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Coit, Stanton

in: People

Stanton Coit (1857-1944) – Founder of Neighborhood Guild, the First Settlement House in the U.S. in 1886 and Founder of the South Place Ethical Society in London in 1887.


Stanton George Coit (11 August 1857 – 15 February 1944) was an American-born leader of the Ethical movement in England.
Stanton George Coit (11 August 1857 – 15 February 1944) was an American-born leader of the Ethical movement in England.
Photo: Public Domain

Introduction: Stanton Coit was born in Columbus, Ohio on August 11, 1857. He studied at Amherst College, Massachusetts, 1879, and became an aide of Felix Adler who had founded the Society for Ethical Culture in New York in 1876.  (Note: The Ethical Society’s aim is “…to assert the supreme importance of the ethical factor in all relations of life, personal, social, national, and international, apart from any theological or metaphysical considerations.” No definite ethical system is insisted upon, although Adler’s own ethical thought has naturally had much influence. The society holds its own religious services, but members may have other religious affiliations if they wish. Societies were organized in Chicago (1882), Philadelphia (1885), St. Louis (1886), Brooklyn, N.Y. (1906), and later in other cities. In England, Stanton Coit founded the South Place Ethical Society, London, in 1887; other societies have since been founded there.)
Coit continued his studies at Columbia University, New York, 1881-2, and at the Humboldt University of Berlin, where he obtained his Ph.D. in 1885. Returning to New York via London in 1885 he visited for three months at Toynbee Hall, a settlement house  founded by Cannon Samuel Barnett in Whitechapel in 1883/4.  One of the main purposes of Toynbee Hall was to enable university graduates to undertake social work in deprived areas. On returning to New York Coit founded the Neighborhood Guild now known as the University Settlement House, in New York City’s Lower East Side. He later (1891) wrote Neighbourhood Guilds: An Instrument of Social Reform. In 1887, Coit returned to London and soon founded a Neighbourhood Guild in Kentish Town.  Coit remained in London for the rest of his life (marrying in 1898 and taking British citizenship in 1903). He died February 15, 1944.

History: In 1886, Dr. Stanton Coit opened the first settlement house in the United States:  Neighborhood Guild. Like some of his university student counterparts in England, he chose to live on his own in the slums while attending graduate school at Columbia University. To begin, he acquired a building on New York’s Lower East Side, a heavily immigrant and very poor and crowded slum, and invited the neighbors in for lectures, theatricals, clubs, and other recreational activities. Neighborhood Guild’s purpose, like that of Toynbee Hall, was twofold: first, to meet the immediate needs of the neighborhood through a daily program of direct services, mostly of an educational/recreational nature and, second, to bring about more basic social reforms. The settlement method included having interested well-to-do people settle” in the slums by living in the settlement house. Learning about poverty from first hand experience, these Settlement workers would gain added insights into its causes and added legitimacy in their arguments for its solutions. They would replace the typical nineteenth century charity worker’s air of superiority with one of neighborliness, and help the poor form their own organizations to improve their lot.  Actually, Dr. Coit sought to go one step further than the usual settlement in neighborhood organization. He envisioned organizing the working class into a series of clubs, each club consisting of about one hundred families living along the same street or on the same block. Through its local neighborhood guild and other guilds, each club would be allied with the others, forming a vast working class network to agitate for reforms.

When Coit returned to England to accept the major Ethical Culture ministry there, Neighborhood Guild almost collapsed. In 1891, two of its original founders, Charles B. Stover and Edward King reorganized it as University Settlement.

This work may also be read through the Internet Archive.

How to Cite this Article (APA Format): Social Welfare History Project (2011). Stanton Coit (185701944) – Founder of Neighborhood Guild, the first settlement house in the U.S. in 1886 and founder of the South Place Ethical Society in London in 1887.  Social Welfare History Project. Retrieved [date accessed] from


A 1910 Description of University Settlement — (Formerly The Neighborhood Guild)

Note: This description of the University Settlement in 1910-1911 is from the HANDBOOK OF SETTLEMENTS written by two settlement house pioneers: Robert Archey Woods and Albert J. Kennedy.  The book included the findings of a national survey of all the known settlements in existence in 1910 and was published by The Russell Sage Foundation of New York in 1911.

Established August, 1886, by Dr. Stanton Coit, who stimulated by a short residence at Toynbee Hall in January and February, 1886, took up residence on the lower East Side in a tenement on Forsyth Street. The Neighborhood Guild was formed in 1887, and in May 1891, the guild was reorganized as the University Settlement Society. Aims “to bring men and women of education into closer relations with the laboring classes in this city, for their mutual benefit. The society shall establish and maintain in the tenement house districts places of residence for college men and others desirous of aiding in the work, with rooms where the people of the neighborhood may meet for social and educational purposes.”—Constitution. Incorporated March, 1892.

Neighborhood. Lower East Side, New York City. The people are largely immigrant Jews.

Activities. I. Investigations. Has carried on for many years sociological studies into different phases of East Side life. These studies have been published from time to time in the University Settlement Studies, in special pamphlets and in magazines. Data have also been gathered for special legislative or other committees. Among such special studies were those conducted into Unemployment (1894) in co-operation with the College Settlement; educational statistics for the Tenement House Commission (1894); data for the Reinhard Committee, concerning the condition of working women (1895); study of the medical status of the East Side (1896); a study of eviction cases in co-operation with the College Settlement and the Nurses’ Settlement (1897); study of the East Side benef1t societies (1898); study of recreation features of the East Side (1899); data gathered for the Tenement House Commission of 19oo, of which commission the head worker was a member, etc., etc.

II. Efforts For District Improvement, (1) Housing.—Work for better housing began in 1886, and has continued ever since. Dr. Coit organized a sanitary section of the Social Reform Club, the members of which reported the conditions among which they lived. Residents from time to time did intensive work in studying and following up violations of the law. Special testimony was given before the Commission of 1894-5, again in 19oo; and the experience of the settlement has been valuable in securing and defending the present law.

(2) Streets and Refuse.-—One of the first forms of public activity undertaken by the Guild Club was an effort to keep the streets about the Guild House clean (1899). When the street cleaning department was reorganized under Colonel Waring, the settlement undertook to patrol the most difficult section of the city, and with the aid of residents and club members made regular reports to the commissioner. The head resident became general superintendent of the Children’s Street Cleaning League, and a resident was made inspector. Another resident later became a sanitary inspector for six months, and did valuable educational work in the district. Supported (1895) the bill against the truck nuisance. The co-operation between the house and the city departments has been continuous. One resident has participated in several conferences on street cleaning, one of which secured the placing of refuse boxes on street corners by the commissioner of street cleaning.

(3) Play Spaces.—Mr. Stover, one time head worker, has been most active since 1887 in the effort to secure play spaces in the city; and his work has been a factor of great importance in obtaining the present equipment of playgrounds. The house has co-operated in various ways with the several organizations and movements working for East Side playgrounds. In 1896 the mayor appointed the head resident chairman of a committee empowered to locate two parks on the lower East Side. The appointment of Mr. Stover in 1910 as Park Commissioner of the city of New York is a recognition of his contribution to the park movement and his unusual ability to fill such an office.

(4) Public Schools.—Three residents (C. B. Stover, James K. Paulding, and James B. Reynolds) served as school trustees during their residence. Through this service an active influence for school improvement was started. Supported the bill to abolish school trustees. Its kindergarten, organized in 1887, still supplements the public education of the district. Through conferences with teachers the settlement has tried to give something of the settlement message to those doing the actual school work; has been constant in its agitation for adequate facilities for all scholars, for evening centers, and for a broadened curriculum.

(5) Labor.—The settlement has from time to time aided in the organization of new unions; provided help and council in just strikes; used every endeavor to further arbitration; and brought about conferences between employers and working men to discuss labor and economic questions. For many years it rented its halls to individual unions and to the Central Federated Union. Protested against the sweating system in every possible way. For some years cooperated with the unions in searching out and closing sweat shops. As a result of knowledge of labor conditions certain recommendations made by Mr. Reynolds were incorporated in the factory laws. Worked for the Mercantile Inspection Bill (1894-5) ar>d furnished all the aid in its power for other laws regulating the hours and conditions of labor of men, women and children.

(6) Politics.—The early clubs were stimulated to protest against corrupt candidates, and residents have endeavored to awaken an enlightened public opinion in the various good government campaigns. The settlement allied itself with various organized efforts,—the City Vigilance League, Good Government clubs, etc. Mr. Reynolds was a member of the Committee of Seventy, in 1894, chairman of the executive committee of the Citizens’ Union in 1897, and later chairman of important sub-committees. Residents have appeared frequently before the legislative committees in support of measures looking toward the betterment of political conditions. Perhaps the best service of the house has been the training in citizenship given its boys and girls, as a result of which the settlement now looks with pride on the excellent records of a number of its young men in various branches of public service.

(7) Economic.—Various efforts to ameliorate suffering in the several seasons of industrial depression of the last twenty-f1ve years (1893-4, 1900, 1907-8). It presented the facts to the public, and was able to be of assistance to certain needy friends who were unwilling to appeal to the public charities. In 1893 a co-operative service in dairy products was attempted. Houses a branch of the Provident Loan Society (1901-).

(8) Transportation.—One of the clubs carried on a successful campaign to better the very poor street car service of its district. The settlement was one of several agencies through whose efforts an elevated loop in Delancey Street for the Williamsburg Bridge was prevented.

(9) Moral.—Co-operated in bringing about the passage of the juvenile court law, and provided the f1rst volunteer probation off1cers in the state (1901). Maintained a paid probation service until the work was assumed by the city. In its studies it pointed out the evil to young children of the disgraceful moral conditions in its section, and in a number of cases collected evidence which closed certain houses of a notorious type. Led in an agitation for abolishing street walking in Second Avenue, and organized a committee which secured the minimization of this evil by the police.

(10) Testimony before State and National Committees and Legislative Bodies.—Residents have frequently appeared before committees of legislative bodies to help good bills or to protest against those detrimental to public welfare.

III. Local Institutional Improvement. Maintained a kindergarten from 1887-1909 and housed another; a public library from 1887 to 1905, when its service was f1nally taken over by the city; public baths since 1898; public halls in its own building, besides co-operating in securing Clinton Hall; public art exhibits, public lectures and concerts; houses the Provident Loan Society, and provided room for the Legal Aid Society for many years, etc.

IV. General Propaganda. Has kept the needs of its quarter before the public, and has had a share in bringing about the present human way of regarding such crowded industrial quarters as the East Side. Started the present Richmond Hill House, 19oo-1903; assisted the Harlem Guild (discontinued), and stimulated self-supporting organizations on the East Side and elsewhere.

Maintains kindergarten; public bath; penny provident bank; gymnasium and athletic association; choral societies, orchestras, and concerts for children and adults; public lectures; meeting place of various organizations, educational, beneficial, labor, and social; classes in sewing, dancing, cultural subjects, etc., etc. Many clubs of men and women, young people, and children for various objects, musical, dramatic, athletic, social, etc. Summer Work.—Club work; roof garden and gymnasium; morning mass club for children; distribution of flowers; gardening, vacation houses, boys’ camp, girls’ house, children’s house, independent vacation trips by clubs, etc.

Former Locations. 146 Forsyth St., Aug., 1886-1889; 147 Forsyth St., Autumn, 1889-1892; 340 Cherry St., Jan., 1889-July, 1890; 26 Delancey St., Winter, 1892-31898; 2oo Eldridge St. (The Annex), 1896-1898. The West Side Branch. 38 King St., Oct., 19oo-1904; 28 McDougal St., 1901-1904.

Residents. Men 12. Volunteers. Women 83, men 54.

Head Residents. Stanton Coit, Aug., 1886-July, 1888, Winter of 1892, Winter and Spring of 1893; Charles B. Stover, Aug., 1887-1891; John McG. Goodale, 1891; James K. Paulding, 1892; James B. Reynolds, May 1, 1894-Jan. 1, 1902; Robert Hunter, Apr., 1902-1903; James H. Hamilton, 1903-Aug. 15, 1909; Robbins Gilman, Aug. 15, 1909-.

This work may also be read through the Internet Archive.

2 Replies to “Coit, Stanton”

  1. I got this little book at a yard sale tied together with other old books “The message of Man” by Stanton Coit Phd not sure the date but very old with inscription inside 1909. This is a masterpiece!! It is one of my dearest treasures. He was an angel on this earth, sent to guide us. I wouldn’t give it up for a million bucks!

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