Over 200 years of Yale alumni activity -- the longest record of any American university -- began in 1792 with the election of the first class officers. Later, large numbers of classmates began to return to New Haven three years after graduation to receive an M.A. degree, a practice adopted from the English system. With this tradition began a cycle of reunions that eventually was refined into the five year system of class reunions observed today.
Late in the nineteenth century, as Yale graduates sought each other's company across the country, Yale clubs began to organize in the larger cities. Then, in 1890, the Yale Alumni Fund was chartered by the Yale Corporation. The Fund has since become the vehicle for the most successful giving record of any alumni body in history.
To meet the broad and varied interests and concerns of Yale alumni, the Yale Alumni Board was chartered in 1906. Its task was to create a central alumni group for an exchange of views between the University and its alumni.
In the early years of the twentieth century, this simple organizational structure worked well. As alumni interest in Yale grew, however, so too did the size of the Alumni Board. At one point, there were well over 2,000 members of this board. Such numbers diminished the Board's effectiveness.
To develop a more responsive alumni structure, the Yale Corporation in 1969 commissioned a "root and branch study." While one intention was to examine the needs of both Yale and its alumni, the overall purpose was broader. The University wanted a clearinghouse through which alumni and University officials could express their concerns, and a working organization to provide programs and services to alumni.
From the recommendations of this study, the Association of Yale Alumni (AYA) was born. In 1971, the Founding Board created the AYA Assembly, and in 1972 the first Assembly of representatives gathered in what would become a semi-annual meeting of the governing body of the AYA.
In the decade that followed the first Assembly, ties between the University and her alumni were strengthened. The on-going work of the Assembly, the Board of Governors, and the AYA staff has continued this process, affiliating Yale alumni more closely with each other and with the work of their University.