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Serving Rochester for Fifty Years
Two full generations have gone by since the objectives of the Baden Street Settlement were stated in its Certificate of Incorporation. Enthusiastic and zealous pioneers in its creation, Mrs. Katz and Mrs. Garson solicited the original funds, then
contributed a life time of interest and work on its behalf.
Although the Settlement is a non-sectarian, neighborhood center, it had its beginnings in the work of women of the B’rith Kodesh Temple on Gibbs Street. Here groups of young women of foreign birth came to learn kitchen gardening, sewing and primary education. When it was deemed best to bring this instruction into the neighborhood in which these young women lived, it was decided that a small settlement house would be the most effective means of teaching housekeeping and attractive home making. The location selected was that from which the girls came–the section of the city north of the railroad extending from Clinton Avenue to Hudson Avenue, and perhaps a half mile further north.
So successful were the efforts of Mrs. Katz and Mrs. Garson that by the end of the organization’s first year a membership of 150 civic minded citizens had been procured. A small house was rented at 152 Baden Street and the name “The Social Settlement of Rochester” was selected. New plumbing was installed, the walls were repapered, the floors were painted , and neat muslin curtains were hung at the windows. The Settlement was a reality.
When, a year later, in May, 1902, the house was purchased, there was a registration of about three hundred girls, taught by sixty volunteer teachers. There were classes in plain sewing, shirtwaist making, darning, hemstitching, crocheting, embroidery, singing and basketry. Evening groups provided social life with a Sunshine Club, and the more intellectual pusuits were carried on in two Shakespeare clubs, a Current Topics course and German clubs.
The enthusiastic response of the neighborhood to the Settlement House decided its directors and friends in the building of an Assembly Hall in the rear of the House. When it was completed in 1904, social and athletic clubs for the boys in the neighborhood were organized alongside those that had been operating for the girls. Many new activities for the benefit of the neighborhood could now be added. An informal kindergarten was instituted, a library opened, a Penny Provident Bank established and a Loan Art Gallery for homes in the neighborhood started. The basement of the Assembly Hall was equipped with shower, tub and spray baths for the daily u se of the women and children. Two evenings a week were set aside for baths for men and boys. This bath service was continued until public baths were established in the neighborhood in 1908. This was done primarily through the efforts of the Settlement Board in appealing to the City.
While these social and educational activities were growing, the Settlement was not unmindful of the health needs of the neighborhood. When the city Health Bureau established four milk stations in the city, directors of the Settlement immediately offered part of the House for such a service. On July 4th a milk station was, therefore, opened with a nurse in charge to weigh the babies and instruct their mothers. It soon became evident that the mothers of the neighborhood needed advice and instruction in the care of both sick and well babies. With the Board of the Settlement providing the funds, a professional nurse was hired. A volunteer nurse gave her time two days a week, visiting the homes of the ill and performing both nursing service and giving instruction in the care of the patients. It was actually three years later, inn 1908, that the Baden Street Dispensary had its beginnings. A small room in the Settlement House was equipped as a Dispensary through the generosity of friends and local business firms. Here a general clinic and ear, nose and throat clinics were held under the supervision of competent physicians.
Another of the humanitarian activities that was organized to meet a great need in the neighborhood was the Day Nursery. Many of the women in the area had to work to contribute toward the support of their families while others who were ill had no one to look after their children during the day. In 1909, as a memorial gift, the six room cottage at 13 Vienna Street was purchased by a Rochester family transformed into a Nursery, and given to the Settlement. It opened with an enrollment of f15 children who were cared for by a practical nurse. Baths, regular meals, naps and periods of play were provided for the nominal fee of five cents a day.
In the meantime, the success of the medical and special clinics that were being held in a room at the Settlement House proved the need not only for a larger dispensary, but also for a resident nurse who would attend the clinics and make the necessary follow-up visits to the homes of patients. In 1910, the property at 160 Baden Street was purchased by the Board, redecorated, furnished and equipped with clinic rooms, quarters for a resident nurse and one room to be used as a music room. The latter made possible a music schol for the small fee of 10 cents, could receive lessons from competent, volunteer teachers. When the pressure of expanding clinics made it necessary to take over the music room, the Settlement had already been able to help launch the Hochstein Music School for its neighborhood.
The new Dispensary opened with three clinics a week, in charge of three new physicians who volunteered their services. Then, as now, the effort was more to teach women how to prevent disease than cure it. Since the clinics held were general medical clinics, patients who required the services of specialists were taken to the hospital dispensaries by the attendant nurse. By 1915, the Dispensary staff numbered fourteen physicians–many of them specialists. There were now eight clinics a week, averaging about 450 patients a month.
During the period of unemployment, 1914-1915, directors of the Settlement established an emergency workshop to create and give employment to the unemployed women in the area. The effect of unemployment was seen in the increasing numbers of patients who came to the Dispensary, and it was decided that the Board should try to raise funds for the erection of a larger dispensary. On May 15, 1916, the 15th anniversary of the founding of the Settlement, the cornerstone of the new Dispensary building was laid. On Saturday, January 12, 1917, the two-story, fireproof brick building was opened to the public as one of the most modern and best equipped dispensaries in Rochester. When the influenza epidemic of 1917 came along, the Dispensary was a center for medical and nursing service in the homes where there was influenza, while the Assembly Hall was converted into an emergency hospital for men. It is just this kind of ready service at a time of need that has endeared the Baden Street Settlement to its neighbors.
When the “Rochester Patriotic and Community Fund,” a forerunner of the Community Chest, invited the Settlement to become one of its participating philanthropies in 1918, the Directors accepted immediately. The Settlement has remained a Chest member since that time.
Having fulfilled the need for a larger dispensary, the Board now turned toward another pressing need for expansion–that of the Nursery. A gift of the property next to the Nursery was made to the Settlement in 1923. Then came a gift of a $75,000 modern nursery building to be known as the Belle J. Michaels Nursery. Gifts of additional equipment and supplies were also made by numerous friends of the Settlement. On December 7, 1924 the Nursery opened its doors, fully equipped and staffed to handle fifty children. Not only did the children receive good physical care here, but also standardized educational training. Only the addition of a trained social worker to the staff was needed to correlate the training at the school with the effort to raise home standards and render constructive service to the family of which the child was a member. Not until 1929 was it possible to do this. In this critical year of unemployment, the demands on the Nursery, the Dispensary and the Settlement House itself were greatly increased. Obviously, as unemployment rose and incomes fell, more and more members of the neighborhood turned toward the Settlement for help. In 1930 a total number of 30, 366 visits were made by patients to the Dispensary in its fifteen clinics; 32,940 visits were made to the Settlement House through the various social, educational, and service groups; over 175 children were enrolled during this year in the Belle J. Michaels Nursery.
At this time, and in the years that followed, the Board and workers of the Settlement became acutely aware of the changing population, changing conditions and therefore changing needs in the area. A decision had to be made as to the role the Baden Street Settlement would play in the life of the neighborhood and how it could best meet the human and social needs here. At its beginning, the population that surrounded the Settlement was largely foreign whites, and activities were arranged to suit such a group. An important factor was the influx of Negroes. By the end of the war they constituted over 50% of the population in the area. The whites who remained in the area changed in character too. Of the original foreign-born group, only the older member of the family remained in the area. Their children, on the other hand, had grown up, married and moved away. In place of the predominantly Jewish middle class, there now came a mixture of Poles, Italians, Slavic and other nationality groupings in the lower economic bracket.
Now the entire character of the neighborhood had changed until it seemed imperative that the Settlement should be primarily a character building agency. It would have to carry on its work not only within the confines of its own buildings and playground, but also in the homes of its patients and the parents of the children who came to the Agency for the various activities and services in the Nursery and Group Work Departments.
The Dispensary, whose work was also undergoing changes to meet the new needs in the area, was renamed the “Baden Street Health Center,” and held the following clinics: Medical, Well-Baby, Dental, X-Ra y, Venereal, Eye, Cancer Prevention, Women’s, Skin , Pre and Post Natal, and Gynecology. A staff of a bout 20 visiting physicians and dentists conducts the clinics, aided by two staff nurses and volunteers. The main emphasis has shifted from the usual treatment of disease to the early detection, diagnosis and prevention of illness–i.e.: the maintenance of health in its broader aspects.
In the period immediately following the war, the Council of Social Agencies, through its Department of Neighborhood Services, encouraged all agencies active in the area to intensify their efforts. As part of the Post-War Community planning process, the Board embarked on a program of evaluation and analysis. Recognizing its chief contribution to be the neighborhood organization work through the medium of leisure time-informal education activities for all age groups–it set out to attract a more highly skilled staff. A new director was appointed, a case work department established, and overall staff replacements effected.
By 1948, the Group Work program was greatly expanded to involve more than 1,000 individuals of all age levels. This was made possible by a grant from the State Youth Commission through the Department of Neighborhood Services. The basement in the Health Center was remodeled to allow for club rooms which were needed to take care of the increased participation of people in the neighborhood programs. Through the memorial gift of a friend, the Playground was enlarged, improved and equipped to care more adequately for a greater number of children and teen-agers. The roof areas of the Nursery were also improved so that there might be more open-air play spots the year’round. A nursery Supervisor was secured under whose direction a full program could be carried out. The philosophy of Group Work and Nursery programs changed from one of Recreation and Custodial care to one involving group activiites that would meet individual needs and foster individual growth and development.
Looking ahead , the Settlement sees its role in the neighborhood as being one most closely related to the prevailing social problems. It sees its chief responsibility to be assisting the people in the mobilization of their individual and collective resources towards the solution of their problems. At the end of 1948, the Settlement reformed an inactive neighborhood coun cil and has carried that to much more intensive activity than previously existed in the neighborhood. Such matters as housing, vice, sanitation and other neighborhood problems have been studied and acted upon by this group. With the ever-shifting change in responsibility from private to public agencies, Baden Street Settlement will probably see a gradual transfer of some of its responsibilities in the health area to the Health Department.
What has gone on at Baden Street Settlement in the last two years has brought tangible results from the coupling of two strong forces. The spirit of neighborliness, friendship and democracy–the basis of the institution’s beginning–plus the strength of a fine philosophy of settlement house work, is helping to interpret the needs of the community with scientific skill. The emphasis definitely has been on the importance of the family unit in making life worth living. To that end the Neighborhood Council, working with Mr. Kriegsfeld particularly, began in a small way a plan which has snowballed into Baden-Ormond Housing Project. Upon its completion almost four hundred families can live with pride in their surroundings and freedom from unsanitary conditions.
Of the Neighborhood Council this should be said: Anyone living n the Baden-Ormond district was welcomed to membership and urged to participate in the discussions of the neighborhood’s problems. From these discussions it became more and more evident that the members had first and foremost an urge to improve living conditions in the area. Also it developed that there was need for a gymnasium. So the Board asked the Community Chest fo permission to carry on a drive for funds and the spring of 1950 enough money was raised to make possible the new gym. This will be finished this fall.
It is not possible to write of the progress of the Settlement during the past two years without some mention of its Board President, Mrs. Dexter Perkins. Under her leadership all things seemed possible, but behind the many projects brought to completion under her regime were many hours of hard work and long interviews which she undertook with patience and understanding. Her knowledge of what constitutes good settlement house work and her long-range view of what Baden Street Settlement could mean to the community in the future inspired all with whom she worked.
During the past two years great effort has been made to strengthen the Case Work Department. Family relationships are important to the Staff worker, whether the person seeking aid is a Health Center patient, a Group Work participant or a Nursery child . The ideal would be to acquaint each member of the staff with the family back ground of each individual in his group. Obviously that ideal cannot be attained because of a lack of funds. An attempt is made, however, to interview each individual with a special problem and where possible meet the various members of his family.
Only in the Nursery Department has routine case work service been available. Every nursery child must be accompanied to the Settlement by a parent for his complete physical examination and for the child’s first three days in the Nurser y. Also a Case-Worker makes a thorough analysis of need before a child is accepted for care. During the past year the average attendance has been higher, due undoubtedly to the quality of case work service, a strict preventive health program and a close cooperation with the Health Center. The trend now is to serve fewer total cases per year with the emphasis on regular attendance. In this way the child gets the maximum benefits and the family more quickly overcomes the adverse circumstances which necessitate its using this community aid.
The Group Work Department has continued to expand over the last two years. The sewing and English lessons are still being given to adults as in the very early days, but to that has been added classes for persons from 7 to 70. Emphasis on teen-agers has been stressed, and they have been urged to register, pay a small fee, and thus be able to participate in all agency services. Here again a case-worker has been of real help in interpreting to the Group Work Staff certain types of teen-age behavior and in contacting parents of maladjusted children. The Day Camp program is especially popular and is limited only because of lack of money. Even so, many children have happy summer days and trips to near-by points of interest.
The Health Center has always directed its effort toward increasing the quality of service and at the same time has adopted a program of prevention, diagnosis and educational guidance. During the last two years statistics show a trend in patients away from treatment of disease and toward a marked interest in maintenance of health. When a patient’s medical problem is solved or relieved, that is but the beginning. He is questioned about his wife and children and parents — again the emphasis on the family.
And so it goes–much to be done but with limited funds. We pay tribute to the many volunteers who aid our staff and give generously of their time. Because of their first-hand knowledge gained from their experiences in nursery, group work and health center departments, they, in time, make excellent committee and board members. The various committees headed by a board member are working toward a closer relationship with staff members. In the last two years a Personnel Practices Code has been evolved and has proved to be effective in improving staff morale.
The program has not only expanded and improved within the agency and neighborhood but outside as well. More and more board and staff members are playing important roles in the various affiliated national, state and local organizations.
The National Federation of Settlements, N.Y.State Social Welfare Conference, Civic Legislative League, N.A.A.C.P., Council of Social Agencies, the various professional membership associations are but a few of the several organizations.
With the new Baden-Ormond Housing Project and with the new gym, the future looks bright. It is hoped that with additional play areas in the housing development, under the supervision of the Settlement, that better parental understanding of childhood and youth will come about. The original 152 Baden Street frame building eventually will be torn down and a huge playground area will then be available. The Nursery and Health Center buildings will be used for club rooms, offices and lounge-rooms for different age levels after those two departments are moved to their new quarters in the Housing Project.
All of the departments continue to utilize their facilities for teaching purposes. Several near-by colleges send their students for orientation visits and learning experiences. University of Rochester School of Medicine & Dentistry, University of Buffalo School of Social Work, Colgate Rochester Divinity School are but some of the graduate and professional schools that include the different activities and services as part of their training programs. Likewise, important research projects are carried on from time to time.
With the continued and increased assistance of the Community Chest, state and city departments, Youth Commission, as well as even greater contributions by the membership and interested individuals, sufficient funds should be ensured. There should in time come a program wherein all the members of a family can find use for their leisure time, understanding of good health measures and a pride in family life.
A member agency of Rochester Community Chest, Council of Social Agencies, National Federation of Settlements and Neighborhood Centers, New York State and The National Conference of Social Work.
Source: Baden St. Settlement Files, Social Welfare History Archives, University of Minnesota Library. More information is available at: http://special.lib.umn.edu/