Archives

Anthony Bowen

First Black YMCA in Washington
Did you know that Anthony Bowen founded the first YMCA for Black men?

Bowen was born into slavery in Prince George’s County, Maryland in 1809. Though enslaved, he found the opportunity to work off the farm. He saved the money he earned and purchased his freedom. He continued working and saving until he was able to purchase his wife’s freedom as well. When both were free they moved to Washington, DC.

When a whites-only YMCA opened in Washington, Bowen decided to form one for Black men.

Bowen was a leader in his community. He worked to establish churches and places where Black people could get together for fun and where they could be educated.

In 1853, he founded the first Colored Men’s Christian Association. Bowen served as the organization’s first president. The colored YMCA became an important part of the Black community. Its meeting rooms were used by major organizations such as the NAACP and the Negro Medical Aid Society. It was also used to house students attending historically Black Howard University. Many well-known African Americans, including Langston Hughes and Thurgood Marshall, spent time there.

Through the years there have been many changes and improvements to the Y. It has changed locations several times. Yet, the Anthony Bowen YMCA it is still serving the community. It is now part of the YMCA of Metropolitan Washington.