The Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) is not a uniformed group, but it is the first major youth organization and was influential in the organization of many uniformed youth groups. It was the first organized outgrowth of the Myscular Christianity movement, mixing health and vitality with Christianity. . The YMVA or "Y" as it is commonly called was initially for young men, but soon began initiating important programsmfor boys. While not a uniformed organization, in many ways the YMCA along with the American Boys' Clubs helped lay the groundwork for the Boys' Brigade, Scouts, and other uniformed youth groups.
T he Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) which had been organized in England during the 1840s. YMCAs opened n in Switzerland, France, Germany, and the Netherlands furing the 1840s and reached America in the 1850s. The first YMCA was organized in Boston and Montreal in 1851. This came about largely from entusiastic letters home from young Americans and Candanias living in London. This was an aspect of the growing influemce of Muscular Christianity. American and Cannadian YMCAs held their first conference in 1854 and the convention agreed to a loose confederation, annual convention, and the creation of a central committee. The first world conference was held in Paris during 1855 and formed a World Alliance. Debatecensued for many years as to whether a central YMCA organization would dictate the policies of localasdociations or whether the YMCA would be a loose association of national groups which would create their own policies and programs. The Second World Conference was held in 1858. Nearly 200 delegates of all confessions attended except Catholics. Major debates concerned: 1) Condition of admission as YMCA member to be strictly based on the Paris Basis Principles. 2) To decide what to provide for YMCA members during their leisure time. The YMCA was initially conceived as an association for young men, but work with boys, not forseen by the founders, was to become a key activity for the new organization. The first activites with boys began in the 1880s. The International Committee of the United states and Canada also began their missionary thrust which was to send fraternal secretaries to Asia, South America, and later Europe. YMCA leaders appealed for the creation of YMCAs on all five continents. Through missionary work, there were already YMCAs in China, Japan and India. Schools for YMCA leaders were founded in Springfield during 1885. Two concepts of YMCA involvement with the Church existed at the turn of the 20th century 1) Anglo-Saxon concept: the YMCA is totally independent of religious organizations and is open to all young people. 2) European concept: the YMCA needs to have narrow links with the national church of each respective country. "Y"s spread fast and soon were serving
boys and older men as well as young men. Although 5,145 women worked in YMCA military canteens in World War I, it wasn't until after World War II that women and girls were admitted to full membership and participation in the U.S. YMCAs. Today half of all YMCA constituents and staff are female, and half are 18 years or under.
The YMCA program was quite varied from country to country. The first YMCA program was develiped. In America the YMCA played an important role in developng both the Scouting and summer camp movement. The American Ys also developed important aquatic programs. Ys around the world took on the task of aiding soldiers and played an important role in the great wars of the 20th century.
The YMCA expanded in countless American communities. Often YMCA were organized around specific groups such as universities, railway workers, military services, industrial as well as urban areas, and blacks in both northern and southern cities. The YMCA which began as an exercise program in poorly designed gynasiums developed into sophisticated programs of health and physical education that proved so popular that they came to symbolize the "Y" in the popular mind. The "Y"s work provide the foundation for modern physical education programs in the public schools. Part time and evening classes prved extrodinarily helpful to young men of modest means. Many "Y"s organized low cost summer camp programs for urban youth. The Y played a major in popularizing the summer camp program for American boys--making the experience available to boys from families of modest means. When the BSA was founded in 1910, 400 local YMCA summer camps were already serving 15,000 boys. The Y in America also played an important role in the fledgling Boy Scout movement. YMCA Executive Edgar M. Robinson, in fact, played a major role in the early Scout movement.
After the YMCA was founded in in England (1844), the idea quickly spread to other countries. The first Y in North America was founded in Montreal (1851). Unlike London, Montreal was a largely French city and strongly Catholic. This tested the ecumenical spirit of the Y which when founded in London was largely Protestant in the early years. And for many years there were problems with the suspicious Catholic hierary. The Montreal Y and others in Canada welcomed Christians of all denominations. Gradually developed roots with Catholic as well as Protestant churches. The Y established Canadian YMCA War Services (1866). They offered recreation, religious and entertainment programs, and for offering moral support to Canadian soldiers. They became know for providing hot tea, equipment, biscuits and more to Canadian soldiers. They would play an important role in assisting Canadian soldiers in the wars of the 20th century in wgivh Canad played an important part. The Y developed summer camps like the Ys in America. This program was less important in the English YMCAs. As the Canadian Ys became increasingly established, like the Ys in America, Canadian Ys began adding swimming pools and developed an aquatic program. Education was anotyher important aspect of the Y program. The Montreal and at Toronto YMCAs began offering night classes at its facilities for both citizens and immigrants.
The YMCA was founded in England. A 22-year-old draper, George Williams, founded the YMCA to provide a relirf from
unhealty conditions in London. Ys soon spread to other British cities and cities in other countries. Gynasium were not a new idea, it was revolutiinary to talk about religion outside churches and in a non-denominatiinal setting. While non-denominational, England was a Protestant country and the YMCA like the Boy Scouts shich followed it in the next century at first had a Protestant orientation.
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