History of the Gateway Region YMCA 

The Gateway Region YMCA was founded on October 13, 1853, at the 2nd Baptist Church by 23 young men, two years after the first YMCA in the United States began in Boston. 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."

Our beginnings

  • 1844—George Williams organizes the first YMCA in London to meet the practical and spiritual needs of young men relocating to London during the Industrial Revolution.
  • 1851—First U.S. YMCA opens in Boston
  • 1853—St. Louis YMCA founded
  • 1866—Southwest Illinois YMCA founded
  • 2016—YMCA of Greater St. Louis and YMCA of Southwest Illinois merge, forming the Gateway Region YMCA

Since its beginning, the Y has been one of the leading health and human service organizations in the bi-state region and continues to grow:

  • Serves closes to 300,000 members and participants 
  • Employs more than 4,000 full-time and part-time employees 
  • Gives more than $6 million annually in financial assistance for people to take part in Y programs and services who may struggle financially

Facilities and Reach

  • Geographically covers St. Louis City, seven Missouri counties, and six counties in southwest Illinois.
  • Administers services through 24 traditional branch locations and approximately 120 program sites.
  • YMCA Camp Lakewood and YMCA Trout Lodge in Potosi, Mo. 
  • Community Development YMCA - Provides resources to address the bi-state region’s most pressing social issues in education, employment, hunger, health and youth development.
  • Washington University Campus Y student leadership facility - This student centered organization offers 21 community service programs that are student led and student run.
  • The Carondelet Park Rec Complex and the O’Fallon Park Rec Complex are owned by the City of St. Louis and operated by the Y.

The Gateway Region YMCA is a proud member of the United Way of Greater St. Louis.

History of the YMCA in the U.S. and Internationally

The YMCA was founded in London, England, in 1844 in response to unhealthy social conditions arising in big cities at the end of the Industrial Revolution.  Growth of railroads and 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 substitute Bible study and prayer for 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 this country was started in Boston.

The Y was a driving force in several modern traditions

  • Inspired the formation of the U.S.O. Peace Corps and Father’s Day
  • Began the first night school and English as a Second Language courses
  • Invented group swimming lessons, basketball, volleyball and racquetball
  • Fostered America’s camping movement, starting in 1885

Learn more about the YMCA's history here.