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The Settlement House movement was a reformist social movement that began in the 1880s and peaked around the 1920s in England and the United States. Its objective was to get the rich and poor in society to live more closely together in an interdependent community. It established "settlement houses" in poor urban areas, where volunteer middle-class "settlement workers" would live in hopes of sharing knowledge and culture with, and alleviating the poverty, of their low-income neighbors. By 1913, there were 413 settlements in 32 states.
The movement started in London in the mid-nineteenth century. Settlement houses often offered food, shelter, and basic and higher education that was provided by virtue of charity on the part of wealthy donors, the residents of the city, and (for education) scholars who volunteered their time. Victorian England, increasingly concerned with poverty, gave rise to the movement whereby those connected to universities settled students in slum areas to live and work alongside local people.
Lenox Hill Neighborhood House, founded in 1894; Henry Street Settlement, founded in 1893; and University Settlement House, founded in 1886 (and the oldest in the United States) were important sites for social reform. United Neighborhood Houses of New York was the federation of 35 settlement houses in New York City. These and other settlement houses inspired the establishment of settlement schools to serve isolated rural communities in Appalachia. The settlement-house concept was continued by Dorothy Day's Catholic Worker hospitality houses in the 1930s.
The most famous settlement house in the United States is Chicago's Hull House, founded in 1889 by Jane Addams and Ellen Gates Starr after they had visited Toynbee Hall in 1888. Located in the Near West Side of Chicago, Illinois, Hull House opened its doors to recently arrived European immigrants. By 1911, Hull House had grown to 13 buildings. In 1912, the Hull House complex was completed with the addition of a summer camp, the Bowen Country Club. With its innovative social, educational, and artistic programs, Hull House became the standard bearer for the movement that had grown, by 1920, to nearly 500 settlement houses nationally.
The Hull mansion and several subsequent acquisitions were continuously renovated to accommodate the changing demands of the association. The original building and one additional building, which has been moved 200 yards, survives today. Addams followed the example of Toynbee Hall, which was founded in 1885 in the East End of London as a center for social reform. She described Toynbee Hall as, "a community of university men who, while living there, held their recreational clubs and social gatherings at the settlement house... among the poor people and in the same style they would in their own circle."
Hull House became, at its inception in 1889, "a community of university women" whose main purpose was to provide social and educational opportunities for working-class people, many of whom were recent European immigrants living in the surrounding neighborhood. The "residents," as volunteers at Hull were called, held classes in literature, history, art, domestic activities (such as sewing), and many other subjects. Hull House also held concerts that were free to everyone, offered free lectures on current issues, and operated clubs for both children and adults.
Hull House conducted careful studies of the community of Near West Side, Chicago, which became known as "The Hull House Neighborhood." These studies enabled the Hull House residents to confront the establishment, and to eventually partner with them in the design and implementation of programs intended to improve opportunities for the large immigrant population.
A founder of Hull House, Jane Addams (September 6, 1860–May 21, 1935), along with being a pioneer American settlement activist/reformer, was also a social worker, public philosopher, sociologist, author, and leader in women's suffrage and world peace. In the Progressive Era, when presidents such as Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson identified themselves as reformers and social activists, Addams was one of the most prominent reformers. She helped America address and focus on issues that were of concern to mothers, such as the needs of children, local public health, and world peace. She said that if women were to be responsible for cleaning up their communities and making them better places to live, they needed to be able to vote to do so effectively. Addams became a role model for middle-class women who volunteered to uplift their communities. She is increasingly being recognized as a member of the American Pragmatist school of philosophy.
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“The Settlement House Movement.”
Boundless U.S. History
Boundless, 20 Nov. 2016.
Retrieved 22 Feb. 2017 from