John Raleigh Mott (May 25, 1865-January 31, 1955) was born of pioneer stock in Livingston Manor, New York, the third child and only son among four children. His parents, John and Elmira (Dodge) Mott, moved to Postville, Iowa, where his father became a lumber merchant and was elected the first mayor of the town.
At sixteen, Mott enrolled at Upper Iowa University, a small Methodist preparatory school and college in Fayette. He was an enthusiastic student of history and literature there and a prizewinner in debating and oratory, but transferred to Cornell University in 1885. At this time he thought of his life's work as a choice between law and his father's lumber business, but he changed his mind upon hearing a lecture by J. Kynaston Studd on January 14, 1886. Three sentences in Studd's speech, he said, prompted his lifelong service of presenting Christ to students: «Seekest thou great things for thyself? Seek them not. Seek ye first the Kingdom of God.»
In the summer of 1886, Mott represented Cornell University's Y.M.C.A. at the first international, interdenominational student Christian conference ever held. At that conference, which gathered 251 men from eighty-nine colleges and universities, one hundred men - including Mott - pledged themselves to work in foreign missions. From this, two years later, sprang the Student Volunteer Movement for Foreign Missions.
During Mott's remaining two years at Cornell, as president of the Y.M.C.A. he increased the membership threefold and raised the money for a university Y.M.C.A. building. He was graduated in 1888, a member of Phi Beta Kappa, with a bachelor's degree in philosophy and history. In September of 1888 he began a service of twenty-seven years as national secretary of the Intercollegiate Y.M.C.A. of the U.S.A. and Canada, a position requiring visits to colleges to address students concerning Christian activities.
During this period, he was also chairman of the executive committee of the Student Volunteer Movement for Foreign Missions, presiding officer of the World Missionary Conference in Edinburgh in 1910, chairman of the International Missionary Council. With Karl Fries of Sweden, he organized the World's Student Christian Federation in 1895 and as its general secretary went on a two-year world tour, during which he organized national student movements in India, China, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, parts of Europe and the North East. In 1912 and 1913, he toured the Far East, holding twenty-one regional missionary conferences in India, China, Japan, and Korea.
From 1915 to 1928, Mott was general-secretary of the International Committee of the Y.M.C.A. and from 1926 to 1937 president of the Y.M.C.A.'s World Committee. During World War I, when the Y.M.C.A. offered its services to President Wilson, Mott became general secretary of the National War Work Council, receiving the Distinguished Service Medal for his work. For the Y.M.C.A. he kept up international contacts as circumstances allowed and helped to conduct relief work for prisoners of war in various countries. He had already declined President Wilson's offer of the ambassadorship to China, but he served in 1916 as a member of the Mexican Commission, and in 1917 as a member of the Special Diplomatic Mission to Russia.
The sum of Mott's work makes an impressive record: he wrote sixteen books in his chosen field; crossed the Atlantic over one hundred times and the Pactfic fourteen times, averaging thirty-four days on the ocean per year for fifty years; delivered thousands of speeches; chaired innumerable conferences. Among the honorary awards which he received are: decorations from China, Czechoslovakia, Finland, France, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Japan, Jerusalem, Poland, Portugal, Siam, Sweden, and the United States; six honorary degrees from the universities of Brown, Edinburgh, Princeton, Toronto, Yale, and Upper Iowa; and an honorary degree from the Russian Orthodox Church of Paris.
Dr. Mott married Leila Ada White of Wooster, Ohio, in 1891; they had four children, two sons and two daughters. He died at his home in Orlando, Florida, at the age of eighty-nine.