Between the Civil War and World War I, American cities underwent dramatic changes: they changed in shape, they changed in size, they changed in terms of who was there, and how those individuals were distributed through the city. The driving force behind these urban morphological changes was industrialization – and the emergence of industrial slums on the edges of expanding business districts. These industrial slums were widely believed to breed disease, crime, intemperance, and immorality – external costs that were being born by the entire society. Yet American society and American philanthropic institutions were not prepared to deal with the by-products of the new industrial-capitalist economy (namely, extensive poverty and increased social segregation) or the rise of big cities. As a result, progressive social reformers developed new methods of helping poor, largely immigrant communities adjust to a rapidly changing, increasingly complex urban society.
One such effort was the settlement movement. Begun in London’s East End in 1884, the movement emphasized residence and the creation of community. The movement’s leaders worked to facilitate communication across class lines, provide cultural luxuries (like university level classes and art exhibits) to the poor, create functioning neighborhoods in the midst of blight, and spur others – primarily, idealistic, upper-class, college-educated men – to participate in social reform. The English settlement movement (and the American movement, which began in 1886) represented a new, alternative approach to helping the poor; mid-nineteenth century social reformers focused on moralism, and viewed poverty as the product of vice and moral failure. Settlement workers viewed poverty largely as an environmental problem that they could help solve through settlement-sponsored activities and amenities.
This research focuses on two settlement houses in Boston, Massachusetts in the 1890s and examines how settlement workers impacted the neighborhoods of the South Cove and the South End. The founders (and ultimately, workers) of the settlements had very different ideas on how best to help their communities, yet both made significant strides toward providing basic amenities to their neighbors in the form of libraries, baths, playgrounds, health clinics, daycare, and school classes, amenities that these neighborhoods otherwise would have been without.