settlement house

settlement house

settlement house, neighborhood welfare institution generally in an urban slum area, where trained workers endeavor to improve social conditions, particularly by providing community services and promoting neighborly cooperation. The idea was developed in mid-19th-century England when such social thinkers as Thomas Hill Green, John Ruskin, and Arnold Toynbee (1852-83) urged university students to settle in poor neighborhoods, where they could study and work to better local conditions. The pioneer establishment was Toynbee Hall, founded in 1884 in London under the leadership of Samuel Augustus Barnett. Before long, similar houses were founded in many cities of Great Britain, the United States, and continental Europe. Some of the more famous settlement houses in the United States have been Hull House and Chicago Commons, Chicago; South End House, Boston; and the University Settlement, Henry Street Settlement, and Greenwich House, New York City. Settlements serve as community, education, and recreation centers, particularly in densely populated immigrant neighborhoods. Sometimes known as social settlements, they are also called neighborhood houses, neighborhood centers, or community centers. The settlement house differs from other social welfare agencies; the latter provide specific services, while the former is aimed at improving neighborhood life as a whole. Its role has gradually altered as some of its varied functions have been assumed by state and municipal authorities and by other organizations. Kindergartens, formerly an important adjunct of the settlement house, are now operated by the public schools; municipal health departments have taken over its clinical services; and labor unions now sponsor educational and recreational activities for workers. The early leaders of settlement houses in the United States met from time to time and in 1911 founded the National Federation of Settlements and Neighborhood Centers; Jane Addams served as the first president. In 1926 the International Federation of Settlements and Neighbourhood Centres was established to coordinate community work on an international level.

See L. Pacey, ed., Readings in the Development of Settlement Work (1951); A. Hillman, Neighborhood Centers Today (1960); A. F. Davis, Spearheads for Reform (1967, repr. 1970).

University Settlement House

The University Settlement House is located at 184 Eldridge Street (corner of Rivington and Eldridge streets) on New York's Lower East Side. It provides myriad services for the mostly immigrant population of the neighborhood and has since 1886, when it was established as the first settlement house in the United States.

Historically the settlement house, much like better-known settlement houses like Hull House in Chicago and the Henry Street Settlement (also on the Lower East Side), served as a meeting place for some of the tens of thousands of immigrants who arrived in the United States in the late 19th and early 20th century. They provided courses for new immigrants on everything from politics to the English language to basketball. The University Settlement House also included a library, kindergarten and bath house. These settlements were also loci of Progressive reform.

Unlike at Hull House and the Henry Street Settlement, the resident workers at the University Settlement originally were all men and in the early 20th century, when journalism was emerging as a legitimate form of social protest and a means of reform, several of these men were writers in addition to settlement house workers. Residents from 1900-1907 included: socialist writer William English Walling (a founder of the NAACP); Pulitzer Prize winner Ernest Poole; former New Yorker columnist Howard Brubaker; writer Arthur Bullard; journalist Hamilton Holt; and author Walter Weyl, a founding editor of The New Republic. Their interest in reform led to several articles and books on the housing and employment situation of workers on the Lower East Side, particularly women and children.

One issue that captured the imagination of many of the "University Setttlement" writers was revolution in Russia. Many of the immigrants they met on the Lower East Side were Jews from the Russian empire who were typically severely repressed under Nicholas II of Russia. Through their interaction with these immigrants, several of the residents became vocal advocates of reform in Russia. In 1905-1906, Poole, Walling and Bullard traveled to Russia to cover the abortive 1905 Revolution. They established contacts and helped establish a connection between radical writers in the United States and Russian revolutionaries.


Allen Davis, Spearheads for Reform: The Social Settlements & the Progressive Movement, 1890 to 1914 (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1985, reprint).

Mina Carson, Settlement Folk: Social Thought and the American Settlement Movement, 1885-1930 (The University of Chicago Press, 1990).

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