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The History of the World YMCA Movement

In London:

The Young Men’s Christian Association was founded in London, England, on June 6, 1844, in response to unhealthy social conditions arising in the big cities at the end of the Industrial Revolution (roughly 1750 to 1850). Growth of the railroads and centralization of commerce and industry brought many rural young men who needed jobs in to cities like London. They worked 10to 12 hours a day, six days a week.

Far from home and family, these young men often lived at the workplace. They slept crowded into rooms over the company’s shop, a location thought to be safer than London’s tenements and streets. Outside the shop things were bad-open sewers, Pickpockets, thugs, beggars, drunks, lovers for hire and abandoned children running wild by the thousands.

Sir. George Williams

George Williams, born on a farm in 1821,came to London 20 years later as a sales assistant in a draper’s shop, a forerunner of today’s department store. He and a group of fellow draper’s organized the first YMCA to substitute Bible study and prayer for life on the streets. By 1851 there were 24 YMCAs in Great Britain, with a combined membership of 2,700. That same year the YMCA arrived in North America: It was established in Montreal on November 25 and in Boston on December 29.

George Williams was knighted by Queen Victoria in 1894 for his YMCA work and buried in 1905 under the floor of St. Paul’s Cathedral among that nation’s heroes and statesmen. A large stained glass window in Westminster Abbey, complete with a red triangle, is dedicated to YMCA, to Sir George and to Y work during the First World War.

Timeline of the World YMCA Movement



George Williams establishes the YMCA movement in England



Henry Dunant (Nobel Peace Prize winner and founder of the Red Cross) cofounds YMCA in Geneva, Switzerland



First YMCA for African-Americans was founded in Washington DC



1st YMCA World Conference in Paris, France. ‘Paris Basis’ is adopted as the mission statement of the YMCA



The official emblem of the World Alliance of YMCAs is adopted and is still in use



James Naismith invents Basketball at YMCA Springfield College, USA



YMCA supports young migrants arriving in the USA



YMCA supports prisoners of war during the World War II



World Alliance of YMCAs awarded consultative status with UN ECOSOC



John R. Mott (former President of the YMCA World Alliance) receives the Nobel Peace Prize



Dr. Charles D. Sherman becomes the Ist World Alliance President from the global south



The “Kampala Principles” are adopted at the 6th World Council in Kampala, Uganda



Challenge 21, the YMCAs contemporary mission statement is adopted at the 14th World Council of the YMCAs in Frechen, Germany



150th Anniversary of the 1st YMCA World Conference is celebrated in Paris and Mumbai



17th World Council of YMCAs in Hong Kong

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