WSCF History

This page contains a brief overview of the history of the World Student Christian Federation. This summary of WSCF's history has been prepared by Thomas Wieser, co-author with Philip Potter of a WSCF history book recounting the federation's first hundred years from 1895 till 1995. The book is entitled, "Seeking and Serving the Truth -The First Hundred Years of the World Student Christian Federation", published in 1997 by WCC Publications.

WSCF History: A Brief Summary
by Thomas Wieser

The World Student Christian Federation is one of the earliest manifestations of the modern ecumenical movement and the oldest international student organisation. Its history can be divided into four periods:

1. The Founding Period 1895-1914
Under the extraordinary impetus of its first leaders, especially John R. Mott from the USA and Ruth Rouse from the UK, the Federation grew within a few years into a truly worldwide international, inter-racial, ecumenical movement with over 2000 local student associations on all five continents and a total membership of over 150,000 students.

2. The Period of the Wars 1914-1945
The crisis of World War I touched the Federation in two ways: It caused a substantial loss of members, killed in the war, but also a division among movements whose nations fought on opposite sides. Following the war the Federation engaged in a vast programme of aid to students in war-torn areas, thus demonstrating the unity among its movements amidst nations that continued to be torn apart. It also engaged in a vast effort to clarify its basic purpose. Fortunately, a new generation of leaders rose to this task, among them Suzannne de Diétrich (France), Francis P. Miller (USA), W.A. Visser t'Hooft (Netherlands) and Robert C. Mackie (UK). They also led the Federation during the second World War, when, with Switzerland being surrounded by the Nazi powers, the headquarters had to be moved to Canada.

3. The Post War Period 1945-1968
The ecumenical thrust of the Federation received a significant boost with the establishment of the World Council of Churches in 1948. The activities of the Federation in this period followed two major lines. First, it introduced group Bible study as an integral part of all its activities. This later became a model for the meetings of the World Council of Churches and most large ecumenical meetings. Secondly, the university became the focus for intensive reflection: What was to be its purpose and what was to be the task of Christians - teachers and students - within the university? Alongside this there was a practical focus - developing an assistance program for students especially during the years immediately after the war and ministering to foreign students whose number grew exponentially in the universities in Europe and the USA in the 1950s and 1960s, following decolonialisation. The Federation also kept open the lines of communication between students and student organizations in East and West during the cold war.

4. Regionalisation 1968-present
The student revolt in 1968 led to a decentralisation of WSCF into five regions, Africa, Asia-Pacific, Europe, Latin America and North America, in the hope of bringing the concerns of the Federation closer to the national movements. Movement building became one of the chief concerns, especially in Africa. Other major concerns during this period were the issues of gender justice and globalisation.

For more information on historic publications of WSCF or historic details from the archives, please go to WSCF Historic Publications or WSCF Archives.

For other historic enquiries regarding the federation, please contact the Inter-Regional Office

WSCF Inter-Regional Office
Ecumenical Centre
5 route des Morillons
P.O. Box 2100, CH 1211
Geneva 2
Tel: + 41 22 791 6358
Fax: + 41 22 791 6152