In the late 1960s, a group of students at Vanderbilt University felt conservative ideas were being short shrifted by their school, so they decided to do something about it.

Led by Charles Stowe—a descendant of author and abolitionist Harriet Beecher Stowe—these students created an organization on November 18, 1969, that would become Young America’s Foundation. Their goal was to provide Vanderbilt students with the conservative ideas that were missing from the classroom, a problem that existed within higher education half a century ago as it does now.

Within two years, Stowe’s organization went national as Young America’s Foundation (YAF) in 1971, launching a mission of bringing intellectual diversity and conservative principles to higher education on a nationwide scale. Fifty years later, that vital work continues through Young America’s Foundation and its projects, including President Reagan’s Rancho del Cielo, Stan Evans’ National Journalism Center, and William F. Buckley’s Young Americans for Freedom.

Young America’s Foundation built on Young Americans for Freedom’s Sharon Statement, which was described by the New York Times as the “seminal document in bringing different kinds of conservatives together.”

In the five decades since its humble beginnings, Young America’s Foundation has prevailed in its promise that “The Conservative Movement Starts Here.” In addition to literally writing the book on conservative student activism, YAF introduces generations of young leaders to freedom’s principles, empowers and equips students to share the good news of conservatism with their peers, and defends them tirelessly when the Left seeks to silence YAF’s activists.

As the New York Times stated in a profile, Young America’s Foundation is “the conservative force” on campus, thanks in part to its largest-in-the-country campus lecture program, more than 500 Young Americans for Freedom campus chapters, and the preservation of the Reagan Ranch—Ronald Reagan’s home for more than 25 years and his only home during the Presidency.

YAF and Reagan’s stories have always been connected, from sponsoring then-Governor Reagan’s nationally-syndicated radio program in 1974 to saving our 40th President’s beloved mountaintop Rancho del Cielo in 1998.

As Nancy Reagan said in a statement after YAF saved the Western White House, “It is critical to the future of this country that Young America’s Foundation use the ranch to instill in tomorrow’s leaders the lessons of my husband’s presidency and to teach them that we are a blessed people whose best days are yet to come.”

As the Los Angeles Times wrote, Young America’s Foundation has been able to “transcend generations” with these lessons through the stewardship of Reagan’s beloved mountaintop retreat.

Leading conservatives have long recognized the importance of Young America’s Foundation’s work, addressing packed lecture halls through YAF’s campus lecture program or capacity conference sessions. William F. Buckley, Margaret Thatcher, Robert Novak, Ronald Reagan, Russell Kirk, and Jesse Helms are just a few of the visionaries who’ve addressed YAF audiences through the years. Today, Ben Shapiro, Katie Pavlich, Jonah Goldberg, Burt Folsom, and Mike Pence inspire a new generation of bold conservatives through YAF’s programs.

Generations of young leaders who found their on-ramp to the Conservative Movement in Young America’s Foundation have rarely gone unchallenged by the Left. At every turn, however, YAF has defended its students and notched significant victories for freedom.

In 1983, when two students attending YAF’s annual National Conservative Student Conference were arrested for protesting the Soviet Union outside their D.C. embassy, YAF defended the students’ First Amendment rights all the way to the Supreme Court. There, in 1988, the United States Supreme Court handed down a major victory in Boos v. Barry, overturning a 50-year-old law barring protests outside embassies.

In the 1990s, Young America’s Foundation successfully defended students’ right to participate in ROTC programs, resulting in passage of the ROTC Campus Access Act (later known as the Solomon Amendment), which was unanimously upheld by the Supreme Court.

More recently, as conservative students’ rights to free expression, assembly, and association have come under fire from leftist administrators, YAF has again taken to federal court to ensure free speech is truly free. Landmark victories against notoriously liberal schools, including the University of California, Berkeley, led the Wall Street Journal to credit YAF for a “free speech rebirth.”

Over the course of the last 50 years, Young America’s Foundation has proven that uncompromising conservative principles are timeless. Paired with modern activism projects and unmatched tactics, YAF continues to lead the Conservative Movement in reaching the rising generation. With tried and true methods and increasing numbers of bold student activists willing to take up the mantle of the generations before, the next 50 years will see even more victories for freedom.

For more on the history of Young America’s Foundation and to read letters celebrating YAF’s 50th anniversary, click here.


For additional information or to request an interview contact YAF Spokesman Spencer Brown via sbrown@yaf.org or 800-872-1776.