The YMCA was founded in London, England, in 1844 in response to unhealthy social conditions in big cities at the end of the Industrial Revolution. The growth of railroads and the centralization of industry and commerce brought many rural young men who needed jobs into cities like London.
George Williams was one of these young men. He was born on a farm and moved to London 20 years later to work at a draper’s shop, a forerunner of today’s department store. He and a group of fellow drapers organized the first YMCA to encourage Bible study and prayer instead of life on the streets. The Y has always been nonsectarian and accepts all faiths.
The YMCA idea spread rapidly. In 1851, the first YMCA in the United States was established in Boston. Two years later the St. Louis YMCA was founded in the Second Baptist Church as noted by the Missouri Republic on October 20, 1853, “It is our privilege to record the beginnings of an enterprise, which contains in it the germs of more good to St. Louis than any undertaking which has ever been entered upon here.”