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Kennedy, Albert J.

in: People

Albert J. Kennedy (1879-1968) — Settlement House Pioneer, Researcher, Author and Community Advocate

Introduction: Albert Joseph Kennedy was a pioneer in the U. S. settlement house movement. He was associated with settlement house work and the National Federation of Settlements for nearly sixty years. The social settlement movement was based on the idea that those who wanted to help the poor would live (“settle”) in the neighborhoods that they hoped to improve. They endeavored to improve the lives of their working class, often immigrant, neighbors through social reform, educational programs, health services, and “friendly example” or “uplift.” Kennedy’s numerous studies of local communities and thoughtful reports on many aspects of settlement work provide insights into the nature of the settlements’ work among their “neighbors” as well as a conceptual framework for the larger concerns of settlement workers.

Education and Career: Kennedy was born January 20, 1879 in Rosenhayn, New Jersey, to Thomas and Molly (Barnhardt) Kennedy. Albert Kennedy received a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1901 from the University of Rochester and graduated from Rochester Theological Seminary in 1904. After serving as a clergyman for a year in Granite Falls, Minnesota, he attended Harvard University as a Williams Fellow (1905-1906) and as a South End House Fellow (1906-1908). He was granted the degree of Doctor of Sacred Theology from Harvard Divinity School in 1907. The following year he married Edith Forbes Knowles and they had three sons: Robert Woods, Fitzroy and Edmond. The marriage ended in divorce in 1929. In 1930, Kennedy married Marjorie Patten and they had his forth son: Michael.

Kennedy was affiliated with South End House, Boston, MA for twenty years (1908-1928). For most of those years he worked closely with Robert A. Woods, the renowned settlement house pioneer, who founded South End House in 1891 (first known as Andover House). Initially Kennedy served as director of investigations (1908-1914), then associate head worker (1914-1926), and finally as head worker (1926-1928). In 1911, Kennedy and Robert Woods produced the first Handbook of Settlements. In this document, 413 settlements were described along with their daily educational and recreational activities and accounts of social actions taken.

In 1913, Kennedy and Wood produced a book: Young Working Girls. Later, in 1922, Kennedy and Robert Woods published The Settlement Horizon: A National Estimate, the result of a ten-year collaborative project. The Settlement Horizon was an account of the history, administration and accomplishments of settlement houses as well as a significant assessment of the settlement idea and its accomplishments.

From 1911-1922, Kennedy also served as assistant secretary of the National Federation of Settlements and Neighborhood Centers, an organization he helped to create. In 1922, while associate head worker at South End House, Kennedy became secretary of the National Federation of Settlements, a position he held until 1934. In addition, he often lectured at eastern colleges, conducted investigations in several areas of settlement work, and published numerous books and papers. Throughout his tenure, he continued to conduct agency and community surveys. Of special interest to Kennedy at this time were music and visual arts in the settlements. Kennedy left South End House in 1928 to become head worker at the University Settlement in New York City. He remained there until 1944. Kennedy died in Peekskill, New York on June 4, 1968.


Albert J. Kennedy Papers. University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, Social Welfare History Archives. Minneapolis, MN

Biographical Dictionary of Social Welfare in America, Greenwood Press (1986).

How to Cite this Article (APA Format): Social Welfare History Project. (2011). Albert J. Kennedy (1879-1968) — Settlement house pioneer, researcher, author and community advocate. Social Welfare History Project. Retrieved [date accessed] from