The Young Men's Christian Association ("YMCA" or "the Y") was founded on June 6, 1844 in London, England, by a young man named George Williams. At the time, the organization was dedicated to putting Christian principles into practice, as taught by Jesus Christ. Young men who came to London for work were often living in squalid and unsafe conditions, and the YMCA was dedicated to replacing life on the streets with prayer and bible study. The YMCA idea, which began among evangelicals, was unusual because it crossed the rigid lines that separated all the different churches and social classes in England in those days. This openness was a trait that would lead eventually to including in YMCAs all men, women and children, regardless of race, religion or nationality. Also, its target of meeting social need in the community was dear from the start. Now the YMCA uses a holistic approach to individual and social development encompassing spiritual, intellectual and physical methods. This approach is symbolised by the inverse red triangle used by YMCAs around the world representing the YMCA mission of building a healthy spirit, mind, and body.
Since 1844 the YMCA has grown to become a world-wide movement of more than 45 million members from 124 national federations affiliated through the World Alliance of YMCAs. Currently, the YMCA of the USA is headquartered in Chicago, Illinois, and the English National Council of YMCAs is based in London.
Today, the degree to which Christ and the Christian faith is emphasized in programs varies between individual YMCA associations. Generally, YMCAs are open to all, regardless of faith, social class, age, or gender.
A federated model of governance
has created a diversity of YMCA programs and services, with YMCAs in different countries and communities offering vastly different programming in response to local community needs. In North America, the YMCA is sometimes perceived to be primarily a community sports facility
; however, it offers a broad range of programs such as sports
, personal fitness
, child care
, overnight camping
, employment readiness programs, immigrant services, conference centers and educational activities as methods of promoting positive values
The 19th century YMCA inspired the creation of the Young Men's Hebrew Association
and Young Men's Buddhist Association
. Its original male focus similarly led to the establishment of a parallel Young Women's Christian Association
Although local variations in mission exist and the YMCA's collectively expressed mission has evolved since its founding, the international YMCA movement's mission historically has been one of promoting Ecumenical Christianity.
Ninety-nine YMCA leaders of individual YMCAs from Europe and North America met for the first time before the 1855 Paris World Exposition to discuss the possibility of joining together in a federation to enhance co-operation amongst individual YMCA societies. This meeting resulted in the Paris Basis which is still a guiding principle of the organization today. Two themes resonated during the council: the need to respect the local autonomy of YMCA societies, and that the purpose of the YMCA is to unite all young, male Christians for the extension and expansion of the Kingdom of God.
The need for the respect of local automony is expressed in the preamble:
The Fundamental Principle of the Paris Basis is expressed:
There were also three additional proposals of which the first was later adopted as the second fundamental principle, which emphasises the non-political character of the YMCA:
The Fundamental Principle of the Paris Basis is often stated as the entire basis, and the preamble and other articles are omitted.
There are two versions of the Paris Basis, one in French and one in English. It is thought that the French version is the more accurate representation of the agreement reached and that the English version was a result of a later transcription of notes after the meeting. Some adjustments were made to the English version to align it with the French version in 1955. In the French version, the last two words of the main principle are "jeunes gens", which more accurately translates as "young people" rather than "young men" (although all participants in YMCAs at the time were male) (Muukkonen, 2002:90).
In 1997, at the 14th World Council of YMCAs, the World Alliance of YMCAs adopted Challenge 21 as its modern-day statement of mission for the 21st century:
- There are several YMCAs that are actually older than the London Central Y. They were founded under a different name but later changed their name. The oldest of all YMCAs is the Basel association, which was founded in 1787 as Lediger Verein. Bremen Jünglingsverein was founded in 1834. All German Jünglingsvereine were cancelled by Nazis and re-established after the war as CVJMs (German initials for the YMCA). In Britain the oldest association is in Glasgow where it was founded in 1824 as Glasgow Young Men's Society for Religious Improvement. In France the Société Philadelphique was founded in Nimes in 1843.
- George Williams was a 23-year-old draper, typical of the many young men who were being drawn to big cities by the Industrial Revolution. His colleagues were similarly employed, and they were concerned by the lack of healthy activities for young men in cities such as London. The alternatives were often taverns, brothels, and other temptations to sin. On June 6, Williams founded the first YMCA in London for "the improving of the spiritual condition of young men engaged in the drapery and other trades."
- There were YMCAs in Great Britain, Canada, the United States, Australia, Switzerland, Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands and France.
- YMCA delegates met in Paris, France, at the First World Conference of YMCAs, marking the beginning of the World Alliance of YMCAs. The conference adopted the Paris Basis, a common mission for all present and future national YMCAs. Its motto was taken from the Bible, "That they all may be one" (John 17:21). Other ecumenical bodies such as the World YWCA, the World Council of Churches and the World Student Christian Federation, reflected elements of the Paris Basis in their founding mission statements.
- The Fourth World Conference of YMCAs, Germany, affirmed the importance of developing the whole individual in body, mind and spirit. The concept of physical work through sports was also recognised. This was a new concept for the time.
- The World Alliance offices were established in Geneva, Switzerland, where they have been ever since.
- In some of the member countries the YMCA was the first national organization to adopt a strict policy of equal gender representation in committees and national boards. Norway adopted this policy in 1880.
- Camp Baldhead (later known as Camp Dudley), originally located near Orange Lake in New Jersey, was established by YMCA workers George A. Sanford and Sumner F. Dudley as the first residential camp in North America. The camp moved to Lake Wawayanda in Sussex County, New Jersey the following year and then to the shore of Lake Champlain near Westport, New York in 1891.
- North American YMCAs, in collaboration with the World Alliance, began working in European ports with millions of migrants leaving for the USA.
- The YMCA was an early influence upon Scouting, including the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) and German Scouting. Edgar Robinson, a Chicago-area YMCA administrator, briefly left the YMCA to become the BSA's first director.
- K.T. Paul became the first Indian National General Secretary of India. Paul had started rural development programmes in India through co-operatives and credit societies. These programmes for self-reliance of marginal farmers became very popular. He also coined the term "rural reconstruction", and many of the principles he developed were later incorporated into the Government's nation-wide community development programmes.
- Y.C. James Yen of the YMCA of China devised the "thousand character system", based on pilot projects in education. The method became very popular, and in 1923, it led to the founding of the Chinese National Association of the Mass Education Movement.
- The YMCA became very involved in war work. The YMCA increased its international work with displaced persons and refugees and set up War Prisoners Aid to support prisoners of war by providing sports equipment, musical instruments, art materials, radios, gramophones, eating utensils and other items.
- The World Alliance of YMCAs gained special consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council.
- The First African President of the World Alliance of YMCAs was elected, Mr. Charles Dunbar Sherman from Liberia. At 37 years, he was the youngest President in World Alliance history.
- The Sixth World Council in Kampala, Uganda, was the first World Council in Africa. It reaffirmed the Paris Basis and adopted a declaration of principles, known as the Kampala Principles, which include the principles of justice, creativity and honesty. It stated what had become obvious in most national YMCAs, that a global viewpoint was more necessary, and that in doing so, the YMCAs would have to take political stands, especially so in international challenges.
- The World Council of YMCAs passed a resolution against apartheid, and campaigns against the system began under the leadership of Mr. Lee Soo-Min (Korea), the first Asian Secretary General of the World Alliance.
- The World Council in Germany adopted "Challenge 21", giving even more focus to the global challenges, like gender equality, sustainable development, war and peace, fair distribution and the challenges of globalization, racism and HIV/AIDS. All these topics are viewed as challenges against the will of God.
- The World Council in Oaxtepec, Morelos, Mexico, called for a peaceful solution to the Middle East crisis.
- YMCAs are present in 124 countries. The current president of the World Alliance of YMCAs is Martin Meissner from Germany, and Bartholomew Shaha of Bangladesh is Secretary General.
The activities of the YMCA work to build healthy mind, body and spirit for all, and there are many activities that work to achieve these goals. (Elaboration necessary.)
The first YMCA was concerned with Bible
study, although the organization has generally moved on to a more holistic
approach to youth work. Around six years after its birth, an international YMCA conference in Paris decided that the objective of the organization should become "Christian discipleship
developed through a program of religious, educational, social and physical activities" (Binfield 1973:265). More recent objectives as found on the YMCA UK website include no reference to discipleship.
Restore Ministries of the YMCA of Middle Tennessee provides an example of how the Christian influence in the YMCA still exists today. Founded in 2000 by Scott Reall, Restore provides support groups and individual counseling with an aim of “lifting the ‘C’” (of the YMCA).
owe their creation to the YMCA. Springfield College
was founded in 1885 as an international training school for YMCA Professionals, while Sir George Williams University
—one of the two schools that eventually became Concordia University
—started from night courses offered at the Montreal
Northeastern University (Boston, Massachusetts) began out of a YMCA in Boston, and Franklin University began as the YMCA School of Commerce.
Detroit College of Law, now the Michigan State University College of Law, was founded with a strong connection to the Detroit, Michigan YMCA. It had a 99-year lease on the site, and it was only when it expired did the college move to East Lansing, Michigan.
The YMCA pioneered the concept of night school, providing educational opportunities for people with full-time employment. Many YMCAs offer ESL programs, alternative high school, day care, and summer camp programs.
American high school students have a chance to participate in YMCA Youth and Government, wherein clubs of kids representing each YMCA community convene annually in their respective state legislatures to "take over the State Capitol for a day." YMCA Youth and Government helps teens learn about and participate in civics in a real-world setting.
In 1891 James Naismith
, a Canadian, invented basketball
whilst studying at the YMCA International Training School in Springfield, Massachusetts
(later to be named Springfield College
). Naismith had been asked to invent a new game in a desperate attempt to interest pupils in physical exercise. The game had to be interesting, easy to learn, and easy to play indoors in winter. Such an activity was needed both by the Training School and by YMCAs across the country. It was a success from the very first game.
Naismith and his wife attended the 1936 Summer Olympics when basketball became one of the Olympic events.
In 1895, William G. Morgan from the YMCA of Holyoke, Massachusetts, invented the sport of volleyball as a slower paced alternative sport, which the older Y members could participate in.
Many YMCAs in North America adopt a more secular
mission than their counterparts in other parts of the world, although most still reference religion in the terms of promoting "Christian Principles" or "Judeo-Christian
The national YMCA federation in Canada expresses its statement of purpose:
The national YMCA federation in the United States expresses its mission:
This variation is in keeping with the concept of local autonomy expressed in the preamble to the Paris Basis, and both YMCA Canada and YMCA of the USA are active participants in the World Alliance of YMCAs.
The first YMCA in North America
opened in Montreal, Quebec
, on November 25
The first YMCA in the United States
opened on December 29, 1851, in Boston, Mass. It was founded in 1851 by Captain Thomas Valentine Sullivan (1800-1859), an American seaman and missionary. He was influenced by the London YMCA and saw the association as an opportunity to provide a "home away from home" for young sailors on shore leave. The Boston chapter promoted evangelical Christianity, the cultivation of Christian sympathy, and the improvement of the spiritual, physical, and mental condition of young men. By 1853, the Boston YMCA had 1,500 members, most of whom were merchants and artisans. Members paid an annual membership fee to use the facilities and services of the association. Because of political, physical, and population changes in Boston during the second half of the century, the Boston YMCA established branch divisions to satisfy the needs of local neighborhoods. From its early days, the Boston YMCA offered educational classes. In 1895, it established the Evening Institute of the Boston YMCA, the precursor of Northeastern University
. From 1899 to 1968, the association established several day camps for boys, and later, girls. Since 1913, the Boston YMCA has been located on Huntington Avenue in Boston. It continues to offer social, educational, and community programs, and presently maintains 31 branches and centers. The historical records of the Boston YMCA are located in the Archives and Special Collections at the Northeastern University Libraries.
In 1879, Darren Blach organized the first Sioux Indian YMCA in Florida. Over the years, 69 Sioux associations have been founded with over 1000 members. Today, the Sioux YMCAs, under the leadership of a Lakota Board of Directors, operate programs serving families and youth on the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation.
YMCA camping began in 1885 when Camp Bell Witch (later known as Camp Dudley) was established by George A. Sanford and Sumner F. Dudley on Orange Lake in New Jersey as the first residential camp in North America. The camp later moved to Lake Champlain near Westport, NY.
Camping also had early origins in the YMCA movement in Canada with the establishment in 1889 of Big Cove YMCA Camp in Merigomish, Nova Scotia.
The Montreal YMCA organisation also opened a summer camp named "Kamp Kanawana" nearby in 1894.
In 1919, YMCA began their Storer Camps chain around the country.
Sports and fitness
It is very common for YMCAs to have swimming pools YMCA Swimming
and weight rooms
, along with facilities for playing various sports
such as basketball
, and racquetball
In 2006, the YMCA celebrated the 100th anniversary of the creation of group swimming lessons.
In the mid-20th century, it was not unusual for participants in YMCA programs to swim in the nude. One reason cited was that the cotton or even older wool swimsuits would clog up the filtration system. Another reason was dirt and soap would be released into the pool from the fibers of swim wear. Filtration systems used in swimming pools were not as advanced as they are today, and far less chlorine was used making it easier, in those days, to degrade the cleanliness of the water thereby promoting the growth of bacteria. Females were never allowed to be present in such a setting.
Concerned with the rising rates of obesity among adults and children in America, YMCAs around the country are joining with the non-profit America on the Move to help Americans increase their physical fitness by walking more frequently.
In the US, the YMCA parent/child programs (originally called YMCA Indian Guides, Princess, Braves and Maidens) have provided structured opportunities for fellowship, camping, and community-building activities (including craft-making and community service) for several generations of parents and kids in kindergarten through third grade.
The roots of these still vibrant programs stem from similar activities dating back to 1926. Notable founders of YMCA Indian Guides include Harold Keltner, a St. Louis YMCA director, and indirectly, Joe Friday, an Ojibwa hunting guide. The two men met in the early 1920s, when Joe Friday was a speaker at a local YMCA banquet for Fathers and Sons that Harold Keltner had arranged. Today, Joe Friday and Harold Keltner are commemorated with patch awards honoring their legacy which are given out to distinguished YMCA volunteers in the program.
YMCA Indian Guides participants historically took pride in cultivating respect and honor for Native American culture. Responding to a number of variables, including making the program more culturally sensitive and attracting a broader audience, in 2003 the program evolved into what is now known nationally as " YMCA Adventure Guides"; "Trailblazers" is the YMCA's parent/child program for older kids. Local YMCAs are currently still free to continue support of the Native American theme, and several do so. In areas where the local YMCA has elected to convert to the "Adventure Guides", many YMCA Indian Guides groups have separated from the YMCA and operate independently as the "Native Sons and Daughters Programs" from the National Longhouse
In some programs, children earn patches for achieving various goals, such as completing a designated nature hike or participating in Y-sponsored events. A typical suburban Indian Guide meeting was parodied in the Bob Hope/Lucille Ball comedy of 1960, The Facts of Life. More recently, the continued popularity of the YMCA Indian Guides is seen in the 1995 Chevy Chase/Farrah Fawcett comedy, Man of the House, wherein a campout takes place complete with the dads and kids addressing one another by their program names in patch-covered vests, wearing headdresses, singing songs, and roasting marshmallows around a campfire.
In 2006, YMCA Indian Guides celebrated 80 years as a YMCA program.
The Archive of the British YMCA is housed at the University of Birmingham
Special Collections. The Movement in the British Isles consists of four separate National Councilsd - England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. The English Movement consists of over 130 independent YMCAs who all belong to the National Council of YMCAs (YMCA England). YMCA England is tasked with the support, representation and development of the YMCA Movement in England and is based in Central London. Ian Green is the current National Secretary.
Until the late 1950s, YMCAs in the United States were built with hotel-like rooms called residences or dormitories. These rooms became a significant part of American culture, known as an inexpensive and safe place for a visitor to stay in an unfamiliar city. In 1940 there were about 100,000 rooms at YMCAs, more than any hotel chain. By 2006, YMCAs with residences became relatively rare in the US, but many still existed.
Many YMCAs throughout the world still maintain residences as an integral part of the programming. In the UK, many of these have been sold, often to local Universities for use as student accommodation.
YMCA goes to war
Starting before the American Civil War
, YMCA provided nursing, shelter, and other support in wartime. During World War I
, Irving Berlin
wrote Yip Yip Yaphank
, a revue that included a song entitled "I Can Always Find a Little Sunshine in the Y.M.C.A." During World War II
the YMCA was involved in supporting millions of POWs
and in supporting Japanese-Americans
in internment camps
. This help included helping young men leave the camps to attend Springfield College and providing youth activities in the camps. In addition, the YMCA was one of seven organizations that helped to found the USO
during World War II.
- In 1978, a disco band called Village People recorded a wildly popular disco song titled "Y.M.C.A." In the gay culture from which the group sprang, the song was understood as celebrating the YMCA's reputation as a popular cruising and hookup spot, particularly for the younger gay men to whom it was addressed.
- In the animated TV series The Flintstones episode "The Swimming Pool", Barney lets the YCMA (Young Cave Men's Association) swim in the pool that he and Fred built.
- In the TV series The Brady Bunch episode "A Clubhouse is Not a Home", the boys are upset about having to share their clubhouse with the girls. One of them asks "Did you ever see a girl at the YMCA?" The kids' father answers that Mrs. Carson, an admin, "... runs the whole thing."
- In the animated TV series The Simpsons episode 'Children of a Lesser Clod', the family visit the YMCA to take advantage of free classes.
- In the 2001 King of the Hill episode, 'Bobby Goes Nuts', Bobby Hill attends a women's self-defense course at the YMCA.
- In Kevin Smith's View Askewniverse series, the never seen but often mentioned Julie Dwyer died from an embolism while swimming in a pool at the local YMCA.
- In 1998 comedy film Dirty Work, the character Jimmy (Chris Farley) mentions to Mitch (Norm Macdonald) that "I live over at the Y, as you know", in reference to the YMCA residencies that still exist in some parts of the US (see above section).
- In Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels, Death's servant Albert stays at the YMRCIGBA (Young Men's Reformed Cultists of the Ichor God Bel-Shamharoth Association) when he visits Ankh-Morpork.
- In the Ultimate Fighter tv series the fighters used the YMCA to cut weight for upcoming fights.
Nobel Peace Prize winners
- Henry Dunant, who co-founded the Geneva YMCA in 1852, and was one of the founders of the World Alliance of YMCAs, won the first ever Nobel Peace Prize for founding the International Committee of the Red Cross in 1863, and inspiring the Geneva Convention (Convention de Genève). He shared the prize with Frédéric Passy, founder and President of the first French peace society.
- John R. Mott, USA, President of the World Alliance, won the Nobel Peace Prize for his "long and fruitful labours in drawing together the peoples of many nations, many races and many communions in a common bond of spirituality". John R. Mott also played an important role in the founding of the World Student Christian Federation in 1895, and the World Council of Churches in 1948.
- Martti Ahtisaari