Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA)

George Williams

A businessman in London, George Williams, founded the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) when he was 23 years old. Williams was appalled by the Dickensian living conditions of young men who were moving to London, looking for work. On June 6, 1844, Williams called a meeting of 11 businessmen—all of them in the drapery business—and organized the YMCA. Other businessmen began to organize YMCA chapters throughout London and other industrialized cities in England. Visitors to London heard about the YMCA during the Great Exhibition held there in 1851. The international office for the YMCA is located in Geneva. The first international president was Henri Dunant, who would later found the Red Cross and be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Soon YMCA chapters were organized in Belgium, the Netherlands, France, Germany, Australia, Canada, the United States, and Hong Kong.

Here is the logo of the International YMCA, adopted in 1881. The emblem is circular and made up of five segments, each one carrying the name of a continent. You will see that the segments are held together by small “cartouches” with monograms of the YMCA in different languages. YMCA leaders believed the Movement could be truly international and united across borders.

In the centre of the circle is a larger monogram of Christ’s name (a combination of the two first letters of the name in Greek), as seen in the catacombs painted by early Christians. An open Bible sits on top of the monogram, showing John chapter XVII, Verse 21, “that they all may be one”. This was to remind YMCAs that Christ is at the centre of the Movement, a source of strength, hope and unity, binding us all together.

The reader is already familiar with the YMCA. My family had a YMCA membership here in Mesa for many years. I have found lodging at the YMCA in New York City and in Hong Kong. My grandfather, Ernest E. Blincoe (1890-1985) was secretary of the YMCA chapter in Fort Scott, Kansas a hundred years ago. You can read more about the history of the YMCA here.[2]

We also want to honor the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA). Its US website says:

YWCA is on a mission to eliminate racism, empower women, stand up for social justice, help families, and strengthen communities. We are one of the oldest and largest women’s organizations in the nation, serving over 2 million women, girls, and their families.

YWCA has been at the forefront of the most pressing social movements for more than 160 years — from voting rights to civil rights, from affordable housing to pay equity, from violence prevention to health care reform. Today, we combine programming and advocacy in order to generate institutional change in three key areas: racial justice and civil rights, empowerment and economic advancement of women and girls, and health and safety of women and girls.

Dear Reader, Who are your heroes? Click here to send the name and web address of your favorite heroic organization. We will try to feature it on our website.