Written by Dr. John J. Grabowski
SETTLEMENT HOUSES. Cleveland, along with Chicago, Boston, and New York, was one of the centers of the U.S. settlement-house movement. Local settlement work began in the late 1890s, and within a decade a half-dozen settlements operated in Cleveland neighborhoods. Several of the city’s settlement houses achieved national recognition; for example, KARAMU HOUSE, one of the centers of African American theater in the U.S., and the CLEVELAND MUSIC SCHOOL SETTLEMENT, with its model music training programs. The settlement movement began in England in 1884 when a group of Oxford Univ. students established Toynbee Hall, a residence in a London slum. Sharing knowledge and skills with area residents, they strove to understand and solve urban problems. The urban village concept was foremost, attempting to replicate in city neighborhoods the network of mutual aid common to a small village. New York City’s Neighborhood Guild (1885) and Jane Addams’ Hull House (Chicago, 1888) marked the importation of settlement houses to the U.S.; over 100 existed in America by 1900. The settlement movement grew in response to the overcrowding, impoverishment, corruption, and disease caused by rapid industrialization and urbanization. One of the most enduring reform movements, it uniquely attempted to change problem neighborhoods from within.
Hiram House float in the 1919 Community Fund Parade. WRHS.
Social settlements addressed Progressive Era concerns: education (with adult classes, kindergartens, and vocational training); citizenship; recreation; health (with visiting-nurse networks and health inspections); labor, unions, and working standards; and living conditions (establishing housing codes). Many programs became standard to education and government. Early settlement house support came through an independent board of directors or a particular religious or educational affiliation. While supporters and settlement workers were generally native-born, Protestant and middle- or upper-middle-class, clients in the early years were mostly Catholic or Jewish working-class immigrants. This difference between the settlement worker and neighborhood resident clearly distinguished the American settlement movement.
The first settlement house established in Cleveland was HIRAM HOUSE (1896). By World War I, many other settlements served Cleveland neighborhoods. While Hiram House served JEWS & JUDAISM (later ITALIANS and thenAFRICAN AMERICANS) along lower Woodland Ave., ALTA HOUSE (1900) served the Italians of LITTLE ITALY. EAST END NEIGHBORHOOD HOUSE (1907) worked with HUNGARIANS and SLOVAKS in the BUCKEYE-WOODLAND-Woodhill district, and Goodrich House (1897, see GOODRICH-GANNETT NEIGHBORHOOD CENTER) served South Slavic groups residing along St. Clair Ave. By the 1920s, other local settlements included the WEST SIDE COMMUNITY HOUSE (1922), MERRICK HOUSE SOCIAL SETTLEMENT(1919), the RAINEY INSTITUTE (1904), UNIVERSITY SETTLEMENT (1922), the Playhouse Settlement (1915, later Karamu House), the Council Educational Alliance (1899, forerunner of the JEWISH COMMUNITY CENTER), the FRIENDLY INN SOCIAL SETTLEMENT (1897), and the Cleveland Music School Settlement (1912). The 1920s and 1930s saw tremendous nationwide changes in settlement operation, especially the hiring of trained social workers and the emphasis on a more scientific methodology and program. National and local organizations, such as the National Federation of Settlements (est. 1911), the Cleveland Settlement Union, and, later, the GREATER CLEVELAND NEIGHBORHOOD CENTERS ASSN., fostered such change.
Following World War I, the increased centralization of urban social work and PHILANTHROPY affected settlement houses. While they had previously enjoyed autonomy in fundraising and allocation, many settlements came to depend on centralized welfare campaigns by 1930. Funding agencies frequently dictated areas in which a settlement could spend monies received from general solicitations, often hampering program development. In Cleveland, the Federation for Charity and Philanthropy, and later the Welfare Federation (predecessors of UNITED WAY SERVICES), solicited and allocated charitable funds. Despite the loss of autonomy, the curtailment of immigration, and the general decline of urban populations, many settlement houses established during the Progressive Era endured in 1993, such as Alta House, Goodrich-Gannett, Karamu, and the Cleveland Music School Settlement. A new neighborhood emphasis by various city, state, and federal funding programs during the 1970s renewed vitality in some institutions.
John J. Grabowski
Western Reserve Historical Society
Bond, Robert L. Focus on Neighborhoods: A History of Responses by Cleveland’s Settlement Houses and Neighborhood Centers to Changing Human Needs (1990).
See also specific institutions and reformers.