On 6 June 1844, Sir George Williams founded the first YMCA in London, England. The first meeting was held in Williams’ drapery shop in St Paul’s Churchyard and included 12 young men in total. Their objective was the “improvement of the spiritual condition of the young men engaged in houses of business, by the formation of Bible classes, family and social prayer meetings, mutual improvement societies, or any other spiritual agency.”
Sir George Williams wasted no time in organising YMCA branches throughout England, Scotland and Ireland. Over the next 10 years, YMCA movements also began to develop across Western Europe, North America, Australia, New Zealand, and India.
The idea of creating a truly global movement with an international headquarters was pioneered by Henry Dunant, Secretary of YMCA Geneva, who would later go on to found the International Committee of the Red Cross and win the first Nobel Peace Prize. Henry Dunant successfully convinced YMCA Paris to organise the first YMCA World Conference. The Conference took place in August 1855, bringing together 99 young delegates from nine countries.
The Conference adopted the Paris Basis affirming YMCA’s mission and purpose, and created the Central International Committee. The committee operated without a headquarters until 1878, when a permanent headquarters and formal structure was created in Geneva, Switzerland. This was a turning point for the Central International Committee that would eventually become known as the World YMCA.
First YMCA World Conference in Paris, 1855
Standing, left to right(5) : 1) W. Heyblom, Netherlands. 2) E. Renevier, France. 3) T. H. Gladstone, Great Britain. 4) E. Laget, France. 5) Max Perrot, Switzerland.
Back row, left to right (2): 6) Henry Dunant, Switzerland. 7) T. H. Tarlton, Great Britain.
Sitting, front row, left to right (3) : 8) A. Stevens, USA. 9) Sir George Williams, Great Britain. 10) G. Dürselenen, Germany
First World YMCA Conference in Paris