Williams, George

Williams, George
( 1821-1905 )
   founder of the YMCA
   George Williams was born at Dulverton, Somerset, England, on october 11, 1821. As a young man he entered the business world; however, a sudden conversion experience changed his life. He became concerned for the lot of the laboring classes. With his new motto, "It is not how little but how much we can do for others," the 20-year-old Williams launched an effort to improve the lives of shop assistants, whom he saw as little more than slaves working 14 to 16 hours a day. He became a leader in what was termed the "early-closing movement." As he became a successful businessman and employer, he led by example. Williams also became an example in Christian philanthropy, annually giving away as much as a third of his income. He was active in a number of Christian organizations such as the Church Missionary Society, the British and Foreign Bible society, and the Religious Tract society.
   In the summer of 1844, William took the lead in a series of discussions that led to the founding of the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA). The goal of the organization was to mobilize young men to help nurture the spiritual life of their peers. The YMCA quickly moved from a concern with exclusively spiritual matters to issues of education and general problems facing young adult males. The original association developed branches throughout London's West End and soon jumped to Leeds, Manchester, Liverpool, Exeter, Bristol, Plymouth, and Hull. During the 1850s, the movement spread internationally to Australia,France,India, and North America. In 1855, the World's Alliance of Young Men's Christian Associations was formed. It took shape as an association of centers concerned with evangelization, cooperative spirit, and improving the lot of young men through changing social conditions and education.
   Williams remained active in the association for the rest of his life. In 1880, he gave money for the purchase of the headquarters, then two years later led in forming an association of the British YMCAs, over which he presided until his death. Queen Victoria knighted him in 1894 on the occasion of the association's 50th anniversary He died on November 6, 1905, shortly after addressing the World YMCA Jubilee gathering. He was subsequently buried in St. Paul's Cathedral, London.
   Further reading:
   ■ Clyde Binfield, George Williams and the YMCA. A Study in Victorian Social Attitudes (London: Heinemann, 1973)
   ■ C. P. Shedd, et al., History of the World Alliance of Young Men's Christian Associations (London: SPCK, 1955)
   ■ J. E. Hodder Williams, The Life of Sir George Williams, Founder of the YMCA (New York: Eaton & Mains, 1906).

Encyclopedia of Protestantism. . 2005.

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