A Short History of University Settlement
The settlement movement was a social movement beginning in the 1880s with the goal of helping poor people. It started in London, England, and its main object was the establishment of “settlement houses” in poor urban areas. These houses offered food, shelter, and education.
The first settlement house in the United States was University Settlement Society of New York, founded in 1886 by Stanton Coit. It is located at 184 Eldridge Street on New York’s Lower East Side. It provides many services for the mostly immigrant population of the neighborhood.
In 1886, on the Lower East Side, more than 3,000 people lived in a single square block. The tenement buildings of the area normally had four apartments on each floor; a typical apartment had one small room that might house a family of five or more.
Immigrants not only lived in bad conditions, but worked in bad conditions as well. Most of them worked in the garment industry. Working for very low wages in crowded, uncomfortable, dangerous sweatshops, they produced half of the clothing sold in the United States.
When it first began, University Settlement served as a home for immigrants who arrived in the United States. It provided courses for new immigrants on everything from politics to the English language to basketball. The University Settlement House also included a library, kindergarten, and bath house.
During his presidency, Franklin D. Roosevelt described University Settlement as “a landmark in the social history of the nation.” His wife, Eleanor Roosevelt, volunteered at University Settlement when she was a young woman. She began her work as a teacher of dance and calisthenics, a way to use physical exercise and movement to improve health after long hours of work in a confined space.
University Settlement continues to provide support services to residents of the Lower East Side, and now offers programs in 21 locations across Manhattan and Brooklyn. Programs serve New Yorkers of all ages and include child care, pre-school, housing assistance, mental health services, college and career preparation, crisis intervention, activities for seniors, arts events, English classes, after-school programs, and summer camps.
To visit the official University Settlement website, click here.