George Williams

Sir George Williams

Sir George Williams founded YMCA in 1844. He was the seventh of eight children born to a “well to do” farming family from Dulverton, in Somerset, in the south west of England.

Moving to London in 1842 to pursue a career in drapery, he found work making gentlemen’s clothes in St Paul’s Yard, by St Paul’s Cathedral, in the City of London. A man of faith, he also regularly attended a chapel near his workplace.

George was troubled by the things that were deemed as ‘unhealthy’ for the young men to engage with and decided to do something about this. He gathered some of his likeminded friends around him and began to put together a number of activities, which enabled the young people in his area to begin to address their own needs and to build better lives for themselves. The first meeting of this group took place in the shop in which he worked and there is a plaque commemorating this spot in London today.

Soon YMCA grew. It spread out of London a year later and to the USA and Canada in 1851. In 1855, it became truly global as the first YMCA World Conference was organised that produced the ‘Paris Basis’ – an international agreement about the aims of YMCA.

George became Sir George on the 50th anniversary of the founding of YMCA when he was knighted by Queen Victoria. By the time he died in 1905, there were 45 YMCAs running all over the world with an incredible membership of more than 700,000 people. You can see the tomb of Sir George Williams today in St Paul’s Cathedral.

YMCAs all over the globe celebrate our Founder’s Day on 6 June every year as we remember the man who, at the tender age of just 22, created the largest youth charity in the world.