The Settlement House Movement
The settlement movement began in Britain in 1884 when middle-class London reformers established Toynbee Hall in East London to provide social services and education to poor workers and their families. The settlements, or neighborhood houses, grew into community gathering spaces where people could come together, connect to their neighbors and access needed resources. The houses offered multiple services including childcare, classes, training, housing, art and theater, meals, and employment support. More important than what was offered, was how services were offered. Services were not offered as charity, but as a response to community needs and in the spirit of partnership. We all do better when we all do better.
Pillsbury United Communities has seen many changes in the past century, both in the communities it serves and barriers faced by those living in poverty. Despite the inevitable change that time brings, we maintain that communities do better when they are involved in creating solutions that work for them; that change happens when people are engaged and are able to see the choices available to them. Our history has taught us that this change is most likely when there is a connection to community and a sense of belonging.
The Settlement House Movement in England
During the Industrial Revolution in 19th century England, significant improvements in technology, transportation, and communication caused a massive population movement from rural to urban areas and profound changes for workers. City slums emerged. Families lived in horribly crowded, unsanitary housing. Healthcare was nonexistent; disease was rampant. There were few schools. Children were sent to work in factories. It was in this environment that Reverend Samuel and Henrietta Barnett planted the seeds of the Settlement House Movement.
Reverend Barnett believed the causes of poverty were largely moral, stemming from the division of classes rather than flaws intrinsic to poor people—a radical idea at the time, and one that would become the basis of the Settlement House Movement.
At Oxford, Barnett met Arnold Toynbee, an economic historian who shared many of his ideas about social conditions: “We—the middle classes I mean, not merely the very rich—we have neglected you; instead of justice we have offered you charity, and instead of sympathy we have offered you hard and unreal advice; but I think we are changing.”
After Toynbee’s death in 1883, Barnett advocated for the creation of Toynbee Hall where Barnett could work in community to fully implement the marriage of social justice and the practice of "settling" among the poor.
Toynbee Hall was the place where what we now call the Settlement House Movement took root. At Toynbee Hall, university student residents lived onsite to learn as much about the neighborhood as they could. They provided classes, social gatherings, summer camps, arts programs, clean-milk stations, baby clinics, nursery schools, and other innovative programs. They helped to organize their neighbors into community groups that leveraged their union to wield more power than they could alone. The student residents treated the neighborhood residents as equals. They worked under the belief that social and economic conditions, rather than personal weakness, were the root causes of poverty.
The Settlement House Movement in America
By 1910, more than 400 settlements were established in the United States, mostly in large cities such as New York, Boston and Chicago--of which Jane Addams Hull House may be the most famous.
At the heart of the movement was a belief that healthier communities could be built by first establishing healthy relationships with its members, not simply dispensing charity. Rather than asking residents “What can we do for you?” they asked, “What can we do together?”
In late 19th century Minneapolis, new immigrants and factory workers were living in crowded slums. Poor sanitation caused illness and death, and the disparity between rich and poor continued to widen. Prostitution, gambling, alcoholism and crime filled neighborhoods.
In 1879, Plymouth Congregational Church started the Plymouth Mission in an effort to address these conditions. In 1897, Katherine Plant reorganized the Plymouth Mission into Bethel Settlement. Bethel offered a free kindergarten, industrial training, and sewing classes. A day nursery allowed mothers to go to work. By the turn of the century, they needed more space.
Pillsbury Family Involvement
In 1905, John and Charles Pillsbury, brothers who owned successful flour mills, gave Bethel $40,000 towards the construction of a new facility. The building was located near the intersection of what is now Cedar and Riverside Avenues, completed in 1906, and rechristened Pillsbury House to honor John and Charles parents. It then added a health clinic, women's employment office, home economics and arts classes, and boys' and girls' clubs. In 1920, Pillsbury House purchased land in Waconia, Minnesota, and established Camp Manakiki, a place where children and their mothers could go to escape the city.
Across town, Unity House, established in 1897, was serving nearly 95,000 people each year by the 1920s, in a similar fashion to Pillsbury House. These houses, along with others, would eventually form Pillsbury United Communities.
20th Century Settlements
By the 1920s, settlement houses across the country began to change. Social work became more "professionalized," more concerned with addressing individual psychiatric issues than systemic, societal problems. Settlement houses became increasingly dependent on the United Fund and Community Chests. At this time, settlements began calling themselves neighborhood or community centers, no longer able to support full-time residents or round-the-clock services.
Yet neighborhood centers remained a flexible but consistent presence in Minneapolis’ poorest neighborhoods. They continued to offer programs as a means to building relationships with people that are the basis for sustainable healthier communities.
Today, it is estimated that there are more than 900 settlement houses in the United States, and thousands more in countries throughout the world. You may know them as “community" or "neighborhood centers,” but they are all descendants of a movement that began more than 100 years ago.