When one speaks of the YMCA, our minds will almost always go to the now infamous song produced by The Village People. The history of the YMCA is much deeper than the song offers a glimpse at. This post will spotlight how the YMCA was founded and how it continues on through the modern day.
The YMCA was founded in 1844 in London by George Williams. Williams founded the YMCA with other friends as a place for Bible study and prayer for young men that were attempting to relieve themselves from the depressing appearance of London during that time. Tenement housing and dangerous influences were what drove Williams to organize the first YMCA. This first YMCA focused on meeting the social need in the community and it was open to members that helped cross the lines that separated English social classes.
After hearing of the success of the London YMCA and how it helped create a new sense of community among its members, a retired Boston sea captain by the name of Thomas Valentine Sullivan formed the first U.S. YMCA at Old South Church in Boston, MA in 1851.
The YMCA began housing in the 1860s as a way to provide young men that moved to cities from rural areas safe and affordable lodging. The housing facilities included gyms, auditoriums, and hotel style rooms. The first known YMCA housing was in Chicago at Farwell Hall and was completed in 1867. In the mid 20th century, YMCA housing grew from nearly 55,000 rooms to more than 100,000 rooms. At the time, it was more housing offered than any hotel chain. By the time the mid-1970s rolled around, the national YMCA and the NBA Players Association created the Youth Basketball Association (YBA) to help organize local youth into recreational sports. These programs focused on skills and teamwork over winning.
In 2010, the YMCA went through a re-branding phase and began to refer to itself by its more popular name – the Y. The new areas of focus for the Y became healthy living, youth development, and social responsibility. Recently, the Y has started to put more work into preventative care such as diabetes prevention, tobacco cessation, and drug and alcohol education. The Y works closely with funding agencies to provide low or no-cost services to the community.
The Y has become known all over the world and, in fact, 80% of households in the nation are within 5 miles of an existing YMCA facility.