Robert A. Woods: University settlements: their point and drift

South End, Boston by Thomas Julin. Wikimedia ccby3 licence-
South End, Boston by Thomas Julin. Wikimedia ccby3 licence

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Robert A. Woods states, and argues for, the fostering of association, co-operation and common welfare.

Robert Archey Woods (1965-1925) was a key figure in the introduction and development of university and social settlements in the United States. Founder and Head of South End House, Boston (1895-1925) and Secretary of the National Federation of Settlements from 1911 to just before his death he was both an important animator and organizer, and exponent of settlement work. Many of his important papers were published in 1923 as The Neighborhood in Nation  Building. Other important works include English Social Movements (1891) and Handbook of Settlements (1911) and The Settlement Horizon (1922) (the last two were written with Albert J. Kennedy).

This particular piece is significant for a number of reasons. First, it provides a useful review of the settlement movement in the United States of America a few years after the first settlements appeared. Second, it highlighted a growing feeling of Woods’ that settlements were not addressing the ‘submerged grades’ of the poor working classes or ‘labour aristocracy’ but rather the ‘in-between’ – the ‘working-class proper’. He began to argue that the settlements’ true mission lay in fostering ‘every helpful form of association, from neighbourhood improvement groups to labour unions, that would strengthen their tendencies toward co-operation and mutual tolerance (quoted in Carson 1990: 118).

Reference: Carson, M. (1990) Settlement Folk. Social thought and the American settlement movement, 1885 – 1930, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

links: Robert A. Woods · Woods – The recovery of the parish · Settlements and social action centres
note: the page numbers in this version refer to The Neighbourhood in Nation-Building (1923)

[page 47] To most onlookers a peculiar mist seems to hover about the university settlement enterprise. At times this nebulous quality has given shape to a vision in which the flower of the country’s youth, touched with a new chivalry, go forth to establish outposts of civilization among the supposed barbarian hordes that threaten the modern city. Again, to some, disdaining illusion, this glamour has resolved itself into the mere vagueness that goes with amiable ineffectiveness. Settlement workers, more desirous of escaping the romanticist than the cynic, have asked that both should for a time withhold judgment. They have urged that there was enough of promise in the bare fact that representatives of separated social classes were meeting one another as neighbors, to justify patient waiting for results.

It is not to be denied, however, that much has been gained from the expression of both imaginative and critical views with regard to university settlements. That the settlements have stood forth in picturesque aspects, so far from being a mark of ineffectiveness, constitutes one of the clearest evidences of their vitality. The scoffer who asserts that settlement houses have been simply a new device for entertaining and supplying honorific distinction to the superior classes may be reminded that Christianity was once the “fad” of a decadent imperial court, by way of becoming the foremost power in Europe. One of the most distinct contributions of the university settlement has consisted in presenting certain [page 48] necessary but apparently uninviting forms of social service in such light as to make them interesting. This new motive leaves aside the sentiments of pity and mercy, which have become outworn by the spread of democratic ideas. It challenges the restricted range of one’s acquaintance and friendship. It calls for an extension of one’s social intercourse so as to include men of a widely different way of life from one’s own. It demands that this newly formed tie be solidified by so much actual identity of experience as may come to those who live under the same conditions of locality. While laying great stress upon the value of such relation as between individuals, it sets forth in this type of rapprochement between the “two nations” the practicability of allaying friction between classes and bringing about joint action between them in measures for the common good. In these ways the settlement scheme gives scope to a certain spirit of moral adventure, and even, in its larger light, carries a suggestion of statesmanship.

The lack of clear definition, which the critic points out, is, to a considerable degree, inherent in the nature of the undertaking. The fineness of the primary motive of neighborly acquaintance makes much organization undesirable. A system which seemed obtrusive would quickly find itself without material to its purpose. The very novelty of the settlement’s way of approach to industrial problems, the sensitive issues involved in interclass diplomacy, call for the greatest care and gradualness in establishing a policy and entering upon a plan of action. If all the best results gained must come through informal personal relations, it is essential that the different residents should, to a great extent, be entrusted with full power. The range of settlement activity must be as wide as human need; so that no recipe, only spontaneous personality, is of much avail. In fact, the one way of learning effectually what to do is by a humble study from day to [page 49] day of the life of the people whom the settlement is designed to serve. There must indeed be a long-range policy and a compact scheme of organization; only these must take shape out of the particular conditions which they are in turn to mould.

Bent upon democratic cooperation with its constituency, having no sort of authoritative sanction over them, and wishing none, a settlement force cannot be organized after the manner of a military company, a business office, a church, or a school. If any comparison were to be made, settlement work is to be conducted somewhat in the method of practical politics. The wishes of the constituency have to be, not always obeyed, but always seriously taken into account. Politics, even as wrought in by so lofty a moralist as John Morley, is always a choice between evils. Settlement work is endless compromise. There is some consolation for this, however, in the fact that it is rigid schemes of life, economic and ethical, that are responsible for the rift in society which, according to its power, the settlement would endeavor to close.

Some of the uncertainty that exists as to the precise aim of the university settlement is the result of an effort on the part of settlement adherents to distinguish it from the undertakings of reformers, missionaries, and philanthropists, who are, with more or less benevolence, somewhat distant and autocratic in their methods – indifferent to the deeper values that go with the gaining of personal confidence and eliciting of personal choice – in their impatience for certain specific results. In the recoil from taking the kingdom of heaven by violence, it has often been said that one goes to a settlement simply to “live” among working people. The settlement life, as spoken of by the adept, connotes work and something more. This form of expression often indicates to the outsider something less than work; carrying with it that suggestion of [page 50] dilettanteism which sometimes comes to persons visiting settlement houses during hours of relaxation. On the other hand, it leaves upon certain more intense minds the impression that there is to be some sort of actual sharing in the daily stress of the laborer’s existence.

The escape from dilettanteism, on one side, and asceticism, on the other, is not in fervent efforts based upon a priori conclusions, but in patient experimental action, guided by an acquaintance with the facts that is both extended and minute. The settlement undertakes to come objectively to the point of the conscious needs and uppermost impulses of the human nature with which it deals. It secures its vantage ground by establishing, in some sort, a home among other homes. Here its residents are subject to call, like a family physician, twenty-four hours in the day, seven days in the week. They go up and down the same streets with the people whom they would influence, they vote in the same wards, are sometimes purchasers at the same stores, sometimes spectators at the same places of amusement, sometimes worshipers at the same churches. As time goes on, they are in the confidence of many families, know the gossip of the., back streets, and have a kindling interest in neighborhood affairs. They are, in fact, upon the scene, are part of the scene, of the local drama of life.

So much of common ground is sought, not for the sake of the experience, though the experience is valuable, but for the sake of such penetrating analysis as, for instance, the medical specialist gives his case, until he comes at that ultimate source of recuperative power upon which predominantly the hope of recovery depends; and for the sake of instituting favoring conditions, as the physician then does, to enable this vital reserve to rise into full and permanent power. A measure of reciprocal understanding, like that found between the residents of settlements and working people, is one [page 51] of the essential means of economic science in gaining many of its most important facts; while it is ever more clear that the working-class problem may be met, not by patronage and philanthropy, but only by public spirit and downright democratic feeling. This distinction is particularly important because the popular interest in the superficial aspects of settlement work has led to the use of the settlement as a means for promoting a variety of charitable and missionary ends. It is well that as much as possible of the settlement atmosphere should surround such work; but there is danger in some quarters that the settlement motive will be estimated, like a pack-horse, according to the amount of freight it can carry.

The question is often raised whether the settlement is designed to meet the situation in certain grades of working-class life or whether it is adapted to all grades indifferently.

Experience has conclusively shown that, while a settlement may find a provisional and partial field among all grades, there is a specific constituency to which its larger, more permanent service must be devoted. To attempt to affect the habitual recipient of material relief by settlement methods is using edge tools where machinery is needed. Settlements which have attempted this problem have as soon as possible turned it over to some special organized charity force. On the other hand, the settlement does not exist for the upper Stratum of the personally ambitious and forceful, who tend constantly to rise out of the working class. A settlement may for a time make provision for such, and may afterwards follow them with encouraging interest; but their real opportunity lies in the extension of organized educational opportunities, which is everywhere taking place as a distinct growth. The general principle is that settlements are not to undertake, or to continue, any form of institutional work when agencies specially designed for such service are willing [page 52] to assume the responsibility. The initiating of experiments, charitable, philanthropic, educational, and economic, is of course an integral part of the settlement’s duty; and these are carried by the settlement until they can be assumed by the public in one form or another. Often, also, a settlement not only has the responsibility for such enterprises, but must sustain older forms of organized service to whose value, though unquestionable, the general public sense may not yet have awaked. This state of things, however, is incidental, if not exceptional.

As an agency for social improvement, the settlement is a more significant and in its degree a more costly undertaking than is the elaboration of organized charity or of systematic popular education. It is designed to attempt a more difficult and a more serious problem. The “submerged” type is easily accessible on the basis of its necessities. The aristocracy of labor is easily accessible on the basis of its ambitions. There is a great middle class of labor, the working class proper, having the loyalties and passions of the proletariat, in one section of which is the center of industrial unrest, in another the center of corrupt municipal politics. It scorns charity. It is indifferent to offers of advanced education. This class is to be met only upon the basis of some of the commonplace interests of life. Within it one sort or another of social tie is always very strong. Now it is the most marked characteristic of the settlement that it meets persons always in the light of such relations, touching them at the point of family affection, neighborhood camaraderie, industrial and political affiliation, the clannishness of nationality or race, religious solidarity. The settlement, accurately speaking, stands not for relief, not for instruction, but for fellowship. Its difficult and vital task is to wrestle with the inherent organic life of the manual-labor class, to study the complicated interplay of attachments that go to make up its “consciousness of kind,” [page 53] and to join with it along its own lines, so far as possible, in its struggle for a higher standard of life and a greater share in the results of civilization. The settlement seeks to rehabilitate home and neighborhood life, which tend to become disintegrated under tenement-house conditions: to foster every kind of organization among workingmen that is wisely designed to strengthen their economic position; to gain some sort of practical influence in local politics and municipal administration; to honor what is genuine in the spirit of nationality among each of the complex elements of our working population, while exalting those American loyalties which can unite them into a common citizenship; to support religious fraternity and the ethical standards that go with it, while allaying religious strife; to bring capitalists and wage-earners, the educated class and the working class, into a just understanding of each other; to relate the resourceful ongoing life of the city to the monotonous, if not depressed, existence of its neglected districts. Like the medieval monasteries, the university settlements, facing the worst results of the industrial revolution, of a new migration, and of the unmanageable growth of cities, may at first fill a strange variety of functions; but their deep and abiding use lies in direct effort toward scattering the social confusion and re-establishing social order. In all this while giving little or no formal instruction, they undertake through the medium of friendly intercourse to disseminate the inspiration that goes with the cultured life. Without set schemes of reform, they aim to permeate every sort of popular association with the leaven of devotion to the common welfare.

There exists a sufficiently definite policy through which this motive is steadily being worked out. In the first place, the settlements have undertaken to restore for some of its uses the old-time parish system. In one form or another, that system is an indispensable means for sustaining the [page 54] general tone of a community. This is particularly true in the thickly inhabited quarters of great cities. Here the former parochial divisions, so far as there ever were any, have, of course, entirely disappeared. Moreover, the diversity of religious connection among our city population makes it wholly impossible to organize neighborhood life about the church. The settlement, standing only for those things which are common, is an instrument remarkably adapted to this great need. It assumes a special responsibility for all families living within a radius of a few blocks of the settlement house. The number of souls in this “parish” would be ordinarily from five thousand to ten thousand. In addition to its “parochial” work, the settlement also usually sustains a general relation to the larger district – containing from twenty-five thousand to one hundred thousand people – which circles about the immediate neighborhood.

The settlement comes in contact with its “parish” by means of an ascending scale of clubs which is organized so as to meet the needs of all ages and both sexes. As a rule, the groups are quite small in number, in order that the settlement worker who takes the lead of a club may become thoroughly acquainted with its members, with their families, and with the life of the streets out of which they come. In forming these little clubs, natural lines of cleavage are followed; that is, a group of boys who have already banded themselves into a “gang,” will be taken bodily into the club scheme, and the “gang,” as such, be brought under the mollifying influence of the settlement.

Gradually, as years go by, it becomes possible to honeycomb the neighborhood and many of its social growths with friendly influence, to impart higher personal and domestic standards, to raise the tone of social intercourse, and to secure from the neighborhood, as a whole, a return current of confidence in the settlement and its residents. Out of this [page 55] there naturally comes a variety of joint action between residents and neighborhood people in matters of personal, domestic, and neighborhood concern.

For the larger surrounding district – from which the “parish” is not, as a rule, distinctly separated – the problem is that of developing a variety of institutional resources suited to the general needs of a working-class community – facilities for the systematic relief of distress, the removal of insanitary and degrading conditions, the care of neglected children, the provision of the means of cleanliness, physical exercise, and recreation, together with efforts toward a more widely available and a more realistic type of education. Along with these must go a variety of economic experiments, designed to encourage thrift and to secure to the people the maximum returns from their slender incomes.

In Chicago it has been necessary for the settlements to build up and mass together such agencies into single strong centers of light. In an older city like Boston, where the charities are fully organized and educational facilities are almost bewildering in number and variety, settlements are enabled to devote themselves to their more distinctive task. The more highly organized settlement, as a recompense for its additional burdens, has a valuable opportunity in the way of carrying the settlement motive up into education and down into charity. In the simpler type of settlement the workers often render similar service by throwing much of their effort into independent forms of educational and charitable enterprise in the local district. Some of the best results in the way of entering into district affairs have come through holding official, appointments in connection with the schools or some department of the city administration. The practice of one’s profession as physician, lawyer, or journalist, or the application of one’s business training to some sort of economic experiment, serves to put a resident into [page 56] vital relations with people in matters that have to them the greatest possible reality.

The mere topographical line, however, is not adequate to mark off the social factors that make up the constituency of the settlement. The settlement represents a shaft sent down to a certain stratum of society. Its basis for sympathetic acquaintance with the people in its vicinity gradually comes to serve for mutual understanding with people of the same sort in other parts of the city. In this way it comes into touch with popular industrial, political, and religious organizations in their more general scope.

As to organized labor, settlements usually give it unequivocal support so far as its fundamental principles are concerned. Without, of course, endorsing all that is done in the name of labor, they often support trade-unionism by aiding in the management of weak unions, and by taking the part of labor in controversies in which its cause, seems clearly just. With the advantages of economic study, a resident can often widen the view of trade-union leaders as to some of the bearings of their practical policy; and useful service has been rendered in addresses before gatherings of workingmen by showing trade-unionism in connection with industrial history in the past, and by demanding that it be faithful to its ideals for the future.

Settlement procedure with regard to politics is not so direct. In one specific case, where a ward organization is at once dominant and hopelessly corrupt, a settlement has twice made strong but unsuccessful attacks upon the local machine. In another instance a settlement has accomplished useful results for its district by cooperating directly with the city administration, regardless of the local political authorities. In still another situation a settlement has scored a local success in an evenly divided ward by securing the balance of power. This last is, however, an exceptional case; and the [page 57] practical alternative really lies between the first two policies. To enter into a local political contest is likely for the time to endanger the hold of the settlement in its neighborhood; but that is hardly a sufficient reason for hesitancy. The real difficulty lies in the fact that the social groupings which coalesce

into the local political parties are of too elemental a nature to be scattered and put together again, especially by persons coming from without. The only permanent hope for better politics in such districts lies in influences that will gradually level up the entire local electorate. Meanwhile settlements are coming to represent for certain purposes a large constituency of intelligent voters scattered throughout their cities; and with such support, of which a clever ward politician easily sees the importance in a general city election, the settlement becomes a factor which he will less and less be able to despise. With that body of voters behind them the settlements have a distinct mission – to stand for a form of municipal government which will be not merely negatively incorrupt, in accordance with past traditions, but judiciously progressive in such way as to serve actual public needs as they exist among the city population of the present. For such a programme it is sometimes possible, as has already been proved, to secure through settlement influences a combination of forces between the voters just referred to and the trade-union constituency, which is increasingly independent of mere party lines in municipal elections.

Racial or national loyalties, causing so much confusion to well-meaning but unenlightened people, present to the student a field of peculiar interest. He is able to appreciate the distinctive genius of each type and to sympathize with its traditions. This is, therefore, another of the serious points in the American working-class problem at which the university settlement comes particularly into play. In some instances the different national holidays have been observed [page 58] after the manner of the fatherland. In the settlement scheme of neighborhood organization no obstacle is placed in the way of people of the same nationality who prefer to meet by themselves; but the settlement stands as a common ground where all must, to a certain extent, mingle together, and where prejudices are discountenanced. The best results in this direction come from instilling into the minds of the newcomers and their children American political ideas and American national loyalties. For such service the settlement must, of course, yield the honor to the public school. It is, however, a distinct part of a settlement’s neighborhood work to confirm the influence of the schools by keeping up the connection between them and the children’s homes. There is, as to this general matter, a definiteness in the settlement method which the public school necessarily lacks. It is too often forgotten that patriotic aspirations would mean but little unless based upon our high economic standard. In its pointed fitness for imparting to the immigrant a wider and higher range of wants in his domestic and social life, and stimulating him to the accomplishment of his new desires, the settlement becomes a distinctly important means toward true Americanism.

It seems to be usually understood that settlements omit religion from their scheme. This is not the case. Religion as a constructive moral force is an essential part of the settlement’s concern. Only when religion assumes phases which make it an anti-social and disintegrating force does the settlement stand aloof. It is needless to say, therefore, that it does not itself float the banner of any competing sect. It encourages its workers to cooperate with such local religious effort as may appeal to them. Usually it has a varied representation of religious creeds upon its staff. It endeavors to secure common action among the local churches in matters of obvious social duty, thus making a practical contribution [page 59] toward the allaying of religious strife and the securing of larger returns from the organized moral forces of the community. In all its relations with the people, the settlement stands for the deepest respect for each man’s faith and for distinct encouragement to him in sustaining the observances that are associated with it. This is not the neutrality of indifference. It is the tolerance of those who themselves deeply believe. The attitude of the settlement toward religion is in principle precisely the same as toward the labor question and toward politics. It cares little about parties, much about the municipality. It foresees organized capital and organized labor becoming the complementary factors in the organization of industry. It finds in each fragment of the church germs of a “national society for the promotion of righteousness.” Thus the value of all the old loyalties is fully recognized. The settlement is neutral only in that it sets up no new loyalties centering in itself.

The function of the settlement as a connecting link between the two great sections of society is one that will be more appreciated as the extent of the cleavage between them comes to be realized. In American cities, between the commercial and professional classes, on the one hand, and the working class, on the other, there run four interrelated and inveterate lines of distinction – economic, political, racial, and religious. It is unfortunately true in large cities, at least, that the Americanizing process, remarkable as its achievements are, has had its results rather in opening up fuller intercourse within this heterogeneous immigrant mass than in relating it in any way to the original American element in the population. The entire scheme of settlement work, at every point, is now bringing about this sort of relation. Moreover, as rapidly as a settlement worker himself comes into acquaintance with the representatives of any form of working-class esprit de corps, he proceeds to bring them into [page 60] touch with men and women of the other classes, for the sake of friendly conference and, if possible, for some form of practical cooperation. The securing of working-class representation in all undertakings affecting the people of the community as a whole is a prominent factor in settlement policy.

The university settlement brings the resident into a new attitude. It provides a point of view, a point of departure, with regard to working-class problems, from which the facts may be observed in something like their actual perspective, and from which the facts may actually be affected. Considering that a great part of the toil of science consists in securing the most favorable conditions for investigation and experiment, the settlement must be admitted to have significant prospects as a laboratory and experiment station in one of the most important fields of economic science. That this ground is so frequently burned over by ill-considered, superficial reform only increases the necessity of deeper penetration and a persistent policy guided by the facts thus ascertained.

There have been two hindrances to development in this direction. The settlements have been compelled during their first years to justify their existence by the simpler forms of service. In the second place, partly on account of the limitation just mentioned, students trained to economic investigation have not yet realized the opportunities which the university settlement can afford them. The restricted sphere of the settlement in its early stages will, however, prove to be of advantage even from the scientific point of view, as giving a sympathetic acquaintance with the domestic life of working people and their general morale, which is an essential preliminary to an understanding of working-class problems. It must not be forgotten, either, that in the settlement method for neighborhood improvement an experiment [page 61] of distinct importance in connection with the question of the American city is being worked out.

Within the past three or four years several of the older settlements have begun to make returns in the way of economic studies. The more important special investigations have had to do with the inner phases of tenement-house and lodging-house life, with child labor, with the sweating system, and with the sources of “boss” rule in ward politics. Studies of less consequence to the student, but still of value as affecting public opinion, have been made with regard to different racial and national types, and with regard to trade-unionism. Two comprehensive analyses of economic and moral conditions in settlement districts have been published, with maps like those of Mr. Charles Booth, to illustrate in detail the economic conditions and the racial affiliations of the population. (Hull House Maps and Papers. By Residents of Hull House, Chicago. New York: T. Y. Crowell & Co. The City Wilderness. By Residents and Associates of the South End House, Boston. Boston: Houghton Muffin Company.)

Along with the growth of systematic investigation have come beginnings in the development of the practical expert. One settlement resident for several years held the post of chief inspector of factories in the State of Illinois. Others have been employed in the municipal service in connection with the inspection of sanitary conditions in tenement-house districts. In two cases, residents have been chosen to conduct local investigations for United States Government bureaus. In a number of cases settlements have been drawn upon by private organizations for the inspection of special systems of extortion practiced upon the poor, as well as for the securing of information to be used in proceeding against sweatshop proprietors and the owners of tenement houses unfit for human habitation. Residents have been called to important service upon boards of charity, public and private. [page 62]

The head worker of the New York University Settlement had a large share in the active direction of the Citizens’ Union campaign in that city some years ago. In Boston several residents of settlements serve upon municipal commissions. Settlements are also able to render skilled service in bringing about needed legislation for the protection of the working classes. The laws against the sweating system in New York and Illinois owe their existence chiefly to effort on the part of settlement workers.

It is easy to see considerable possibilities before a well-organized university settlement in the way of accurately tracing the path of public administrative and legislative advance as affecting working-class needs. Such a settlement will have an even more important field in seeking to discover the true lines for guiding the community’s educational and moral action by bringing to light the facts as to racial, religious, and industrial types and gradations. The day of sentimental philanthropy and doctrinaire reform is passing. The enormous wastes, set over against equally palpable shortcomings, in the efforts of the public schools and of the church – viewed as social forces – are the result not so much of imperfect facilities and technique as of the lack of minute and luminous information about the mass of human nature which it is their function to fashion and perfect. The settlement is an instrument specifically designed to secure such information. That it is beginning to do so may be inferred – to give a single instance – from a statement recently made by the minister of an important and useful mission church to the effect that the facts presented in a study issued by one of the settlements, if they had been known some years ago, would have materially altered his plan of action, and would have obviated the useless expenditure of a large amount of time and money.

As to the various forms of collective action in the working class itself, the first-hand knowledge that is obtained at a settlement [page 63] promises to be of service, not only to those who deal with working people in personal ways, but to those who are interested in the broader bearings of industrial, political, and religious problems. It is also likely to contribute, directly and indirectly, toward a more far-seeing policy for the working-class organizations themselves. In both directions the settlement extends its services for the discovery and presentation of facts. In the matter of municipal politics, for instance, two settlement investigations, one of which has been called by high authority “a genuine contribution to political science,” (The Nation, February 16, 1899)have conclusively confirmed practical settlement experience to the effect that broad appeals in the name of “good government” are, in congested city wards, inevitably futile beside the tangible benefits which the boss has to bestow, and his exhaustive scheme for manipulating popular organizations and rousing class consciousness among his constituency. On the other hand, the settlement, partly through its neighborhood activities and partly through its general influence with the public, can impress upon the mind of the local politician the importance of acting to a greater or less extent in harmony with the plans of the settlement.

In connection with politics, with religion, with the labor question, the settlement, using a great variety of means for obtaining its facts, is seeking, by painstaking analysis, to discover what basis of mutual understanding and common interest there is between opposing parties. Upon this basis it proposes to work experimentally toward the establishment of a modus vivendi. At present, in all our large cities, employers and workmen, taxpayers and the mass of voters, Protestants and Catholics, stand in an attitude of armed neutrality toward each other. The settlement is an outpost for the discovery, by scientific method, of the next step toward social peace. [page 64]

When the first American settlement houses were opened, the question whether a continuous resident force could be kept together in this country was a serious one. Twelve years’ experience has solved this problem, but not altogether as. was anticipated. It has been found that, though there are those who can and will give their services without remuneration, not a sufficient number of such will volunteer to make up a solid and permanent force. Adequate provision has to be made, in one way or another, for the executive staff; and some sort of fellowship or stipend is provided at several settlements, under which persons may take up residence in order to carry on specific forms of work and study. In some cases fellowships are provided by colleges and universities. An interesting and useful type of resident is the one who follows some regular calling, and assists in the work of the settlement during leisure hours. No gain accrues to the settlement ordinarily from those who remain in residence not more than a few months; and several settlements refuse to accept those who tarry for so brief a period. Volunteer workers, not in residence, but keeping regular appointments, can often, by continuous application, render valuable service. Most settlement groups in their early stages are made up either of men by themselves or of women by themselves. It is soon found, however, that both men and women are needed. The deficiency is partly made up through the volunteer service of outsiders; but, in an increasing number of cases, both men and women workers reside in the neighborhood where their interests are. In the Western cities, as college graduates are familiar with the tradition of co-education, men and women residents dwell under the same roof.

With the establishment of a practical basis for a continuous resident force, a sufficient number of young men and women have been available to sustain and increase the work of the older settlements and to supply recruits for a large [page 65] number of new enterprises. There are now upwards of twenty-five well-established settlements in American cities, with fully three times that number of missions and philanthropies claiming the settlement name. One inference from this remarkable development is that the average substantial citizen, by giving his financial support, is already recognizing the university settlement as having justified its existence, and as exhibiting the signs of permanency and of further growth.

The full hope that is indulged in with regard to the spread of settlements in cities is that there will be a chain of them running through each large working-class district. There ought to be one establishment of the kind, it is thought, for every ten thousand people. Settlements would thus not only go over the ground piecemeal, but could combine together for great general enterprises that would distinctly affect the life of the larger district and of the city as a whole. Up to the present, settlement work has had the disadvantage that it represented no sort of broad mastery such as to affect discernibly the public course of life in a great district. In due time it is believed that this result will be achieved. There are already two or three instances where there is beginning to be such a combination of forces, and where the sympathetic observer may begin to trace in the prevailing local feeling and in local social customs and institutions the sort of change with which settlement workers are familiar in smaller ways in their immediate neighborhoods.

It is a fair question, however, whether the best result that has come or may come from the university settlements is not that which appears in the reaction upon the settlement worker and to a degree upon the educated classes generally. Large numbers of persons possessing the advantages of life have, through their acquaintance with the motives here outlined, acquired a sounder and more constraining sense of social [page 66] service. The coming into touch with persons of another walk in life, who have the unexpected intellectual and moral values which go with that type of existence, leads to a sort of illumination comparable with that which comes from travel in a foreign land. The stimulus which accompanies the discovery that one’s particular talents may find a new constituency and a wider sphere brings a peculiar sense of exhilaration. The element of actuality in what is undertaken has tended to give some of that confidence and repose which goes with the scientific habit of mind. The opening of new avenues of service has let free the impulse of devotion in a period of religious doubt. This sort of reflex influence has, directly and indirectly, come to pervade a large share of the cultivated life of the country. The future will no doubt show that it has brought about in an important degree a state of preparedness for some of the foremost issues that the future is to bring.

How to cite this piece: Woods, R. A. (1899) ‘University settlements: their point and drift’, Quarterly Journal of Economics, Harvard University, Cambridge, October. Republished as Chapter III of R. A. Woods (1923) The Neighborhood in Nation-Building. The running comment of thirty years at South End House, Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company. Available in the informal education archives:

This piece has been reproduced here on the understanding that it is not subject to any copyright restrictions, and that it is, and will remain, in the public domain. First placed in the archives: June 2003.