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For the organizations for kibbutzim and moshavim, see Settlement movement (Israel)
Toynbee Hall settlement house, founded 1884, pictured here in 1902.

The settlement movement was a progressive reformist social movement, peaking around the 1920s in England and the US, with a goal of getting the rich and poor in society to live more closely together in an interdependent community. Its main object was the establishment of "settlement houses" in poor urban areas, in which volunteer middle-class "settlement workers" would live, hoping to share knowledge and culture with, and alleviate the poverty of, their low-income neighbors.[1] In the US, by 1913 there were 413 settlements in 32 states.[2]



The settlement movement started in London in the mid 19th century. These houses often offered food, shelter, and basic, as well as higher education, provided by virtue of charity on part of wealthy donors, the residents of the city, and (for education) scholars who volunteered their time.

Victorian England, increasingly concerned with poverty, gave rise to the movement whereby those connected to universities settled students in slum areas to live and work alongside local people. Through their efforts settlement houses were established for education, savings, sports, and arts. Such institutions were often praised by religious representatives concerned with the lives of the poor, and criticized as normative or moralistic by radical social movements.

The British Association of Settlements and Social Action Centres (bassac) is a network of such organizations in the United Kingdom. Birmingham University has produced a brief history of the settlement movement in the UK. Examples of the earliest settlements dating back to 1884 are Aston-Mansfield, Toynbee Hall, and Oxford House in Bethnal Green. There is also a global network, the International Federation of Settlements.

The movement gave rise to many social policy initiatives and innovative ways of working to improve the conditions of the most excluded members of society. The Poor Man's Lawyer service came about because a barrister volunteered his time and encouraged his friends to do the same. In general, the settlement movement, and settlement houses in particular, "have been a foundation for social work practice in this country."[3]

In the United States, the two largest and most influential settlement houses were Chicago's Hull House (founded by Jane Addams and Ellen Gates Starr in 1889) and the Henry Street Settlement in New York (founded by Lillian Wald in 1893). Lenox Hill Neighborhood House, founded in 1894, and University Settlement House, the oldest in the United States, were, like Hull House and the Henry Street Settlement, important sites for Progressive Era reform. United Neighborhood Houses of New York is the federation of 35 settlement houses in New York City. These and other settlement houses inspired the establishment of settlement schools to serve isolated rural communities in Appalachia. The settlement house concept was continued by Dorothy Day's Catholic Worker hospitality houses in the 1930s.

In contemporary USA the term is also used for independent living programs targeted towards young people who "age out" of the foster care system. The US Congress passed legislation in 1999 living programs.[4]

The movement also spread to late Tsarist Russia, as Stanislav Shatsky and Alexander Zelenko set up a network of educational and social institutions in northern Moscow in 1905, naming it "Setlement" (the transliterated English word in Russian). This network of institutions was closed down by the Tsarist authorities in 1908.

Today, settlements are still community-focused organizations, providing a range of services including early education, youth prevention and intervention, senior programs, and specialized programs for young people who "aged out" of the foster care system. Since they are staffed by professional employees and students, they no longer require that employees live alongside those they serve.

Active settlement houses

Historical settlement houses

Further reading


  1. ^ Wade, Louise Carrol (2004). "Settlement Houses". Encyclopedia of Chicago. Chicago Historical Society. Retrieved 2009-06-22. 
  2. ^ Husock, H. (1993). Bringing back the settlement house. Public Welfare, 51(4).
  3. ^ Reyes,J.M.(2008).Common space, safe place: Lived experiences of former settlement house participants from the West Town and Humboldt Park neighborhoods of ChicagoDissertation Abstract International, 69(5), 1682A. (UMI No. AAI3314871) Retrieved July 13, 2009, from Dissertations and Theses Database.
  4. ^ [1], accessed April 26, 2009

External links



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