IN CELEBRATION OF THE
OF HENRY STREET
History reveals that humane progress is made and nobility of life created by the march of men and women who have had faith in an ideal of a more complete, more wholesome life, who have been courageous in expressing their beliefs and have consecrated their lives to engendering the realization of their vision.
One March morning 1893 Miss Wald was led by a child to a sickbed in a wretched, poverty-stricken home. “All the mal-adjustments of our social and economic relations seemed epitomized in this brief journey and what was found at the end of it.” In the effort to correct these unfortunate inequities Miss Wald found her life work. In the years that have followed, her vision has encompassed new horizons, her courage has carried her convictions to fruition, and through the ardor and perseverance of her faith, her genius has created a structure of human fellowship whose influence has become nation and world wide.
For forty years, under the inspiration of Miss Wald’s leadership, a host of loyal friends, associates and neighbors have won an ever increasing victory against the social and economic inequalities of life, and have created environments and relations which have enriched and developed human life to larger and more ethical capacities. The Henry Street Settlement has been the formal instrument of this inspired crusade against social evils. Through the Settlement, that which has been the privilege of the few has become the common heritage of the many. The achievements bear witness to the genius of the leader, the devotion and loyalty of the many friends and colleagues, and the effectiveness of the Settlement as a medium of social welfare.
The Visiting Nurse Service, The Federal Children’s Bureau, The American Union Against Militarism out of which grew the Foreign Policy Association and the Civil Liberties Union, the State and National Child Labor Committees, The Vocational Service for Juniors, The Public School Ungraded Classes, The School Nurse, The School Lunches, The Training School for Nurses at Teachers’ College, The National Organization for Public Health Nursing, Better Housing, Playgrounds and Parks, The Neighborhood Playhouse, The Settlement Music School, The School of Arts and Crafts, the Clubs and Camps, and the branch houses, 79th Street House and Hamilton House, among others, constitute some of the important developments which, through the efforts of the host of devoted friends and colleagues, have flowered under the creative touch of Lillian D. Wald of the House on Henry Street.
PROGRAM OF EVENTS
Children’s Festival by Playhouse Children
Dancing, a Play and “The Three Bears,” a new pantomime
By Helen Snider and Remo Bufano
Playhouse, April 23, 3.30 p.m.
Opera by the Henry Street Settlement Music School
“Der Jasager,” by Kurt Weil “We Build a City,” by P. Hindmith
April 25, 8 p.m. April 27, 8 p.m.
April 29, 3 p.m. May 1, 8 p.m.
Benefit Entertainment and Dance sponsored by the Adult Council
Webster Hall, April 26, 8 p. m.
40th Anniversary Birthday Party
Sponsored by Upper Juniors, Intermediates and Senior Clubs
301 Gym, April 28, 8 p.m.
40th Anniversary Reunion
For all former and present Settlement associates
Sponsored by Henry Street Settlement Alumni Association
301 Gym, April 29, 8 p.m.
Lillian Wald and Helen Hall – Henry Street Pioneers
For its first 74 years Henry Street had but two directors, one served 40 years, the other 34. Our current executive director, Bertram M. Beck, follows the tradition of Lillian Wald and Helen Hall by living in the House at 265 Henry Street.
Lillian D. Wald was born on March 10, 1867 and educated in a private school in Rochester, N.Y. Then for a few years she lived the life of a stylish young lady until she was sent one day to get a nurse for her married sister, who was having her first baby. Professionally trained nurses were rare in those days, and Lillian plied this one with questions about nursing as a career.
In August, 1889 Lillian entered the School of Nursing of New York Hospital in New York City and was graduated in March 189a1. After a year as nurse in an orphan asylum, she spent another year studying I the Women’s Medical College. It was during this period that she first went down to New York City’s Lower East Side as the volunteer teacher of a class in home nursing for immigrant women. On a rainy March morning in 1893, a frightened little girl led her from this class through filthy, evil smelling streets to a rear tenement where a family of seven shared their two rooms with boarders. And there she find the little girl’s desperately ill mother lying on a “wretched unclean bed soiled with a hemorrhage two days old.”
Spiritually, that was a journey from which Lillian Wald never returned. It was her “baptism of fire”, and after a sleepless night she decided to live on the Lower East Side. The Lower East Side of 1893 was a bottleneck of overcrowded, rickety tenements and narrow streets into which hundreds of thousands of immigrants were pouring every year. There the sweated trades still flourished, the sick and dying lay untended in their miserable homes, and the death rate rose to terrifying heights in the so-called “lung blocks.” And there, early in September, Lillian Wald and her colleague Mary Brewster established themselves on a vacant floor at the top of a house in Jefferson Street. Lillian Wald’s activities soon outgrew the rooms in Jefferson Street. In her search for more spacious quarters she found the House at 265 Henry Street, which was to be her home for nearly four decades and a source for the outflow of ideas which were to have a profound effect both upon public health nursing and upon social work.
Because of Lillian Wald, a great many pioneer social work and health movements got their start. Examples include: the first university program for the training of public health nurses (Columbia University, 1910), the American Red Cross town and country nursing service in the world (New York City), and the Federal Children’s Bureau (1912).
Much of Lillian Wald’s work revolved around children and their interests. Because the Lower East Side children had no place to play except the narrow filthy streets crowded with dangerous traffic, she converted three back yards into a miniature playground during her first summer on Henry Street. Largely through her efforts, Seward Park, the first municipal playground in New York City, was established in the settlement neighborhood in 1902. The social life of the settlement, which later embraced many different activities for neighbors of all ages got its start in 1895 with the organization of “The American Heroes”, a club of 11 and 12 year old boys who grew up to be her most loyal supporters.
It was inevitable that Lillian Wald should be a fearless fighter for every liberal cause of her day. Visiting the sick in their homes meant she saw the conditions which in most cases had made them ill. To her, something remediably wrong in any situation which involved human beings meant there was something remediably wrong with society. Morbidity and mortality statistics were not figures to her – they were sick and dying people she had tended. Descriptions of wretched unlighted tenements in a report on housing were not so many words to her – they were the homes of families she knew. Most of us only read about or hear about the things that Lillian Wald actually saw and heard. We think of them in general as social and economic problems. Lillian Wald thought of them individually as the troubles of her friends.
The last years of her life were passed at her country home, House on the Pond, in Westport, Connecticut, and there on September 1, 1940, her life came to an end.
Our second director, Helen Hall, also had an experience in her youth that turned her in the direction of helping others. In her book, Unfinished Business, Miss hall describes her first experience with the extreme hardships that poverty brings. When she was fourteen, she brought some food to an Armenian family who had just escaped the Turkish massacres. One of the family members, a girl her own age, was ill, and she remembers that seeing the young girl, sick in bed, surrounded by her obviously hungry brothers and sisters, aroused both her sympathy and indignation. Other experiences also brought her the realization that no child, however sheltered, can really escape sharing in any profound worries that beset its parents.
Thus, Helen Hall changed her plans to become a sculptor and went into social work instead. She finished a year at the New York School of Philanthropy (now the Columbia University School of Social Work) and, after graduating, organized a small settlement in Westchester County. Her early experience included work at the Westchester Department of Child Welfare, and working for the Red Cross and the Army during and after the First World War.
At the time Helen Hall came to Henry Street in 1933 from University House in Philadelphia, there was an increasing trend to specialization in social work. But she felt that if social services were to be more and more specialized, then there would be more need than ever before for general practitioners in neighborhoods. The settlement house provides this. Miss Hall says that “a settlement should be a place where adventure may build and not destroy. And what we do must hold its own in competition with so many neighborhood factors that ear the child apart. And this is basic to the Settlement philosophy – to win out, our work must not only be good but within easy reach.”
Helen Hall’s tenure at Henry Street lasted from 1933 to 1967. She tends to see the years divided by different overriding problems. The depression years of unemployment from 1929 to 1939; the war years; the post-war years of 1945-1955, when neighborhoods were disrupted through gang warfare; 1955-1965, the years when drug addiction became an epidemic on the Lower East Side; and the mid-sixties on, the years of mass violence.
During the late 1920’s and early 1930’s, Helen Hall worked very hard to get Congress to pass an unemployment insurance bill. She traveled to the South, the Midwest and to England to gather evidence about the hardships people were suffering. The prevailing attitude toward the unemployed at that time was that “these people don’t want to work.” Miss Hall testified before Congress on the result of her studies and also served on an advisory committee for President Roosevelt. In the early thirties, the Civil Works Administration was initiated and gave work to four million unemployed. Henry Street Settlement became a local office for the OWA and many people lined up a night in advance on the hope they would be able to get a job. Later, when the Civil Works Administration turned into the Works Project Administration, persons involved in the WPA became supplemental staff at Henry Street.
The post war years brought many changes to the Lower East Side. The soldiers coming home needed places to live and the five year gap in building caused by the war meant that housing was very hard to find. There was great relocation of many families and ethnic groups. Puerto Ricans and blacks began to move in the Lower East Side area. It takes time for a new family to put its roots down, but it takes much less time for adolescent gangs to form to keep intruders out. Settlement workers found it was hard to reach the teenagers who were already active gang members. Younger boys, aged seven to ten, were being trained by older gang members to take over; Helen Hall decided to work with younger boys and their families to insure that they wouldn’t graduate into the senior gangs. The settlement started working with pre-delinquent gangs in the mid-fifties and by the end of three years were working with five pre-delinquent gangs. The behavior patterns of these youngsters had been changed so completely that the chain of succession had been broken and one of the more vicious gangs of the neighborhood eliminated.
The problem of gang warfare was followed by drug addiction of the young, accompanied by the acts of individual violence by addicts looking for money to buy their drugs. Kids as young as thirteen were being given free
heroin to get them hooked as future customers. The response outside the Lower East Side community was to ignore the problem, until Addict in the Street, a collection of addicts’ experiences recorded by a Henry Street social worker was published in 1965. It was during these years of gang warfare and drug addiction that Helen Hall helped organize the Mobilization for Youth program. It dealt with the problems of a wide slum area and its concentration of multiple services to meet these problems was an important innovation. Mobilization for Youth also served as a starting point for many other metropolitan programs, as well as becoming the forerunner of the Anti-poverty program in Washington.
Helen Hall retired as Director of the Henry Street Settlement in 1967. She holds the position of Director Emeritus of the Settlement, as well as being active in other social welfare organizations, such as U.S. Committee for UNICEF. She divides her time between her New York City apartment and Newburgh, N.Y. home.
Henry Street Settlement Fact Sheet
1893 Henry Street Settlement founded by Lillian D. Wald. First buildings were 265-267 Henry Street.
1902 229, 301 – 303 Henry Street were added with a gymnasium.
1908 Camp Henry, for boys, at Lake Secor, Putnam County, New York.
1909 Echo Hill Farm for girls at Yorktown Heights, New York.
1915 The Playhouse at 466 Grand Street.
1927 The Music School at 8 Pitt Street
1934 263 Henry Street added.
1940 Home Planning workshops at Vladeck houses.
1946 The Mental Hygiene Clinic established
1948 Pete’s House, given by Senator and Mrs. Herbert Lehman, opens.
1954 Good Companions Club for neighbors over 60 years (note that isn’t readable) established
1960 Community Center at La Guardia Houses established.
1964 Guttman Building, given by Charles and Stella Guttman, open in September.
Source: Henry Street Settlement Records. University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, Social Welfare History Archives. Minneapolis, MN.
More information about Ms. Wald and Henry Street Settlement is available at: https://www.lib.umn.edu/swha