburgh, Scotland, made Mott one of the world's leading Protestant missionary statesmen, and in 1912-1913 he traveled around the world on behalf of missionary cooperation. Those efforts eventually resulted in the creation of the World Council of Churches, of which he was elected honorary president in 1948.

From 1915 to 1928, as general secretary, Mott turned the American YMCA into one of the leading YMCAs in the world. Acting on his own, he volunteered the YMCA's services to President Woodrow Wilson upon outbreak of World War I. During the war he traveled behind the lines on both sides in the interest of YMCA, which was put in charge of running military canteens (post exchanges) in the United States and France. After the war the YMCA took on war relief for both refugees and prisoners of war on both sides, and helped many ex-soldiers return to civilian life. Mott himself was personally responsible for the postarmistice campaign that raised the largest sum ever subscribed for war relief.

In addition to all the work already documented, Mott also served as chairman of the International Missionary Council (1921-42), president of the World Alliance of YMCAs (1926-37), and held several other important posts in a variety of Christian groups. It is estimated that he traveled about 2 million years during the course of his career. He was awarded seven honorary degrees, earned the Distinguished Service Medal for his work during World War I, and was honored with the Nobel Peace Prize in 1946. He also found time to author sixteen books, including The Evangelization of the World in this Generation and The Decisive Hour of Christian Missions.

John R. Mott died at his home in Orlando, Florida, on January 31, 1955. He was survived by his wife Leila Ada White (married 1891) and their four children (two sons, two daughters).

Nobel Foundation

World War I
Nobel Peace Prize

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This page was last updated on January 07, 2018.