The YMCA was founded in London, England, in 1844 by George Williams and about a dozen friends who lived and worked as clerks in dry-goods stores. For these men, and thousands like them who had migrated from the countryside to find employment, their bleak lives usually consisted of 14-hour workdays followed by sleep in small rooms above the shops. On their day of rest, many of the young men sought refuge in taverns or brothels. But Williams and his friends chose religious services, and felt compelled to help the other young men find what they had found: God’s grace. The first members were evangelical Protestants who prayed and studied the Bible as an alternative to the vice plagued streets. The Y’s primary activity of that time was to develop a library and reading. First known as the “Young Men’s Improvement Society”. It adopted its present name, “Young Men’s Christian Association,” on June 6, 1844.
The idea grew, and by 1851, there were 24 Y’s in Great Britain, with a combined membership of 2,700. That same year, a retired American sea captain, Thomas V Sullivan, saw the influence the London group was having on young men and decided that Boston young men needed the YMCA. One was established in 1851 and Y leaders became so excited about its own success that it printed and sent 10,000 copies of its constitution across the United States.
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