Young Men's Christian Association 165th Anniversary
In response to unhealthy social conditions arising in the big cities
at the end of the Industrial Revolution, the Young Men's Christian
Association was founded in London, England, on June 6, 1844 Growth of
the railroads and centralization of commerce and industry brought many
rural young men who needed jobs into cities like London. They worked
under deplorable conditions up to 12 hours a day, six days a week.
Far from home and family, many of these young men lived at the
workplace. They slept in crowded rooms over the company's shop, a
location which proved to be safer than London's tenements and streets.
Outside the shop things were dangerous open sewers, thieves, thugs,
beggars, drunkards, prostitutes and homeless children running wild by
Founder, Sir George Williams was born on a small 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 drapers organized the first YMCA to
substitute Bible study and prayer for life on the streets.
By 1851 there were 24 years in Great Britain, with a combined
membership of 2,700. That same year the Y arrived in North America: It
was established in Montreal on November 25 and in Boston on December 29.
The idea proved so popular that in 1853, the first YMCA for African
Americans was founded in Washington, D.C., by Anthony Bowen, a freed
The next year the first international convention was held in Paris.
At the time there were 397 separate Y's in seven nations, with 30,369
Sir George Williams was born on October 11, 1821, the youngest of
eight children. When he came to London, he described himself as a
"careless, thoughtless, godless, swearing young fellow," but while
staying in the town of Bridgewater and learning to become a draper
(clothing goods trade) he became a devout Christian.
Aware of the terrible conditions in London for young men like
himself, who came to the city to work and were faced with few
recreational opportunities other than saloons and brothels, he gathered
a group of young men together for prayer and reflection. This developed
into the YMCA.
Williams was not memorable just for this. He was a crusader for
improved working conditions such as shorter hours (a standard working
day was 15 or so hours), and as he became a successful businessman, he
gave away approximately two-thirds of his income.
He has been commemorated by a stained glass window in Westminster
Abbey and is buried in St. Paul's Cathedral, both among the highest
honours given to English national heroes. The National Council of the
YMCAs of Sri Lanka, 143, St. Michael's Road, Colombo 3.
Tel: 011 - 2447331 / 2451468