American Youth Hostels

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.

The mission statement of the American Youth Hostels and a vintage pin.


1937 map showing the youth hostel locations in New England

Miss Betty Blogett, Field Director for the California area, nails an AYH sign in place.
AYH patch


 AYH Knapsack - the official publication of AYH ran from 1936 to 1948.

Aside from a few patches and pins, just a few other AYH items are left to be found!

Miss Betty Blogett (lower right) looking at a new hostel in California, 1937.


The 1944 movie Song of the Open Road featured youth hostels.


Post-war youth hostellers couldn't wait to get into Europe and help rebuild the hostel system.

1953 Youth Hostels Association (England and Wales) Handbook
YHA pin
IYHF pin
Scottish Youth Hostel Association

AYH organized many local and international tours.



Photos of AYH gatherings always played well in the newspapers.

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.



Chamounix Mansion Youth Hostel, Philadelphia, PA patch


Examples of international youth hostel buttons



In Memory of the Founders of the American Youth Hostel movement:

Isabel Bacheler Smith 1898-1985
Monroe William Smith 1901-1972
Image: Wikipedia

Arvada Cemetery
Arvada, CO