The YMCA Movement. Our History

YMCA (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 into cities like London, working 10 to 12 hours a day, six days a week.

In 1844 twelve young men led by George Williams founded the first YMCA in London, England. Their objective was the “improvement of the spiritual condition of the young men engaged in houses of business, by the formation of Bible classes, family and social prayer meetings, mutual improvement societies, or any other spiritual agency.”

Together with the other founding members, George Williams wasted no time in organising YMCA branches throughout England, Scotland and Ireland. Over the next ten years, YMCA Movements also began to develop across Western Europe, North America, Australia and Asia.

The idea of creating a truly global movement with an international headquarters was pioneered by Henry Dunant, Secretary of YMCA Geneva, who would later go on to found the International Committee of the Red Cross and win the first Nobel Peace Prize. Henry Dunant successfully convinced YMCA Paris to organise the first YMCA World Conference.

The Conference took place in August 1855, bringing together 99 young delegates from nine countries. This was a turning point for the Central International Committee that would eventually become known as the World Alliance of YMCAs.

From its inception, it grew rapidly and ultimately became a worldwide movement founded on the principles of inclusive Christianity.

Local YMCAs engage in a wide variety of charitable activities, including providing athletic facilities, holding classes for a wide variety of skills and humanitarian work. The national organizations in turn are part of both an Area Alliance and the World Alliance of YMCAs. The World Alliance’s main motto is “empowering young people”.

The Conference adopted the Paris Basis affirming the YMCA’s mission and purpose, and created the Central International Committee. The Committee operated without a headquarters until 1878, when a permanent headquarters and formal structure for the Committee was created in Geneva, Switzerland.

© YMCA, 2023

For more information on national and local YMCAs, their programmes, status, history and memberships of different world, regional and national YMCA groupings, please consult our websites. YMCA is proud to serve young people and communities worldwide.

Throughout the 20th century’s two world conflicts, YMCA was a significant presence, both on the frontline and at home, offering material, educational and pastoral support. Scores of courageous YMCA volunteers eased the misery and suffering of soldiers with places offering food, drink and a place to rest. Take a look here to find out more.