The settlement movement spread to the United States. Mina Carson explores its development through the work of its leaders, Robert Woods, Mary Simkhovitch, Lillian Wald, Graham Taylor and the great Jane Addams. The reading group looked at two chapters from the book; 4: The Settlers Look Outward: Housing, Health, and Labour and 7: Settlement Work and Social Work. The reading group’s reflections follow.

Social Reform

The settlement workers contributed to several social reforms including:

  • housing– Jacob Riis wrote How the Other Half Lives, portraying living conditions in Lower East Side; Lawrence Veiller worked on the Tenement House Committee and National Housing Association
  • health– Lilian Wald, who came to the movement ‘in need of serious, definite work’, defined the nursing profession in the U.S. and set up Henry Street Visiting Nurse Service, dedicated to nursing at home not in hospital
  • labour– prompted by the depression winter of 1893-94, and drawing on over a decade of conversation about economics in the context of an impoverished community; Jane Addams invited Mary Kenney, president of women’s bookbinders union, to Hull House in Chicago. They saw settlement workers as mediators between the rich and labourers. They pushed labour movements to expand their vision to embrace universal kinship.

The Legacies

The Settlement leaders developed aspirations beyond the communities in which they lived, and achieved celebrity in the broader world. It led to:

  • A network of supporters, philanthropic and political
  • Research (Patten on regeneration of community and character development) and journals (Commons, Charity, Charity Review)
  • Training (social workers, the emergence of the School of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago)
  • Inter-Settlement organisation (particularly between Chicago, Boston and New York)
  • Social Theory (a) individual casework e.g. social work; (b) social administration (e.g relief of the poor/benefits; (c) social action (i.e. political action)

Political action

How political should settlements be? Some of the work was very interventionist. Promoting the trade union movement, promoting workers’ rights, nearly all of this interwoven with the advance of women’s rights and participation. There was a constant concern that the settlement work would be tainted by politics, but on the other hand a constant demand to be clear about ‘whose side are you on’. The settlements, to some extent, were a mediator between capital and labour.


The personalities of the women that led the settlement movement is a strong underlying theme. What kinds of personalities are attracted to settlements, and what animates them? They were not exclusively middle-class, but as with suffragette movement it is the middle class who are remembered and memorialised. Their ideas strongly coalesced with those of the Christian socialists. They were, by the language of the day, unconventional.

Before and After

The two chapters deal with different stages in the development of the settlement movement. In the early stages, the work was very ‘era 3’, trying out new ideas like coffee houses, and learning from the failure. (It is striking how many of the ideas Pembroke House aspires to test in the 21 Century have been tried out in the past). Later on it all became very ‘era 1’, with a focus on the professions, and a seeking of evidence to validate beliefs.


How do you remain rooted in the community, and also scale ideas -primarily through the professions? This was a continual challenge as the settlements developed. There was a moment when this tension could have influenced how we think of a ‘profession’. Nurses focused on the whole person, in context. Can this be done without being professional? Does it require a professional? Social work as a profession was borne out of Addams’ work of being social. But contemporary social work bears no resemblance to the work of being social at Hull House settlement.


The last decade has seen a lot of work on how to improve character, particularly of people considered to be disadvantaged. The settlements were interested in the character of the helper, the person who offers help. The interest was in how to engage in the world as a human being. What are the virtues of a good helper? How do settlement folk stay in the space, the exhausting space, where the world is continually challenging, and not to try and make a community for ‘us’. The work of Katherine Zappone and Ann Louise Gilligan’s in Ireland is relevant here.


The world as it is, for each member of the community. The world as it is experienced by each member, compared to the world as it is understood by the system machine. The reflection evoked the work of philosopher Gillian Rose on the othering of the holocaust, the difference she described between Schindler’s List -about the horrors of the camps- that brings the reader/viewer to tears, and Heimat -about the family life of the concentration camp workers- that leaves the viewer with the ‘dry eyes of grief’. Heimat demands the viewer to think about the world, Schindler’s List not always. The work of Gilliam Rose recurs in Pembroke House learning.

What the settlement asks of the community

Jane Addams urged reflection on what people are ready to accept. The mixing of rich and poor in settlements leads to a danger of pushing onto local people things that interest the settlers. A few days before the reading group considered this text, Pembroke House had invited the Young Vic Theatre to try out a difficult play with an audience made up of regular Lunch Clubbers. It is unlikely the lunch clubbers would buy tickets for the Young Vic theatre, situated a short bus ride away, but the event clearly brought a lot of meaning to the captured audience.

What the settlement asks of and brings to the helper

The context brings out the better side of the helper’s nature. It asks that we slow down. It asks that we hear the other’s voice. It demands we stay in the difficult place. In the church context, it is attracting people for whom it is more than just a job, where there is a motivation to go beyond charity. All of this brings us to think about the ‘energy’ in the settlement space (and place), and how that energy leaves its mark on those that pass through.