Organizations of Christian young men existed in Great Britain and Ireland more than 200 years ago, and extended into Germany and Switzerland; and in 1710 Cotton Mather. addressed kindred societies in New England, under the title of " Young Men Associated." There were similar associations in some German cities between 1834 and 1842, and a larger movement in 1849, from which originated the German associations of the present day. The modern English-speaking associations began in a meeting of clerks in a London mercantile house in 1844, organized by George Williams, one of the clerks, which grew into the first young men's Christian association. It was soon imitated in different cities of Great Britain; and in December, 1851, an association after the London model was formed in Montreal, and shortly after one was formed in Boston. Associations multiplied rapidly throughout the United States, until their growth was retarded by the civil war of 1861-'5. In 1866 a new period of growth began, and there are now (1876) in the United States and Canada about 700 associations, with a membership of nearly 100,000. There are in Great Britain and Ireland about 300 associations, in Germany 200, in Holland 200, in France 40, in Switzerland SO, in Belgium 18, in Australia 5, in the Hawaiian Islands 1; and there is one organized among the foreign residents in Yokohama, Japan. The aggregate membership in America and Europe is about 250,000. In the United States and Canada 519 associations reported in 1875 an aggregate membership of 69,011; 337 reported their annual current expenses at $360,365; 198 own libraries containing 181,340 volumes; 56 own buildings valued at $2,434,900; and 46 have building funds, amounting to $408,756. - The associations in the United States and Canada are affiliated in an international convention which was organized in 1854, in state and provincial conventions recommended by the international convention in 1866, and in county and district conventions.
The associations in France are connected with the union generate de France. Seven conferences of "associations of all lands" have been held in Europe, the latest being in Hamburg in 1875, when 135 delegates were present from 38 associations in seven nations. Active membership is limited, by the basis adopted by the world's conference in Paris in 1855, to "young men who, regarding Jesus Christ as their God and Saviour according to the Holy Scriptures, desire to be his disciples in their doctrine and in their life." In the United States and Canada the practical test is membership in some evangelical church, according to a rule adopted by the international convention at Portland in 1869, which allows representation in the convention only to associations organized upon this basis. Older church members are admitted, with restricted privileges, as counselling members, and young men of good moral character, though not church members, are admitted as associate members, with all the privileges of active membership, but with no controlling voice in the business of the society. Some associations admit young women to membership. The associations seek to be the agents of the churches of all denominations in behalf of young men.
For these they maintain libraries, reading rooms, lectures, classes of secular instruction, gymnasiums, and social meetings, besides prayer meetings, Bible classes, and other religious meetings. Bible classes are held in almost all the associations in Canada, and in one fourth of those in the United States. That in New York had in 1875 an average attendance of 1,064. The associations also have committees to invite strangers to their rooms, to direct them to proper boarding houses, to secure work for those unemployed, and to visit the sick. They have brought out a great amount of lay activity, in work among soldiers and sailors, in prisons, and among railway employees, and have aided the sufferers from fire in Chicago, and from the yellow fever in southern cities. Associations have been organized among the students in 34 colleges. There are 23 German associations in the United States, which were united in a national Bund in 1874; and an association was formed among the Chinese residents of San Francisco in 1871, which now has 250 members.
The American associations have secured stringent legislation against obscene literature; they maintain street preaching in many cities, and daily and Sunday religious meetings, and have organized a system of lay evangelism, ofwhich the meetings held by D. L. Moody are the most prominent examples. The international convention appointed an executive committee of five, which in 1866 was fixed for three years in New York, where it has since been continued. In 1868 this committee sent out a visitor who organized the Pacific railroad mission along the line of that road, then building. In 1870 it sent visitors to the south, and it has repeated the southern visitation yearly; its visitation in 1874-'5 extended through eleven states, and was accompanied with religious revivals in many places, besides the organization or revival of many associations. A mission among the railroad men in Cleveland in 1872 was organized into a branch of the young men's Christian association; and similar organizations have been formed in other railroad centres. Twenty-six state and five provincial conventions have organized executive committees after the model of the international committee, with a system of regular visitation.
The international committee, nine state committees, and one provincial committee employ salaried officers, and 70 local associations employ general secretaries who are wholly occupied in directing the general work. The English associations publish a monthly pamphlet in London, and there are 20 official publications in the United States and Canada. - In 1857 the ladies' Christian union of New York was formed, and in 1866 the young women's Christian association of Boston. These were followed by similar organizations, which have met in general conference in 1871, 1873, and 1875. There are now 47 women's Christian associations in the United States and Canada, with about 10,000 members. Of these, 16 own property valued at $1,000,000, 16 have libraries, 19 have boarding houses for young women, and 9 furnish temporary lodgings; 19 have industrial schools, 6 have classes in secular instruction, 17 assist in finding employment, 12 conduct Bible classes, and nearly all maintain regular prayer meetings. They also have under their care hospitals, schools, and asylums.