Social Reform and Philanthropic Order

“Social Reform and Philanthropic Order in Cleveland 1896-1920”

Superb article written by Dr. John Grabowski for Ohio’s Western Reserve: a regional reader By Harry Forrest Lupold

Comparison of Hiram House, Goodrich Settlement and Alta House Settlements.

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The most important and effective manifestation of the social gospel movement in the United States and in Cleveland was the social settlement house. The settlement served as the primary instrument for the advocacy of social reform measures during the Progressive Era. Settlements have been aptly characterized as “spearheads for reform:’ although settlement work did not involve benevolence or charity, per se. Rather than attempting to ameliorate social problems by the provision of material aid, the settlements sought to cure these problems by eliminating their causes. The basic premise of the settlement movement was the actual residence of well-educated settlement workers within depressed areas of the city. By sharing the living conditions of the urban poor, the workers would learn the roots of urban problems. Using their own knowledge and skills, these individuals hoped to eradicate the problems at their sources and to educate the neighborhood residents so that they might overcome their condition. The desire to create an urban village lay at the heart of many settlement efforts. Those involved in the settlement movement believed that urban neighborhoods could overcome their problems if they established the network of mutual aid and sharing considered to typify small-town life.

The movement which began in England quickly spread to the United States. By 1900 there were nearly one hundred settlement houses in the nation, five of which were located in Cleveland. Four of these early enterprises, Hiram House, Goodrich House, Alta House, and the Council Educational Alliance, have left behind them substantial information concerning their origins, supporters, personnel, and policies. This information makes possible a survey of their divergent, yet similar characteristics.

Hiram House, established in July 1896, is generally considered to have been the first true social settlement in Cleveland. The idea for the settlement originated in a YMCA study class at Hiram College in Hiram, Ohio. Affiliated with the Disciples of Christ Church, the college attracted students with both religious and academic interests. The class chose to study the social settlement movement and, encouraged by lectures from luminaries such as Graham Taylor, founder of the Chicago Commons Settlement, decided to examine the possibility of starting a settlement house in Cleveland, some fifty miles to the north. A visit to the city convinced the students, most of whom were from small towns, that such work would be needed : “We went to Whiskey Isle; there we found saloons, prostitution, open sewers, and all in all everything was not very good. We went back to Hiram College with the report that Cleveland needed a settlement very bad.”


Seven members of that class began actual settlement work following graduation in June 1896. They took up residence in a rented house in the Irish quarter near Whiskey Island on the City’s West Side. They began kindergarten classes and started planning for educational classes directed toward all age levels in the neighborhood. Pamphlets issued by the students while at this location emphasized the Christian, social gospel basis of the work and clearly outlined their idealistic goals. The hope of Hiram House, they said, “is to become part of the life of its own ward becoming so by personal helpfulness. In helping the masses, its wish is to help remove the cause of distress, further than this we do not commit ourselves to any social program regarding the vexed industrial and economic problems of the day.” Other early publications solicited support from the general public for the work in the name of Christ.


Protestant Christianity could not long prosper in an Irish Catholic neighborhood. By the autumn of 1896 pressure from local priests forced the settlement to relocate. It moved to the Haymarket district on the East Side. This was the center of the city’s Jewish community, and despite some early protests by the residents of the area the settlement managed to take root. Its initial locations in this area, a series of rented houses along Orange Avenue, provided Hiram House with enough space to continue and expand its programs. The workers again began a kindergarten to which they added a day nursery, high school classes for older youths, debating clubs, excursions to parks, and a summer camp. Most of these programs were directed toward educating the people of the neighborhood and providing them with the intellectual means to rise above their environment. Other programs, such as camping and excursions, were attempts to physically remove people, especially children, from the crowded conditions and debilitating atmosphere of the inner city.


The staff carried on its work without substantive support from any single institution. Hiram College provided its good wishes and a continuous flow of student volunteers, but no financial support. Funds came primarily from collections taken up in rural churches by one of the original student volunteers, George Bellamy. Initially financial solicitor for the settlement, Bellamy assumed control of all work in 1897 and retained it until his retirement in 1946.


Bellamy came from a religious family of moderate means. He was born in Cascade, Michigan, in 1872, descended on his mother’s side from colonists who had arrived in 1620. Several relatives were active in the Disciples of Christ Church, and his older brother, William, a Hiram graduate, served as a minister for that denomination. Bellamy followed his brother into the ministerial course at Hiram, earning all of his college expenses through summer jobs and part-time employment during the school year. His interest in social settlement work was sparked in 1895 by a chance meeting with Graham Taylor while at a Chautauqua lecture. Years later he would credit his conversion to the social gospel to a vision he had had in church while still a youth.

Bellamy’s convictions were tested to the limit during his first several years at the settlement. He worked without pay, having given his savings to the settlement. He was often rebuffed when he attempted to solicit funds from the major churches in Cleveland because the enterprise he represented was viewed as socialistic. One church official told Bellamy, “You ought to be ostracized from [for) living among such people. God never intended to save such people. You should shove them off in a comer and let them be there and rot.” Fund-raising was successful only among small Disciples congregations in the rural towns surrounding the city. They contributed money as well as flowers for distribution in the bleak city neighborhood.

Despite the youthful dedication and idealism committed to the settlement, Hiram House prospered only after Bellamy found a substantial secular source of funds. A meeting in 1898 with a prominent jurist and member of the Disciples of Christ Church, Henry White, paved the way for this change. White contributed money, but more importantly, he formed an executive committee to oversee the affairs of Hiram House. By 1900 the committee had evolved into a board of trustees that consisted primarily of prominent businessmen, most of whom were important enough to be listed in the city’s Blue Book. The board of trustees served to legitimize Hiram House as an institution worthy of support. Within two years it solicited sufficient funds, including substantial donations from John D. Rockefeller and Samuel Mather, to build and equip a four-story structure for the settlement at East Twenty-seventh Street and Orange Avenue. The guarantee of support allowed Hiram House’s budget to grow from $2,210.31 in 1898 to $6,860.00 in 1900, to $12,745.60 in 1905, and to $20,614.10 in 1910. More importantly, Samuel Mather, perhaps the city’s richest citizen, became a member of the board during this period and took an unflagging interest in the work of the settlement.

Having such wherewithal, Bellamy was able to expand programs and activities which he believed would eliminate the problems plaguing his neighborhood. A new publication, Hiram House Life, initially offered a forum for studies of local problems. A playground constructed at the rear of the settlement building provided much-needed open space for the neighborhood. The ample structure had rooms which were used by clubs and classes as well as by other organizations, such as the Visiting Nurse Association and a branch of the Cleveland Public Library. New staff, including a playground director, a director of boys’ work, and a neighborhood visitor, Similarly extended the settlement’s work and its utility. By World War I, Hiram House provided play areas for children, meeting rooms for clubs (mainly for children), weekly entertainments, a gymnasium, and vocational education and homemaking classes within its facilities, as well as headquarters for nurses and workers who visited the sick and needy in its surrounding neighborhood.

The ethnic background of Hiram House’s clientele was changing, too, during this time. As the Jewish immigrant population prospered and moved out of the Haymarket district, Italian immigrants began moving in, beginning about 1905. They, in tum, were eventually replaced by southern blacks, who began moving to Cleveland in large numbers during the First World War.

Relieved by the successful efforts of his board of trustees from the constant task of soliciting funds, Bellamy became involved in various nonsettlement activities directed toward social reform. For example, he made some effort to rid the neighborhood of Harry Bernstein, its corrupt ward boss. He also became an active member of the Cleveland Council of Sociology, an organization comprised of clerics, charity workers, and others, which was devoted to the discussion of the social issues of the day. He served on two committees of the chamber of commerce, both of which were dedicated to the elimination of particular social ills: the chamber’s Bath House Committee of 1901 studied the lack of bathing facilities in the inner city and successfully implemented a program for the construction of bathhouses; and its Committee on the Housing Problem of 1903-4 surveyed housing condition s in the city and made recommendations for a revision of the city’s housing code.

As late as 1905, Bellamy also remained active in the Disciples of Christ Church. He used a speech at a church convention that year to set forth his strong social gospel idealism and to decry the criticism of reform-minded clerics by the church establishment: “The representatives of the most advanced religious thought, no matter how God-fearing or how conscientious, have by no means passed the period of church discipline or rebuke. This lack of freedom in religious thought and study has hindered a wholesome, righteous growth of religious understanding.

The growth of Hiram House had consequences for both Bellamy’s social thought and the institution itself. As it grew, Hiram House drifted away from the concept of “personal helpfulness.” Certainly neighborhood residents could meet and work with staff members, but these workers were much less neighbors in themselves. They were professional employees who answered to the demands of an institutional bureaucracy. As early as 1902, Hiram House had eleven different departments directed largely by paid staff rather than by student volunteers. These employees reported to George Bellamy. By 1910 Bellamy was an administrator of an institution removed, for the most part, from close contact with its clientele. As an administrator responsible to a board of trustees, he had to ensure that his operation ran smoothly and that its backers were pleased with both its progress and programs. To these ends he devised settlement programs which were popular, and he personally abstained from causes or issues which might irritate his supporters. Popular programs drew large numbers of people to the settlement and thus seemed to prove its worth to its patrons. Therefore, by World War I, Hiram House had come to concentrate on recreational programs which would appeal to the children in the neighborhood. It tended to avoid programs which were educational or which were directed at adult immigrants, as the former would be unpopular and the latter dealt with a clientele which was difficult to attract in large numbers.

While Hiram House would come to be characterized as one of the city’s most conservative settlement houses, Goodrich House, the second settlement in the city, was perhaps its most liberal. This social settlement evolved from a series of boys’ clubs and classes held in Cleveland’s First Presbyterian (Old Stone) Church in the mid-1890s. Located on Public Square, the church had one of the city’s oldest and most prestigious congregations. The classes and clubs, which attracted children from the congested, run- down neighborhood to the north of the church, were directed by Elizabeth and Edward W. Haines, Elizabeth being the daughter of the church’s pastor, Dr. Hiram C. Haydn.

As the work seemed to fill a major need in the neighborhood, the church began planning its expansion. Central to this planning was Flora Stone Mather, a member of the church, the wife of Samuel Mather, and the daughter of Amasa Stone, railroad builder and industrialist and one of the city’s most influential men in the immediate post-Civil War period. Wealthy in her own right, Flora Stone’s marriage to Samuel Mather allowed her to become the benefactor of a variety of charitable and educational agencies. Goodrich, however, was her most important charitable interest. Upon her death in 1909, her husband noted, “There was nothing she ever did in which she was more interested than Goodrich House.

Originally, Flora Mather proposed that she would construct a parish house in which the church could undertake neighborhood work. However, the lack of land immediately adjacent to the church and a feeling that the scope of such work might soon overwhelm the church led to a reconsideration. Since 1893, Mather had carried on a correspondence with Professor Henry E. Bourne of Western Reserve University in which they discussed social settlement work. Bourne apparently used this correspondence to assist her in understanding settlement work. She had probably first learned of settlement work through a friend, Lucy B. Buell, a former resident of the College Settlement in New York. The physical problems of constructing a parish house and her correspondence with Bourne led Mather to propose the construction of a fully equipped settlement in the general neighborhood of the church. When Goodrich House finally began work in May 1897, it operated out of a new building constructed expressly for it at St. Clair and East Sixth Street. Flora Mather had paid for the structure and for a number of years thereafter underwrote the cost of the settlement’s operations.

The programs in the new building were supervised by Starr Cadwallader. Cadwallader, a graduate of Union Theological Seminary in Utica, New York, had worked briefly at Union Settlement before coming to Cleveland. During his five-year tenure at Goodrich House, he directed the agency in many of the standard areas of settlement work. The structure housed a bowling alley, baths, laundry, library, and meeting rooms which were made available to neighborhood residents and to a variety of clubs and social groups. Cadwallader and his staff also attempted to improve neighborhood conditions by lobbying for cleaner streets and encouraging area residents to plant home gardens.

However, quite unlike Hiram House, Goodrich House became known as a public forum for the discussion of social reform issues; records indicate, for example, that a young socialist club met at the facilities. Some of the meetings held at Goodrich House led to the creation of such reform-oriented groups as the Consumers’ League of Ohio, and the Legal Aid Society, as well as the creation of a separate, rural boys’ farm for housing juvenile offenders. Among the settlement residents who took part in such discussions were Frederick C. Howe and Newton D. Baker, both of whom left the settlement for positions in Tom L. Johnson’s mayoral administration.

Goodrich had a board of directors as soon as it had a building. Composed largely of people affiliated with the First Presbyterian Church and their friends, this body did little, if anything, to challenge the somewhat radical events at the settlement. Dr. Haydn presided over the first board, which included Flora and Samuel Mather, Elizabeth and Edward Haines, Professor Bourne, and Lucy Buell. By 1905, Cadwallader, Howe, and Baker, all of whom had left the employ of the settlement, had joined the board. James R. Garfield, son of President Garfield and law partner of Howe, also served on the board during the early years of the settlement.

The tightly knit nature of this board and its ties to the church rather than to business, were probably two factors which allowed Goodrich to pursue a more radical course than Hiram House. That the settlement existed because of Flora Mather’s largess is, however, a more important factor. Whereas Bellamy had a number of donors to please, Cadwallader had only Mrs. Mather and his rather small board to consider when directing the settlement. Then, too, Hiram House was Bellamy’s creation ; its failure would be his failure. Cadwallader could, and did, walk away from Goodrich whenever he pleased. In his case, the social goals he wished to achieve took precedence over loyalty to any particular institution.

Goodrich was an institution from the first day it opened its doors. Its funding, operations, and physical structure grew simultaneously. As such it proved to be both sound and remarkably flexible. When the population of its neighborhood began to decline around 1908, it was easily able to move its operations to a new location at East Thirty-first Street and St. Clair, some twenty-four blocks to the east. Mather had expressly provided for such a contingency when she deeded the settlement to its board:

“I desire the house to be used for a Christian Social Settlement so long as, in the judgement of the trustees, that is a useful and needful work in the neighborhood; but if ever in their judgment there was a time when to continue such work, there would be a waste of energy the trustees may dispose of the property. If it should be deemed wise by the trustees to discontinue the work there I wish them to use the funds, including the proceeds of any sale of the house, to carry on the work in some other downtown locality.”

Though the liberal nature of Goodrich could not be written into its articles of incorporation, it nevertheless seemed to be an integral part of the settlement. Cadwallader’s work seems to have set the liberal tone for the settlement. There after it would tend to attract new headworkers of a similar mien. Five headwork ers followed in rather quick succession when Cadwallader left Goodrich in 1904. The rapid turnover ended in 1917 when Alice Gannett, formerly of Henry Street Settlement in New York, took the position and held it until 1947. Gannett continued to strengthen Goodrich’s liberal reputation. During her career she served as president of the Ohio Consumers’ League and the National Federation of Settlements, and was active in the League for Human Rights.

Alta House, which began settlement work in Cleveland’s Little Italy district in 1900, provided yet another example of the diversity of the settlement and reform impulse in Cleveland. Sequestered in a compact ethnic neighborhood, it exhibited none of the neighborhood activism which characterized the very early years of Hiram House nor the liberal leanings characteristic of Goodrich and its staff. Nor was Alta the creation of youthful idealism or a church. Alta House reflected the expressed needs of the neighborhood as acted upon by social gospel idealism. Mothers in the Little Italy district attempted to establish a day nursery in the mid-1890s. Many of them worked in the vineyards in the east of the city and needed day care for their children. They appealed to the Cleveland Day Nursery Association for help. Louise (Mrs. Marius E.) Rawson of the association directed its efforts to assist the Italian mothers. Rawson, a New England-born school teacher, began the nursery in a small cottage, which the work soon outgrew. Relocated in a larger structure, the nursery expanded to Include boys’ clubs, mothers’ clubs, and cooking classes, and again strained the capacity of its quarters. At this point, Rawson began to search tor funding to provide a permanent, larger building for the work. She approached John D. Rockefeller for that aid.


Rockefeller was a natural choice. He was wealthy and a devoutly religious man. As such, he made his money available to a number of worthy causes in and outside of Cleveland-whether his philanthropy signified a social gospel-like desire to help his fellow men or followed the tradition of benevolence by the wealthy cannot be stated with any certainty. Most important in Rawson’s plans was the fact that Rockefeller, when in Cleveland, daily traveled through the Italian district on his way to and from his estate in Forest Hills.


Rockefeller proved amenable to assisting the undertaking. In 1898 he agreed to build a structure for the work being carried on by Rawson. During the discussion and construction phases, the work projected for the new building grew well beyond the confines of a nursery and evolved into a settlement. Rockefeller’s hopes for the settlement were in the best tradition of the social gospel movement. He expressed them in a letter he sent to the dedication ceremony for the building in 1900: “May the spirit of the Christ Child dwell Within this house, built primarily for the children, and may that same spirit of love go out with each one who passes through its doors and be broadly disseminated In the surrounding homes.”


While Rockefeller’s letter spelled out the Christian foundations of the endeavor, a second letter from his daughter, Alta Rockefeller Prentice (after whom the settlement was named), explicitly stated its purpose: 

“The work for which it stands, namely that of helping to educate your children mentally, morally, and physically, and through them aiding in every effort to elevate and purify home life and the life of the neighborhood is very dear to me.”


Katherine E. Smith, formerly of the Rivington Street Settlement in New York, came to Cleveland to head the work at Alta House. Work in the new structure focused primarily on child-oriented activities. It included a day nursery, a kindergarten, boys’ clubs, girls’ classes in sewing, millinery, and cooking, a school for eighteen crippled children, and a gymnasium. In addition, a medical dispensary, a resident visiting nurse, public baths, a public laundry, and a playground were provided.

Smith answered to a board of trustees which included J. G. W. Cowles, a real estate dealer who lived in the Heights area just above the settlement; Paul L. Feiss, one of the officers of the Joseph and Feiss clothing company; John D. Rockefeller, Jr.; Alta Rockefeller Prentice; Professor Matoon M. Curtis of neighboring Western Reserve University; Belle Sherwin, daughter of a prominent family and a leading figure in various reform movements; Maude O. (Mrs. William) Truesdale, the wife of an assistant professor at Western Reserve University; and Louise Rawson. The board certainly did not represent the religious element, nor, excepting the Rockefeller contingent, did it lean particularly on the wealthiest families of the city. The presence of Rawson and Truesdale, neither of whom represented money or social status, was unusual, but was an acknowledgment of the Day Nursery Association’s role in the creation of Alta House, as well as of Truesdale’s strong educational programming.

Alta House had no need to combat social evils such as poor housing, overcrowding, or open sewers. The housing stock of the neighborhood was largely new, having been erected by the Italian immigrants during the last decades of the nineteenth century. It was almost a rural area, five miles from the center of the city. Its only industries were a street car carbarn and the monument works of Joseph Carabelli. The settlement’s task, therefore, naturally centered on the social, academic, civic, and sanitation education of the immigrants. Smith may have chafed at these apparently pedestrian duties. Her first annual report, for example, indicated an interest in starting a social reform club for young boys. The record does not indicate if she accomplished this. However, classes in English, sewing, cooking, and hygiene, as well as physical education programs, were still strong, if indirect, means of social reform, for they seemed to guarantee the training of useful, healthy future citizens who would be assets to the community.

The Rockefeller family continued to support Alta House until 1921, at which time John D. Rockefeller, Jr., asked to be relieved of its annual costs. Because of the long-term interest of the Rockefellers and the insular nature of the Little Italy neighborhood, Alta House was quite dissimilar from either Hiram House or Goodrich House. Yet it still shared the Christian seed of these organizations as well as their dedication to social reform in one guise or another.


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