settlement house, neighborhood welfare institution generally in an urban slum area, where trained workers endeavor to improve social conditions, particularly by providing community services and promoting neighborly cooperation. The idea was developed in mid-19th-century England when such social thinkers as Thomas Hill Green, John Ruskin, and Arnold Toynbee (1852–83) urged university students to settle in poor neighborhoods, where they could study and work to better local conditions. The pioneer establishment was Toynbee Hall, founded in 1884 in London under the leadership of Samuel Augustus Barnett. Before long, similar houses were founded in many cities of Great Britain, the United States, and continental Europe. Some of the more famous settlement houses in the United States have been Hull House and Chicago Commons, Chicago; South End House, Boston; and the University Settlement, Henry Street Settlement, and Greenwich House, New York City. Settlements serve as community, education, and recreation centers, particularly in densely populated immigrant neighborhoods. Sometimes known as social settlements, they are also called neighborhood houses, neighborhood centers, or community centers. The settlement house differs from other social welfare agencies; the latter provide specific services, while the former is aimed at improving neighborhood life as a whole. Its role has gradually altered as some of its varied functions have been assumed by state and municipal authorities and by other organizations. Kindergartens, formerly an important adjunct of the settlement house, are now operated by the public schools; municipal health departments have taken over its clinical services; and labor unions now sponsor educational and recreational activities for workers. The early leaders of settlement houses in the United States met from time to time and in 1911 founded the National Federation of Settlements and Neighborhood Centers; Jane Addams served as the first president. In 1926 the International Federation of Settlements and Neighbourhood Centres was established to coordinate community work on an international level.
See L. Pacey, ed., Readings in the Development of Settlement Work (1951); A. Hillman, Neighborhood Centers Today (1960); A. F. Davis, Spearheads for Reform (1967, repr. 1970).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.