Settlement House Women


King Phillip Settlement House in Fall River, MA, Library of Congress, LC-DIG-nclc-05026

In the late 19th century, middle-class women began to found “settlement houses” in poor and working-class neighborhoods in urban areas. Middle-class reformers, often women, would live in settlement houses and undertake reform work in surrounding neighborhoods. Settlement houses offered middle class women the chance to live in a female-dominated space, independent of familial control. Many settlement house workers formed lasting friendships, sometimes developing lifetime partnerships with other women.

Settlement workers often carried out sociological research in their surrounding communities, and offered childcare services, English-language classes, meeting spaces, and healthcare services for residents in their community. Eventually, settlement house workers often convinced municipal and state governments to assume responsibility for programs they had initiated. In addition, settlement house workers often moved from undertaking community service to lobbying local, state, and national governments to pass reform legislation, such as minimum wage laws, workplace safety standards, and sanitation regulations.

Knitting class at the Henry Street Settlement, New York, New York, Library of Congress, LC-DIG-nclc-04574

The most well known settlement house was Hull House, founded in a Chicago neighborhood in 1889 by Jane Addams and Ellen Starr. Also well known was the Henry Street Settlement, founded in 1893 in New York City by Lillian Wald. By 1910, there were more than 400 settlement houses nation-wide. In 1911, settlement house leaders formed the National Settlement House League to share expertise and coordinate programs.





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