Hostels coming to the USA

P1070513Two cyclists and a bluebird from the YHA (England and Wales) handbook of 1942.

Isabel Bacheler Smith designed them for the American youth hostel’s magazine The Knapsack. She founded the youth hostels association of the USA with her husband Monroe.

In the summer of 1933 Isabel and Monroe Smith toured Germany with a group of Boy Scouts. Hotels were expensive and the group swapped them for youth hostels to save money.

When the tour ended, Monroe escorted his young charges back to the USA and then returned, to join Isabel and the two children in Germany.

Determined to find out more about youth hostels they met up with Richard Schirrmann, the man who invented hostels.

Schirrmann told them that professional people thought they could take hostelling to America. They had come with neat, pressed suits and shiny glasses and notebooks. But they had all failed.

Schirrmann had confidence in Isabel and Monroe because they were using youth hostels. They wore shorts, carried knapsacks and rode bicycles. He thought they would succeed.

Filled with enthusiasm, the couple returned to the USA and set about establishing a hostel. They leased a 100-room castle-like mansion built by a wealthy New Yorker in 1909. But the mansion was unsuitable.

Next they purchased an old white clapboard house in Northfield, Massachusetts. They converted part of the house and the barn into a hostel. They fitted out two large lofts, one for boys and one for girls, with double- and triple-decker bunk beds. The Northfield hostel opened in December of 1934.

In 1940 Jack Catchpool’s family went as evacuees to Massachusetts. Jack was the first secretary of YHA and president of the international federation of youth hostels. Ruth, his wife became houseparent for the hostel.

Through this personal connection, Jack used Isabel’s artwork for YHA’s 1942 and 1943 YHA handbooks.

I’ve been researching the fascinating story of Jack Catchpool and his life of adventure, travel and youth hostels aiming to publish a book about him in 2019 when you’ll be able to read more about the connection between Jack and Ruth Catchpool and the USA.

2 thoughts on “Hostels coming to the USA

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    1. You’re very welcome Kevin. There’s more about the founding of youth hostels in the USA in my book about Richard Schirrmann as he went to help get hostels off the ground there.

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