Settlement Houses were an attempt of socially reforming the society in the late nineteenth century and the movement related to it was a process of helping the poor in urban areas adopting their modes of life by living among them and serving them while staying with them. What today's youth would know as a Community Center, 'Settlement Houses' initially sprang up in the 1880's? At these facilities, higher educated singles would move to Settlement Houses and get to personally know the neighborhood and immigrant people that they were converting, studying, and/or teaching. Working together, they passed labor laws and changed the way the U.S. does business. Where these educated professionals stayed with the community and served them, the main intent of these reforms was to transfer this responsibility of social welfare to the government in the long-run.
An interesting fact about this settlement house movement is its influence in today's social work structure. The settlement house workers, by serving the communities directly not only addressed the issues of poverty and social injustice but also laid down the foundation of today's social work. This is the reason why these community centers are also known as "neighborhood center" as the early social workers preferred to stay in the neighborhoods of these communities and exercise their professionalized social work.
In order to understand the importance of Settlement houses in United States, it is important to understand the reasons leading to their establishment and then tremendous success later on. Among the many issues that animated Progressive Era American reformers considered to be resolved in the nineteenth century, the plight of the nation's urban poor was the most pressing one. Specifically speaking, unsanitary conditions at work places and residences of these urban poor were one of the major concerns as the health conditions of the particular community and the entire city's population was endangered and also the social discomfort was giving rise to the anti-democratic sentiments. In addition to that, corrupt politicians, supporters of anarchy and selfish labor leaders were taking advantage of this depressed life of immigrants and were influencing them to give votes whenever required which ultimately threatened American civil culture. This was the reason why Progressives decided to move into these settlement houses and facilitate the provision of necessary health and education facilities along with other necessities of life. The agenda was to alleviate the standard of living of these poor families and also to avoid any political discomfort city wide and nationwide.
In London, The first settlement house was Toynbee Hall in London, founded in 1883 and Canon Samuel Barnett, pastor of the poorest parish in London's notorious East End, established one of the first settlement houses in 1884. It is important to note that Tonybee Hall accommodated educated and cultured individuals and made them act as mentors, teachers and basic human services providers to the deprived social class. This settlement house attracted many young theologians and middle-class people as it was based on the famous social gospel movement and influenced many people in the name of religions[footnoteRef:1]. Whereas, the pioneer in the American settlement houses was The Neighborhood Guild (later the University Settlement), founded by Stanton Coit, and Charles B. Stover in 1886[footnoteRef:2]. [1: Ruth Hutchinson Crocker, "THE SETTLEMENTS: SOCIAL WORK, CULTURE, AND IDEOLOGY IN THE PROGRESSIVE ERA.," History of Education Quarterly 31, no. 2. Spring1991.] [2: Harvard University Library Open Collections Program, "Immigration to the United / states, 1789-1930, Settlement House Movement." Accessed June 3, 2012. ]
Another famous settlement house founded in Chicago was Hull House which was established in 1889 by Jane Addams and Ellen Starr. Other famous settlement houses are Lillian Wald and the Henry Street Settlement in New York. College Settlement, a club for girls in New York City, 1889 (Vida Dutton Scudder and Jean G. Fine); East Side House, New York, 1891; Northwestern University Settlement, 1891 (Harriet Vittum); South End House, Boston, 1892 (Robert Archey Woods); and Henry Street Settlement, New York, 1893 (Lillian D. Wald). New settlements were established almost every year: University of Chicago Settlement, 1894 (Mary McDowell); Chicago Commons, 1894 (Graham Taylor); Hudson Guild, New York, 1897 (John Lovejoy Elliot); Hiram House, Cleveland, 1896 (George A. Bellamy); and Greenwich House, New York, 1902 (Mary Kingsbury Simkhovitch).[footnoteRef:3] [3: June Axinn and Herman Levin. Social Welfare: A History of the American Response to Need. 4th ed. White Plains, N.Y.: Longman, 1997.
The World was in a state of great depression in between late nineteenth century and the end of World War I. During the period, the settlement house movement played a major role as a progressive-era response to the economic suffering, labor turmoil, unemployment, low earnings, inequitable employment practices, and foul living conditions. Since these settlement houses provided shelter and jobs to a large number of immigrants, a huge mass of labor used to arrive at these new establishments of industrialized society, everyday. Furthermore, the immigrants were provided residences in enclaves which helped them in overcoming the hurdles offered by ethnic isolation, foreign language and customs.[footnoteRef:4] [4: Walter I Trattner, From Poor Law to Welfare State: A History of Social Welfare in America. 6th ed., (New York: The Free Press, 1999).]
Out of many settlement houses, The Hull-House of Chicago was the most eminent one. Despite the fact that it was not the first settlement house, it acted as an example for many, because of its nature. Hull-House acted as a hub of research, service and reform that later on defined the American settlement house movement. The founders of Hull-House, Jane Addams and Ellen Gates shifted to the poor neighborhood in Chicago where immigrant community was located. During this phase, both the founders studied the living and working conditions of this community thoroughly. While performing this research, the two observed how immigrants from Europe were exploited and were provided with poor work environments with insufficient earnings along with non-provision of education compromised residential conditions due to inefficient government. This settlement house, as a result of this research offered a day nursery for children, a club for working girls, lectures and cultural programs, and meeting space for neighborhood political groups[footnoteRef:5]. [5: Beverly Sanders, Women in American History. A Series. Book Four, Women in the Progressive Era 1890-1920, (Washington D.C.: ERIC Clearinghouse, 1979)]
With the support of a great number of social reformers who helped them out at the settlement, Addams also took an active part in using labor unions for the fight of labor rights, performed lobbying of city government and also formed Immigrants' Protective League which was aimed to enunciate non-discrimination at the work place and also exploitation of young workers. Furthermore, the research wing of this settlement house also played an active role. The workers examined and surveyed the living conditions in these houses, their neighborhoods and the working places where these migrants and immigrants were employed. The outcomes were greatly publicized and also tried to attain develop an atmosphere favoring the reforms by government and legislations.
Under the dynamic leadership of Addams, an active mass of women social workers / reformers emerged from the Hull-House. This group of female social workers was dominant all over United States. It is important to note that almost three-fourth of the activists in settlement house movement were women reformers who were well0educated and were committed to the cause of liberating the poor class from the problems caused by poverty[footnoteRef:6]. [6: Sarah Jo Lock, The People in the Neighborhood: Samaritans and Saviors in Middle-class Women's Social Settlement Writings, 1895-1914, (ProQuest, 2008), 223.]
These included Julia Lathrop and Grace Abbott, prominent figures in the U.S. Children's Bureau; Florence Kelley, labor and consumer advocate; Alice Hamilton, physician and social activist; and Edith Abbott and Sophonisba Breckinridge, social researchers and key leaders in the development of social work education. In addition to these women, Mary O'Sullivan, a labor leader and reformer, organized the Chicago Women's Bindery Workers' Union in 1889. In 1892, she became the American Federation of Labor's first woman organizer. Additionally, Lucy Flower helped found the Illinois Training School for Nurses, the Chicago Bureau of Charities, the Cook County Juvenile Court, the Protective Agency for Women and Children, and the Lake Geneva Fresh Air Association for poor urban children.
These settlement houses were mainly established in large metropolitans and were supported by private organizations and individuals interested in addressing the issues of poverty and social injustice. The basic concept of settlement house to have socially established families and individuals move into settlement houses and help each group understand the living conditions of others. Although settlement houses were considered to be welfare organizations having secular nature, many of the pioneering houses emerged from religious roots. This was the reason why faith played major role in the success of these settlement houses rather than ethics and morals themselves.
The most known example of the religious impacts on the settlement house movement would be Chicago Commons. This settlement house was founded in 1894 by Graham Taylor who was a professor…