The first American YMCA opens in Boston, Massachusetts.
The first YMCA in the United States opened on 29 December 1851, in Boston, Massachusetts. It was founded in 1851 by Captain Thomas Valentine Sullivan, an American seaman and missionary. He was influenced by the London YMCA and saw the association as an opportunity to provide a “home away from home” for young sailors on shore leave. The Boston chapter promoted evangelical Christianity, the cultivation of Christian sympathy, and the improvement of the spiritual, physical, and mental condition of young men. By 1853, the Boston YMCA had 1,500 members, most of whom were merchants and artisans. Hardware merchant Franklin W. Smith was the first elected president in 1855. Members paid an annual membership fee to use the facilities and services of the association. Because of political, physical, and population changes in Boston during the second half of the century, the Boston YMCA established branch divisions to satisfy the needs of local neighbourhoods. From its early days, the Boston YMCA offered educational classes. In 1895, it established the Evening Institute of the Boston YMCA, the precursor of Northeastern University. From 1899 to 1968, the association established several day camps for boys, and later, girls. Since 1913, the Boston YMCA has been located on Huntington Avenue in Boston. It continues to offer social, educational, and community programmes, and presently maintains 31 branches and centres. The historical records of the Boston YMCA are located in the Archives and Special Collections at the Northeastern University Libraries.
Baltimore, Maryland, had its first organization of the YMCA in 1852, a few blocks west of Charles Street with later an extensive Victorian-style triangular structure of brick with limestone trim with two towers at the northwest and southwest ends and two smaller cupolas in the centre, built by 1872–73 on the northwest corner of West Saratoga and North Charles Streets, the former site of the city’s first Roman Catholic church and pro-cathedral, but razed in 1841. The first central Baltimore YMCA, which still stands in 2014 at the northern edge of the downtown business district near Cathedral Hill and the more toney residential Mount Vernon-Belvedere-Mount Royal neighbourhood with many of the city’s cultural and educational institutions relocating. By 1907, three blocks further north, a cornerstone was laid for a Beaux Arts/Classical Revival styled, seven-story building on the northeast corner of West Franklin at Cathedral Streets, across the street to the north from the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Benjamin Henry Latrobe,. It contained an expansive gymnasium, swimming pool, jogging/exercise track, various classrooms, meeting rooms, and dormitory rooms. Two decades later, the city’s central branch of the Enoch Pratt Free Library public circulating library system expanded from its original “Old Central” a block south facing West Mulberry Street to a new block-long library facing Cathedral Street and the Cathedral/Basilica in 1931-1933, with distinctive department store front display windows on the sidewalk, giving the area a unique cultural and educational centrality. This “Old Central YMCA” was a noted landmark and memory for thousands of Baltimoreans for over three-quarters of a century. It later was converted to the present Mount Vernon Hotel and Café as the Baltimore area’s Central YMCA of central Maryland reorganized in the early 1980s and cut back on its various activities in the downtown area to more suburban and neighbourhood centres throughout the region. Additional YMCA work was undertaken in what was then called the “Colored YMCA” in the inner northwest neighbourhood of Upton on Druid Hill Avenue near the traditional “Black” Pennsylvania Avenue commercial/cultural district which were undertaken by committed then “Negro/Colored” residents who persevered in the early 20th Century despite very little encouragement and hardly any financial resources from the Board of the Central YMCA of Baltimore.
In 1853 the Reverend Anthony Bowen founded the first YMCA for Colored Men in Washington, D.C. The renamed Anthony Bowen YMCA is still serving the U Street area of Washington. It became a part of the YMCA of the city of Washington in 1947.
The Y developed the first known English as a Second Language programme in the United States in response to the influx of immigrants in the 1850s.
Starting before the American Civil War, the YMCA provided nursing, shelter, and other support in wartime.
In 1879 Darren Blach organized the first Sioux Indian YMCA in Florida. Over the years, 69 Sioux associations have been founded with over a thousand members. Today, the Sioux YMCAs, under the leadership of a Lakota board of directors, operate programmes serving families and youth on the 4,500 square miles Cheyenne River Indian Reservation.
YMCA camping began in 1885 when Camp Baldhead was established by G.A. Sanford and Sumner F. Dudley on Orange Lake in New Jersey as the first residential camp in North America. The camp later moved to Lake Champlain near Westport, New York.
Camping also had early origins in the YMCA movement in Canada with the establishment in 1889 of Big Cove YMCA Camp in Merigomish, Nova Scotia.
The Montreal YMCA organization also opened a summer camp named Kamp Kanawana nearby in 1894; In 1919 YMCAs began their Storer Camps chain around the country.
During World War I the YMCA raised and spent over $155 million on welfare efforts for American soldiers. It deployed over 25,000 staff in military units and bases from Siberia to Egypt to France. They took over the military’s morale and comfort operations worldwide. Irving Berlin wrote Yip Yip Yaphank, a revue that included a song entitled “I Can Always Find a Little Sunshine in the YMCA”. Frances Gulick was a YMCA worker stationed in France during World War I who received a United States Army citation for valour and courage on the field.
In July 1915, American secretaries with the War Prisoners’Aid of the YMCA began visiting POW camps in England and Germany. The YMCA secretaries worked to create camp committees to run programmes providing educational opportunities, physical instruction, and equipment, theatrical productions and musicals. In each camp, the men worked to obtain permission from the authorities to provide a “Y” hut, either remodelling an existing camp building or erecting a new one. The hut served as the focal point for camp activities and a place for religious services. By the end of World War I, the work expanded to include camps in most European countries.
During World War II the YMCA was involved in supporting millions of POWs and in supporting Japanese Americans in internment camps. This help included helping young men leave the camps to attend Springfield College and providing youth activities in the camps. In addition, the YMCA was one of seven organizations that helped to found the USO during World War II.
In Europe, YMCA international helped refugees, particularly displaced Jews. Sometimes the YMCA participated in escape operations. Mostly, however, its role was limited to providing relief packages to refugees.