Founders' Story

The Why Behind the Y.

1844 YMCA is Founded in London

In 1844, industrialized London was a place of despair. For the young men who migrated to the city, it offered a bleak future of tenement housing, low wages, drinking, and immorality. Troubled by what he saw, 22-year old George Williams rallied 11 friends to organize the first Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA), a refuge of Bible study and prayer for young men.

1851 YMCA Sails to America

Inspired by stories of the Y in England, 30-year-old sea captain and missionary Thomas Valentine Sullivan and six colleagues founded the first U.S. YMCA. Located at the Old South Church in Boston, it was a home away from home for young sailors.

1869 YMCA of Honolulu Established

In the late 1800s, Honolulu was a rowdy seaport buzzing with taverns, brothels and gambling houses. Three young men—Peter Cushman Jones, Sanford B. Dole, and Thomas Rain Walker—saw the need for wholesome activities for sailors and transient men. They recruited seven friends, and on Friday, April 30, 1869, they approved a constitution for the first YMCA in Hawai‘i. Their aim: the "religious, moral, and social improvement of ourselves and others."

Growth Spurt

By the second YMCA Honolulu meeting, membership had grown to 21. At their third meeting, they voted to move into the Reading Room at the Sailors’ Home. And on September 24, 1869, YMCA Honolulu held its first public meeting.

Opened in 1854, the Sailors' Home was strategically located on Bethel and Merchant Street to catch sailors before they reached the grog houses.

Since there were no public libraries at the time, YMCA Honolulu created a Reading Room within the facility on September 24, 1869. Open from 9am to 10pm, the Reading Room was considered the only place in Honolulu for "innocent creation." The space was also used for community meetings and to recruit new YMCA members.

By March 1879, the popularity of the YMCA Reading Room proved the need for a larger library in Honolulu. The Honolulu Library and Reading Room Association (HLRRA) was formed and worked with the YMCA Honolulu to organize a larger public space.

In August 1884, the HLRRA moved from the YMCA Reading Room into it's own building on the Hotel and Alakea Street (Pictured above) and in 1913, to it's present location of today's Hawai‘i State Library on South Street.

First YMCA Honolulu Building ➔