U.S. #2160 – Today there are about 2,700 YMCA chapters in the U.S.

First YMCA Opens in America

On December 29, 1851, Thomas V. Sullivan established America’s first YMCA.

In the 1840s, young adults flocked to industrialized London in search of jobs.  However, after arriving, many found a place of dangerous influences and substandard housing.
George Williams had been one of these young men drawn to the city.  Formerly a farmer, he had found success working at a department store by the time he was 22.  However, he grew worried for the young people that came to the city. He believed they needed healthy activities to prevent them from the temptations at the local taverns.

Williams and 11 of his fellow workers joined together on June 6, 1844, and created the world’s first YMCA to improve “the spiritual condition of young men engaged in the drapery, embroidery, and other trades.” The YMCA offered Bible study and refuge from the streets for any young men in need.

Item #M85-54 – A YMCA First Day Maximum Card.

The idea quickly caught on, and YMCA chapters began forming around the world.   Former sea captain Thomas V. Sullivan was responsible for establishing America’s first YMCA.  A Boston native, Sullivan had spent much of his life at sea but eventually found it unfulfilling.  It was then that he turned to religion and missionary work.  In 1848, Sullivan founded Boston’s Marine Mission at Large, which preached and distributed reading materials on ships.  He also wanted to help provide these sailors with an education, and founded a lending library at the Marine Mission.

In 1851, Sullivan read an article by George Van Derlip, an American student that had visited the London YMCA.  He was ecstatic at the idea and shared it with everyone who would listen.  On December 15, Sullivan and 31 others met in Boston to draft a set of guidelines for an American YMCA.  He worked late nights all week writing and rewriting policies.  After another meeting, the group met again on December 29 and adopted the constitution, establishing America’s first YMCA.  The rules remained in place for 37 years and served as the basis for other American chapters.

In 1855, delegates from 99 YMCA chapters met in Paris to form the World Alliance of YMCAs.  Their motto came from the Bible: “That they all may be one.”

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  1. Very disappointing. All that text, and not a single mention of what the acronym stands for. Here, I’ll do it for you: “Young Men’s Christian Association”

    I guess you were afraid your servers would explode if you included the word, ‘Christian’, huh?

    1. It does include everyone. All are always welcome to come unto Christ. It usually the secularists who can’t seem to tolerate those who believe differently. People seem to think that the purpose for morality is suppression and exclusion, but it is actually for true happiness.

  2. I take advantage of their senior swim. Have the whole pool to about 5 of us. Then I always think of the Village People singing their famous song. But this history shows how important it was in its founding.

  3. The YMCA was and is very important to me even at my age of 67. I went often to the YMCA as a youth growing up in Reno Nevada. It was a place I could go to exercise, play basketball, swim, meet friends, take a steam bath, and just relax from all the stress of trying to find my future. It is a good place where good people go. I applaud the continuing good work of the YMCA.
    Best Regards Dr. Doug

  4. As a young boy in the ’40s, I also learned to swim at the “Y,” in Providence, R.I. Learned to hold my breath underwater for the full length of the pool. That served me well when I joined the Navy and had to prove my swimming and life-saving knowledge. The “Y” was a very important part of the lives of kids my age back then.

  5. Good things always have people who make fun of or deride their true purpose and fundamental goodness. The YMCA is a great organization and helps many people everyday and you don’t have to be a Christian. I lived in a Y for a few weeks between a job and college and was treated with great respect. My private room was small, but adequate and the cafeteria was great, plus I had access to the workout rooms and the pool. Thanks Mystic for letting everyone know about the founding of this organization.

  6. Great story of our great country’s history. I was was a kid with more energy than my mother new what to do with, so she would take me to the Y I’m Whiting Indiana. Learned how to swim, play checkers and say yes sir and no sir. Will always be a supporter of their origination.

  7. YMCA is a worldwide organisation based in Geneva Switzerland with over 60 million beneficiaries from 125 nations. It was founded on June 6, 1844 by George William , a draper, in London England., for promoting christian practice of `muscular christianity` i.e. healthy body,mind and spirit to `build character`. American president Theodore Roosevelt , it is said, was raised in a household that practiced muscular christianity. YMCA became the first national organisation to adopt equal gender representation in committees. In 1947, World Alliance of YMCAs gained special consultative status with the United Nations Economic & Social Council. First black president of YMCA was Charles Dunbar Sherman, aged 37, from Liberia.In United States YMCA is fondly called Y. Founder of Geneva YMCA in 1852 was HENRY DUNANT . he received first ever Nobel Peace Prize for founding International RED CROSS. In 1946, John R Mott, of USA, president of World Alliance of YMCA, was awarded Nobel Peace Prize. It is interesting to note that Organisation of African Union has prepared AGENDA 2063 to achieve socio economic transformation in Africa in next 50 years .Thank you MYSTIC for your article.

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