Mott, John R.

John R. Mott first became involved in world service through the YMCA and served in many leadership roles for the organization including president of the YMCA's World Alliance from 1926-37. Throughout his life, Mott created worldwide organizations that have united millions of young people in work promoting the Christian ideals of peace and tolerance between nations. Predominately working with youth, he believed that they possessed the key to the future.

Definition/Life Highlights

John Raleigh Mott was an American Methodist evangelist active in world service and a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1946. Mott organized student missionary movements and united churches around the world in an effort to promote peace and world alliance.

Historic Roots

John R. Mott was born May 25, 1865, in Livingston Manor, New York. He died January 31, 1955 in Orlando, Florida. At a young age, his parents moved the family. His father became a lumber merchant and was elected the first mayor of Postville, Iowa. As the only son (John had three sisters), it was thought that he would follow his father's footsteps in the lumber industry. However, a Methodist minister persuaded his parents to allow him to continue his studies. When he was 16, Mott attended Upper Iowa University, a Methodist preparatory school. He later transferred to Cornell University where he received a bachelor's degree in philosophy and history.

It was at Cornell that Mott first became involved in world service through the YMCA. In 1886, he represented Cornell University's YMCA at the first international, interdenominational student Christian conference. Then, for twenty-seven years (1888-1915), Mott was the national secretary of the Intercollegiate Committee of the YMCA of the U.S.A. and Canada. He also served as chairman of the Student Volunteer Movement for Foreign Missions (1915-28) and of the International Missionary Council of the YMCA (1921-42). Mott was president of the YMCA's World Alliance from 1926-37.

In 1910, Mott was one of the organizers of the World Missionary Conference in Edinburgh, Scotland. This conference ultimately led to the formation of the World Council of Churches and marked the beginning of the modern ecumenical movement. He became honorary president of the World Council of Churches in 1948 when 147 churches from over 40 countries claimed membership.

On April 6, 1917, as the United States entered World War I, John R. Mott wired President Woodrow Wilson to volunteer the full service of the YMCA movement. Mott became general secretary of the National War Work Council. He raised funds to support YMCA relief programs for prisoners of war and other projects. Mott received the Distinguished Service Medal for his work. Then, during World War II, he led the YMCA in an effort to improve conditions in the prisoner of war camps. Mott worked to unite nations especially in times of war. He often served as an ambassador and negotiator on behalf of the United States Government.

Among numerous awards he received are decorations from China, Czechoslovakia, Finland, France, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Japan, Jerusalem, Poland, Portugal, Siam, Sweden, and the United States.



Mott was a pioneer in missionary work and relief efforts around the world. It is estimated that during his lifetime he traveled more than two million miles, equal to seventy times around the world. He wrote numerous publications. Two of his most noted are The Future Leadership of the Church (1909) and The Larger Evangelism (1944).


Mott is credited with starting the ecumenical movement that has brought about Christian unity. "Ecumenical" is derived from oikoumene, a Greek term meaning "the whole inhabited world." The ecumenical movement was originally Protestant. But, following the World Missionary Conference of 1910, additional denominations joined the movement. A new atmosphere of cooperation between churches began to emerge and the World Council of Churches (WCC) was formed in 1948. The WCC is "an international fellowship of Christian churches, built upon the foundation of encounter, dialogue, and collaboration" (The World Council of Churches).


Ties to the Philanthropic Sector

John Mott raised $250 million dollars (equivalent to $4.6 billion by today's standard) during World War I to aid in the care of prisoners of war and aid soldiers in making the transition back into normal life following the war. At the time, it was the largest fundraising effort to date.

Perhaps more significantly, Mott devoted his life to the philanthropic messages of peace and understanding. He promoted these messages between churches, groups and nations around the world, especially through the World Council of Churches. He also taught and modeled volunteerism and service among young people through his work in the YMCA.

K ey Related Ideas

  • Collaboration

  • Comparative Religion

  • Ecumenical

  • Interdenominational

  • Missionary Work

  • Peace

  • Relief Work

  • Strategic Alliances

Important Related Nonprofit Organizations

  • International Missionary Council

  • World Council of Churches

  • World Student Christian Association

  • YMCA of the USA


The Addresses and Papers of John R. Mott, The Young Men's Christian Association. Association Press, 1947.

Nobel e-Museum, The Nobel Foundation. Biography of John Raleigh Mott [online]. Available: (15 September 2000).

Hopkins, Charles H. John R. Mott, 1865-1955: A Biography. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1994.

Ingebretsen, Herman Smitt. John Raleigh Mott. Speech presented for Nobel Peace Prize at the Nobel Institute, 1946.

Mott, John R. Five Decades and a Forward View. Harper & Bros., 1939.

Mott, John R. The Decisive Hour of Christian Missions. New York: Student Volunteer Movement for Foreign Mission, 1911.

Student Mission Power: Report of the First International Convention of the Student Volunteer Movement for Foreign Missions. Cleveland: February 26-28 and March 1, 1891. William Carey Library, 1979.

The World Council of Churches. World Council of Churches at a Glance [online]. Available: (15 September 2000).

This paper was developed by a student taking a Philanthropic Studies course taught at Grand Valley State University. It is offered by Learning To Give and Grand Valley State University.