The settlement movement was a reformist social movement, beginning in the 1880s and peaking around the 1920s, in England and the U.S., with a goal of getting the rich and poor in society to live more closely together in an interdependent community. Its main object was the establishment of "settlement houses" in poor urban areas, in which volunteer middle-class "settlement workers" would live, hoping to share knowledge and culture with and alleviate the poverty of their low-income neighbors. In the U.S., by 1913 there were 413 settlements in 32 states.
The movement started in London in the mid 19th century. These houses often offered food, shelter, and basic and higher education, provided by virtue of charity on 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. Through their efforts, settlement houses were established for education, savings, sports, and arts. Such institutions were often praised by religious representatives concerned with the lives of the poor, and criticized as normative or moralistic by radical social movements.
The British Association of Settlements and Social Action Centres is a network of such organizations in the United Kingdom. Birmingham University has produced a brief history of the settlement movement in the UK. Examples of the earliest settlements dating back to 1884 are Aston-Mansfield, Toynbee Hall, and Oxford House in Bethnal Green. There is also a global network, the International Federation of Settlements.
The movement gave rise to many social policy initiatives and innovative ways of working to improve the conditions of the most excluded members of society. The Poor Man's Lawyer service came about because a barrister volunteered his time and encouraged his friends to do the same. In general, the settlement movement, and settlement houses in particular, "have been a foundation for social work practice in this country."
The most famous Settlement House in the United States is Chicago's Hull House, founded by Jane Addams and Ellen Gates Starr in 1889 after they had visited Toynbee Hall in 1888. 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 is 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.
Located in the Near West Side of Chicago, Illinois, Hull House opened its doors to the 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 almost 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 them recent European immigrants in the surrounding neighborhood. The "residents", volunteers at Hull were given this title, 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 Near West Side, Chicago community, which became known as "The Hull House Neighborhood". These studies enabled the Hull House residents to confront the establishment, eventually partnering with them in the design and implementation of programs intended to enhance and improve the opportunities for success by the largely immigrant population.