YMCA Ragger History and Information
The Development of a Program
It started off as a simple blue bandana, a blue kerchief that would signify excellence for health habits, promptness, cheerfulness, morals, trustworthiness, industry and helpfulness.
In the Summer of 1914, 25 of those blue bandanas were presented to boys (at first only boys received it) at a YMCA summer camp near what is now Camp Loma Mar, a branch of the Alameda County, California YMCA, in the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains. It was here, about sixty miles south of San Francisco, that the tradition began. In the same year, two outstanding boys received Red Rags as advanced recognition. They were all called out at a campfire and bandanas tied around their necks.
Thomas Caldwell, then a 38-year-old boys’ secretary for the Oakland YMCA, used the kerchiefs for the first time and called them "rags." This was to signify that in themselves the kerchiefs or bandanas had no value, rather they were a symbol of the qualities a boy had demonstrated. The first Blue Rags were presented to boys living up to certain standards in camp. He conceived the idea of giving a blue bandana as an award for character attributes such as good health, morals, helpfulness, cheerfulness, promptness and dependability. All campers could be recognized socially for constructive attitudes and cooperation - This idea contrasted with the San Francisco 'Y' policy of presenting an athletic award for achievement in certain specified athletic activities.
In 1915, the story of King Arthur and his Knights suggested a ceremony of "Knighting" the boys with Rags, and Tom Caldwell was called the "King" of Raggers. Ray Ogden, Associate Boys, Secretary of the Oakland YMCA, suggested "I would be true" as the Raggers' Creed and it was adopted. The ceremony was given on a mountain peak near camp.
In 1916, D. F. Ewings and C. F. Martin wrote a Red Rag ceremony.
In 1918, Ralph Cole, State Secretary, visited the Oakland 'Y' camp, recognized the values in the system and suggested the plan to other camp and thus, is regarded as the man who took the idea across state lines. There were five young men planning to go into YMCA work including Louis Meillette, Bob Hutchinson, and Roland Ure. Tom Caldwell wrote a White Rag ceremony for them, and its future use was generally restricted to those going into Christian work. Later, at a special ceremony in November 1924 in Los Angeles, Louis Meillette presented Tom Caldwell with a White Rag as "King of Raggers".
In 1932, the Los Angeles YMCA under Homer Gould, suggested a new method of telling the boys his selection for membership. Up to that time, boys were called out at campfire and given a list of requirements to learn for a ceremony the following day or so. The new idea was to have all the Raggers called together by the Director and the list read to them, then volunteers were to look up the individuals chosen and bring them to the ceremonial spot without having to learn any material.
The Gold Rag was conceived as a step for 15-year olds and over, and the idea was to encourage study of concern for the economic and social order, to emphasize the inclusive gospel of all races and creeds, and economic groups. The World Service Program of the YMCA was tied in with this ceremony.
The Purple Rag was conceived as a new step for 18-year olds and over. It was an advancement and challenge to the good life for those men who were not going into full time Christian service. Sheldon Swenson, Conley Davis and others proposed that the Rag should be a challenge available to every camper who sincerely accepted it. Acceptance required sharing with a Counselor the meaning associated with a specific color Rag and how it tied into the candidate's personal needs.
The Rag has had a long and eventful life and it has changed in many ways, but it as still an instrument to aid in the building of Christian character at YMCA summer camps. The real test of the Rag is in how its members conduct themselves in the year round program of the YMCA, and in their home, school, church and community.
It is estimated that since 1914 several hundred thousand youngsters in YMCA camps have been led blindfolded to a predetermined spot to have triangular kerchiefs tied around their necks in a simple ceremony. And it is at Raggers' Point, a permanent fixture at YMCA camps around the world, that youngsters still receive the rag today. Usually built of rocks at remote and private view sites, they are rarely destroyed. One somewhat unusual site was a ceremony in Austria just a few yards from the Hungarian border. A group of touring high school students accepted the rag with communist armed guards viewing the ceremony through a barbed wire barricade.
The design of the rag blends four well-known shapes - the traditional YMCA triangle; the square - to signify the four-square life; the circle - a circle of friendship; and the cross - the symbol of Christianity.
The Leather program is for campers age 9 – 11.Campers seek the challenge of the following goals:
Triangle - to grow in body, mind and spirit.
Square - to grow in body, mind, spirit and friendship.
Circle - to expand their circle of concern.
The Ragger program is available to persons 12+ years old. It is a seven-stage progression of spiritual and personal growth that involves peer counseling and symbolic bandanas. Both campers and staff participate in the program. Other YMCA leaders and adults participate in the program during other times of the year as well. While each person develops his/her own goals for growth, each “rag” challenges the individual to a deeper awareness and personal growth.
Challenges for each rag:
- Blue Rag begins with a focus on God, Country and becoming my best self
- Silver Rag begins with a commitment to the Christian way of life
- Brown Rag begins with service to others
- Gold Rag begins with care and understanding of others
- Red Rag begins with sacrificing of time, talent and will
- Purple Rag begins with considering the personal purpose in life
- White Rag begins with a lifelong commitment of Christian service to youth.
On the first night of each new session at camp, a presentation is made about the Rag/Leather program. Sometime during the session, the camper meets with a counselor to discuss spiritual and personal goals he/she would like to pursue. On the last evening of camp, all campers who feel they are prepared to accept the challenge of pursuing the goals for the rag for which they are striving, meet for the induction into the Raggers society. There is no test or pre-judgment as to whether a camper has the right to receive the rag, but rather it is based on the camper’s interest and commitment to become a Ragger.
It is at Raggers’ Point that individuals receive the rag. Each camp has a unique and special site, which is remote and private. The design of the rag blends four well-known shapes - the traditional YMCA triangle (representing spirit, mind and body); the square-to signify the four-square life of a Ragger (spiritual, mental, physical and social); the circle representing the circle of friendship amongst Raggers; and the cross symbolizing the center of the Christian’s life.
I would be true for there are those who trust me.
I would be pure for there are those who care
I would be strong for there is much to suffer
I would be brave for there is much to dare.
I would be friend to all the foe-the friendless
I would be giving and forget he gift
I would be humble for I know my weakness
I would look up - and laugh - and love - and lift.
The hymn, I Would Be True, written in 1917 by Howard A. Walker, was inspired by the program's creed.
We refer to our rags as rags because that is exactly what they are --- worthless pieces of cloth. You couldn't sell your rag; it isn't worth much money. Your rag has only the meaning YOU give it. The Rag program is open to people of all religious faiths.