Settlement House Movement

c. 1880s–

The Settlement House Movement took place during the Progressive Era and was driven by groups of young people who wanted to provide services to poor urban communities. Inspired by the English Social Gospel movement, leaders like Jane Addams and Lillian Wald established Settlement Houses that provided social services and advocated for political reforms. These houses helped develop Social Work, serving immigrant groups and developing legislation related to labor and social reforms.

Jane Addams, 1906, Portrait, NPG

Jane Addams was a leader of the Settlement House Movement. Image Source: National Portrait Gallery.

Essential Facts

  • The Settlement House Movement is also known as the Settlement Movement, the Social Settlement Movement, and the Neighborhood Movement.
  • Settlement Houses were community centers established in urban slums to improve the lives of the poor.
  • The movement was inspired by the English Social Gospel Movement.
  • Early founders included Jane Addams, Lillian Wald, and Vida Scudder.
  • Services offered included education, healthcare, childcare, and cultural activities.
  • Settlement workers advocated for political and social reforms, including labor laws and women’s suffrage.
  • The movement contributed to the creation of social work and federal agencies like the U.S. Children’s Bureau and the U.S. Women’s Bureau.

Significance to American History

The Settlement House Movement is important to American History because it addressed the needs of urban poor communities through social services, establishing the profession of Social Work. Settlement Houses played an important role in the legal and social reforms of the Progressive Era, leading to improved labor conditions and the creation of federal agencies focused on welfare. The Settlement Movement also provided a platform for women to enter public service and contribute to social change.

Brief History

Emergence of the Settlement House Movement

In the late 1800s, young, educated people who wanted to make a positive impact on society came up with a new method to improve the lives of poor people living in large cities. They realized that simply giving money or food to the poor only solved their immediate problems and did not provide lasting solutions. These people wanted to find more effective ways to help the urban poor.

However, they were uncertain about what those long-term solutions should be. To understand the real needs and challenges of the urban poor, these young idealists decided to leave their comfortable, middle-class homes and move into the poor neighborhoods in the cities. 

By living among the poor, they aimed to gain a better understanding of their daily struggles and discover ways to offer more meaningful and long-term help.

This new approach was the beginning of what came to be known as the Settlement House Movement, also referred to as the Social Settlement or Neighborhood Movement. 

Social Gospel Movement

The immediate inspiration for this movement was the English Social Gospel Movement, which addressed social problems by applying Christian ethics and values. In England, this movement had already motivated young men from Oxford University to move into the poor areas of London to work directly with the poor. 

University Settlement Society

Stanton Coit, a young American college graduate, spent several months in London, living in a Settlement House. When he returned to New York in 1884, he played a key role in establishing the Neighborhood Guild on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. 

By 1891, the Neighborhood Guild was transformed into the University Settlement Society, which became a prominent leader in the Settlement House Movement in the United States.

College-Educated Women and the Settlement Movement

Meanwhile, college-educated women were also establishing Settlement Houses. They played an important role in the Settlement House Movement, working to improve the living conditions of the urban poor through education, healthcare, and social services.

  • In 1887, Vida Scudder, a graduate of Smith College and a professor at Wellesley College, founded the College Settlements Association in Boston. 
  • Two years later, in 1889, Jane Addams and Ellen Gates Starr founded Hull House in Chicago, one of the most famous Settlement Houses in the United States. 
  • In 1893, Lillian Wald, a nurse, established the Nurses’ Settlement in New York, which was later renamed the Henry Street Settlement. 

Programs and Services of Settlement Houses

In 1907, Mary Simkhovitch, the founder of Greenwich House in New York City, presented a vision for Settlement Houses that distinguished them from missions, schools, and charities. Simkhovitch described a Settlement House as a community where people lived together, learned from their circumstances and experiences, and took action based on the information they shared. This philosophy accurately represented the mission of many Settlement Houses.

Volunteers living in Settlement Houses would interact with the urban poor to understand their needs and then develop programs to address those needs. The programs offered by Settlement Houses often included:

  • Daytime nurseries for children of working mothers.
  • Supervised playgrounds and kindergartens.
  • English language and American citizenship classes.
  • Lending libraries and reading rooms.
  • Cafeterias providing affordable dinners for working families.
  • Health clinics and visiting nurses.
  • Bathing facilities and housing options such as boardinghouses and cooperative apartments for single working women.
  • Educational and cultural activities, including lectures, discussion groups, clubs, exhibits, concerts, and theatrical productions.
  • Penny-savings banks, where people could deposit small amounts of money.
  • A variety of clubs catering to different ages and interests.

These programs were intended to improve the quality of life for the urban poor, offering both immediate support and long-term opportunities for personal and community development.

Political and Social Reforms by Settlement Workers

Settlement Workers did more than just offer services and activities; they actively engaged in political and social reform movements. They believed that poverty was primarily caused by environmental factors that were beyond the control of the poor. Since poor people lacked the resources to address these conditions, Settlement Houses looked to provide solutions, such as public baths for hygiene and roof gardens for safe play areas for children.

However, Settlement Workers understood they could not change everything without government assistance, so they lobbied city officials to implement reforms. They pushed for better construction of tenements, the creation of public parks and playgrounds, and the maintenance of proper sewage and waste systems in poor neighborhoods. 

Settlement Workers often convinced the government to take over some of the services provided by Settlement Houses, such as health clinics and kindergartens. 

Because of their connections to politicians and the government, many Settlement Workers also became prominent leaders in national political movements. They campaigned for Woman Suffrage, the recognition of labor unions, the reform of sweatshop conditions, and the abolition of child labor.

Settlement Houses, Religion, and Ethnicity

While most Settlement Houses were considered nondenominational, some were affiliated with religious denominations or aimed to serve specific ethnic or racial communities.

  • New York’s Educational Alliance was established to assist Eastern European and Russian Jewish immigrants in adapting to American life. 
  • In Indianapolis, the founders of Christamore House aimed to revitalize the Christian faith through their settlement.
  • Lugenia Burns Hope helped found the Neighborhood Union to support the African American community living near Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia.

Growth and Influence of Settlement Houses

By 1897, the number of Settlement Houses had increased to 74, and by 1910, there were 400. Both men and women participated in Settlement Work, but it was predominantly the first generation of college-educated women who led these efforts. 

At the time, professional opportunities for women were limited, and Settlement Work was a for them to apply their skills and education.

Most Settlement House residents only lived and worked there for a short period before moving on to pursue careers in reform movements, various professions, and government roles. However, some, like Jane Addams and Lillian Wald, dedicated their entire lives to settlement work.

Social Work, Government Agencies, and Legal Reform

Settlement Houses played a significant role in the development of the field of Social Work and the establishment of two federal agencies dedicated to the welfare of women and children: 

  1. U.S. Children’s Bureau (1912).
  2. U.S. Women’s Bureau (1920).

Settlement Houses also played an important role in developing labor and social welfare legislation of the Progressive Era.

Connection to Theodore Roosevelt and the Progressive Party

Settlement Workers supported the Progressive Party during the Election of 1912, and its candidate, Theodore Roosevelt. 


Settlement Houses continue to operate in the United States, helping new immigrant groups adjust to life in America. However, the nature of the work has evolved. Most of the workers are now professional social workers who may not live in the neighborhoods they serve.


  • 1884 — Stanton Coit helps found the Neighborhood Guild in New York.
  • 1887 — Vida Scudder founds the College Settlements Association in Boston.
  • 1889 — Jane Addams and Ellen Gates Starr establish Hull House in Chicago.
  • 1893 — Lillian Wald founds the Nurses’ Settlement, later the Henry Street Settlement, in New York.
  • 1897 — The number of settlement houses grows to 74.
  • 1910 — The number of settlement houses increases to 400.
  • 1912 — U.S. Children’s Bureau is established.
  • 1912 — Settlement workers participate in the Progressive Party’s Presidential campaign.
  • 1920 — U.S. Women’s Bureau is established.



The Settlement House Movement was a social reform initiative that began in the late 19th Century in response to urban poverty and immigration. Settlement Houses, like Hull House, were established in poor urban areas to provide services such as education, healthcare, and employment assistance. The movement intended to bridge the gap between rich and poor, improve living conditions, and promote social reform and community development.


The Settlement House Movement is part of the following in the APUSH curriculum:

  • APUSH Chapter 25 — American Moves to the City


These terms and definitions are relevant to the history of the Settlement House Movement, one of the prominent reform movements of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era.


  • Jane Addams — A social reformer and co-founder of Hull House in Chicago.
  • Stanton Coit — A young American college graduate who helped found the Neighborhood Guild in New York.
  • Lugenia Burns Hope — A social reformer who helped establish the Neighborhood Union to serve African American residents in Atlanta.
  • Vida Scudder — A Smith College graduate and Wellesley College professor who founded the College Settlements Association.
  • Mary Simkhovitch — Founder of Greenwich House and advocate for the Settlement House Movement.
  • Lillian Wald — A nurse and founder of the Henry Street Settlement in New York.


  • Bathing facilities — Public places where people could take baths, especially important in areas without private bathrooms.
  • Boardinghouses — Housing accommodations where tenants rent rooms and may receive meals.
  • Cafeterias — Dining facilities that provided affordable meals for working families.
  • Cooperative Apartments — Housing where residents share ownership and responsibilities.
  • Day Nurseries — Childcare centers for children of working mothers.
  • Health Clinics — Medical facilities offering basic health services to the community.
  • Kindergartens — Early childhood education programs.
  • Lending Libraries — Libraries where books could be borrowed.
  • Penny-Savings banks — Banks allowing people to deposit very small amounts of money.
  • Public Baths — Facilities where people can bathe, especially important in areas where homes lack adequate bathing facilities.
  • Public Parks — Open spaces maintained by the government for public recreation and leisure.
  • Roof Gardens — Green spaces on the rooftops of buildings, providing safe play areas and recreational spaces in urban environments.
  • Settlement Houses — Community centers in urban areas providing various services to improve living conditions.
  • Supervised Playgrounds — Play areas for children with adult supervision.
  • Tenements — Multi-family buildings, often in poor condition, where many urban poor live.


  • Progressive Era — A period of social activism and political reform in the United States from the 1890s to the 1920s.
  • Social Gospel Movement — A movement in the late 19th and early 20th centuries that applied Christian ethics to social issues, emphasizing the need for social justice and community service.

Settlement Houses

  • Christamore House — A settlement house in Indianapolis established with the aim of revitalizing the Christian faith.
  • Educational Alliance — A settlement house in New York founded to help Eastern European and Russian Jewish immigrants adjust to American life.
  • Henry Street Settlement — Originally called the Nurses’ Settlement, it was founded by Lillian Wald in New York to provide social services and healthcare.
  • Hull House — A famous Settlement House founded by Jane Addams and Ellen Gates Starr in Chicago.
  • Neighborhood Union — A Settlement founded by Lugenia Burns Hope to support African American residents near Morehouse College.


  • Ethnic Groups — Groups of people who share a common cultural, linguistic, or ancestral heritage.
  • Guild — An association or organization of people with similar interests or professions.
  • Idealists — People who are motivated by high ideals or noble principles, often aiming to bring about positive change.
  • Labor Unions — Organizations of workers formed to protect and advance their rights and interests.
  • Middle Class — A social group that is neither rich nor poor, typically having a moderate income and comfortable living standards.
  • Visiting Nurses — Nurses who provide healthcare services to people in their homes.


  • College Settlements Association — An organization founded by Vida Scudder in Boston to support Settlement Houses.
  • Morehouse College — A historically black college in Atlanta, Georgia.
  • Progressive Party — A political party that emerged in the early 20th century advocating for reforms such as labor rights, social welfare, and government regulation.
  • University Settlement Society — An organization that emerged from the Neighborhood Guild, becoming a significant leader in the settlement-house movement in the United States.
  • U.S. Children’s Bureau — A federal agency established in 1912 to improve the welfare of children.
  • U.S. Women’s Bureau — A federal agency established in 1920 to address issues related to women’s welfare.
  • Wellesley College — A prestigious women’s college in Massachusetts where Vida Scudder was a professor.


  • Charity — The act of giving help, usually money or food, to those in need.
  • Child Labor — The employment of children in work that is harmful to their health or development, often in dangerous or exploitative conditions.
  • Christian Ethics — Moral principles derived from Christian teachings.
  • Citizenship Classes — Educational programs that taught immigrants about American government and culture, helping them become citizens.
  • Denominational — Affiliated with a specific religious denomination.
  • Environmental Conditions — Factors in the surrounding environment, such as housing quality and sanitation, that affect people’s lives and well-being.
  • Inspiration — The process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something, especially something creative or beneficial.
  • Neighborhood Movement — Another term for the Settlement House Movement, focusing on improving community welfare.
  • Nondenominational — Not affiliated with any specific religious denomination.
  • Political Reform Movements — Organized efforts to change government policies or laws to improve social conditions.
  • Professions — Occupations requiring specialized education and training.
  • Sanitary Standards — Guidelines to maintain cleanliness and hygiene to prevent disease and promote health.
  • Settlement Work — Efforts to provide social services and improve living conditions in urban poor areas through settlement houses.
  • Social Work — A professional field focused on helping individuals, families, and communities improve their well-being.
  • Sweatshop Reform — Efforts to improve the working conditions in factories where workers, often underpaid and overworked, labor in poor conditions.
  • Woman Suffrage — The right for women to vote and participate in political processes.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations, including APA Style, Chicago Style, and MLA Style.

  • Article Title Settlement House Movement
  • Date c. 1880s–
  • Author
  • Keywords Settlement House Movement, Who was involved in the Settlement House Movement, What was the Settlement House Movement, When did the Settlement House Movement start, Where was the Settlement House Movement, Why was the Settlement House Movement needed, How did the Settlement House Movement contribute to social and labor reforms
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date July 22, 2024
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update July 2, 2024