- Young Men's Christian Association
- The Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) was founded in 1844 by George Williams (1821-1905), a young layman in London, England, in response to the conditions in which many workers his own age lived, either on the streets or in overcrowded rooms at their place of work. He organized a group of men to create the YMCA, which aimed to provide a decent place to live and a Christian environment for young men in the hours apart from work, including opportunities for Bible study and prayer. By the end of the decade, there were some 20 Ys scattered across Great Britain. In 1851, the first YMCAs opened in both Canada and the United States. The first YMCA serving African Americans opened in Washington, D.C., in 1853.By 1854, an international convention was held in Paris. It adopted the so-called Paris Basis, which limited membership to active members of Protestant churches, but deliberately ignored the denominational differences and social barriers that divided people, sometimes rigidly, in secular society.Originally, local Ys were run by volunteers. However, as the movement grew, paid staff were added. The Ys became involved in evangelistic work in the cities and service to those called to war, notably the American Civil War.In the 1880s, Ys began putting up buildings that included such additional facilities as gyms and swimming pools, auditoriums, and even bowling alleys. Residence halls with hotel-like facilities were also added. As early as 1866, the New York Y had accepted as its purpose: "The improvement of the spiritual, mental, social and physical condition of young men." This idea evolved into the YMCA symbol, a red triangle with the words spirit, mind, body.During the last half of the 19th century, evangelist Dwight L. Moody, who had started with the YMCA, became a great influence in setting its direction. However, the organization's greatest achievements are associated with Methodist layman John R. Mott (1865-1955), who became national secretary in 1888, right after graduating from Cornell University.Mott fostered the movement internationally by sending hundreds of YMCA secretaries overseas to create new organizations, and then turn them over to local leaders. During World War I, Mott set up military canteens to assist servicemen. After the war, he directed war relief efforts for refugees and prisoners of war on both sides. Y. C. James Yen, a YMCA worker in France, developed a simplified Chinese alphabet that became a major force in overcoming illiteracy in CHINA. Mott used his position in the YMCA and its resources to aid the development of a variety of organizations such as the World Student Christian Movement and the Student Volunteer Movement. After World War i, the YMCA provided important support for the emerging Ecumenical movement.in the 1930s, the YMCA movement aligned itself with a variety of social service agencies to respond to the changing urban environment. Bible classes were now being replaced with general educational programs, including vocational training. A variety of free services were offered. The YMCA again became involved in World War ii. internationally, it developed programs to serve prisoners of war. In the United States, it joined a number of other organizations to form the United Service Organization (USO) and pioneered programs to send celebrities overseas to entertain the troops.By this time, the YMCA had to a considerable extent become secularized. People of all religions were accepted into its programs, as were women.As the new century began, the YMCA in the United States, with its 2,400 centers, remains the largest not-for-profit service organization in the country. Each center is encouraged to respond to the perceived needs locally, and thus there is great variation from one Y to another. There are active YMCAs in 120 countries around the world.over the years, the YMCA has nurtured a variety of programs that became substantial organizations in their own right, including: the Camp Fire Girls, the Boy Scouts, the Toastmasters Club, and Gideons International. In 1915, Carter G. Wood-son met with three associates at the Wabash Area Y in Chicago to found the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History.See also Young Women's Christian Association.Further reading:■ Young Men's Christian Association. Available online. URL: http://www.ymca.net■ John R. Mott, The Addresses and Papers of John R. Mott, The Young Men's Christian Association (New York: Association Press, 1947)■ Clarence Prouty Shedd, et al., History of the World's Alliance of Young Men's Christian Associations, with a foreword by John R. Mott (London: SPCK, 1955)■ William Howard Taft, ed., Service With Fighting Men: An Account of the Work of the American YMCA in the World War, 2 vols. (New York: Association Press, 1922).
Encyclopedia of Protestantism. Gordon Melton. 2005.