American Youth Hostels
Founders: Monroe and Isabel Smith
Headquarters: Northfield, MA
Current name: HI-USA (Hostelling International USA)
Another title: Hostelling International - American Youth Hostels (HI-AYH)
Associated with YHA (Youth Hostel Association) and IYHF (International Youth Hostel Federation)
When Monroe and Isabel Smith returned from a trip to Europe and had discovered the unique adventure of youth hostelling, they knew it was an idea whose time had come for America. So, officially on March 16, 1934 the American Youth Hostels Association started with a bang in Northfield, Massachusetts. Within weeks the Charter #1 Hostel had grown to several hostels, with the idea that hostels would be available every 15 miles or so along designated routes in New England - and eventually all across America.
Despite its name, membership was open to all ages.
Who could resist the offer of a safe place to rest for just 25 cents a night? Restless folks with long summer days spent their time exploring the countryside on bikes, canoes, simply hiking or any other mode of travel except the automobile. Every hostel had "house parents" who cared for the site and managed day to day operations and even organized square dances. Meals were cooking in the communal kitchen, sleeping areas were strictly girls on one side, boys on the other, and everybody was encouraged to get to know each other and make new friends.
It was so popular Hollywood even made a movie about it. It was the famous actress Jane Powell's film debut!
But what started out so strong and grew by leaps and bounds in the 1930s, survived the "bicycle rationing" of the war years and even made it to the hippie era of the 1960s and 1970s, found that the automobile owned the road and Americans wanted to get somewhere faster and sleep in better accommodations. No longer were they happy to bed down in a farmer's hay loft for the night. Hostelling survives in America today - but it's a modernized shell of what it once was.
American Youth Hostel Pin
American Youth Hostel Patch
Aside from a few patches and pins, just a few other AYH items are left to be found!
Chamounix Mansion Youth Hostel, Philadelphia, PA patch
Miss Betty Blogett (lower right) looking at a new hostel in California, 1937.
An early, small travel AYH travel pack
The 1944 movie Song of the Open Road featured youth hostels. it was the movie debut of Jane powell.
Post-war youth hostellers couldn't wait to get into Europe and help rebuild the hostel system.
Photos of AYH gatherings always played well in the newspapers.
AYH Knapsack - the official publication of AYH ran from 1936 to 1948.
In Memory of the Founders of the American Youth Hostel movement:
By the mid 1990's the AYH had changed it's name to Hostelling International - American Youth Hostels and then again to its current name HI-USA, Hostelling International USA