Helen Hall (1892-1982): Settlement House Leader, Social Reformer and Consumer Advocate.
Introduction: Helen Hall directed University Settlement in Philadelphia, 1922- 1933 before succeeding Lillian Wald as director of Henry Street Settlement in New York City, where she remained until her retirement in 1967. She served with the American Red Cross in France during and after World War I and in the Far East during World War II. She was an influential leader in the settlement house and consumer movements, directed numerous national and local studies of socio-economic conditions, and actively campaigned to improve community conditions on New York City’s Lower East Side.
Education and Career: Helen Hall, settlement worker and social reformer, was born January 5, 1892 in Kansas City, Missouri. Her family later moved to Chester, New York, where her father established a surgical instruments manufacturing plant, Wilford Hall Laboratories. Miss Hall studied art and social work at Columbia University and the New York School for Social Work, 1912-15. Like many young women of her generation she searched for a calling that would enrich her life through service to others. Helen quickly found her way to what would become a lifetime career in neighborhood work. In 1916, after her coursework at the New York School for Social Work, Hall organized Neighborhood House in Eastchester, New York, and also worked with the Westchester County Department of Child Welfare
When America entered the war, Helen left Neighborhood House and her work with the Westchester County Department of Child Welfare and joined the Red Cross through whose auspices she directed work for servicemen of the American Expeditionary Force at base hospitals at Chateaureux and Solesmes. After the Armistice she stayed on in France and organized a girls’ club for the YWCA in Alsace. Still in her twenties, she was asked by the War Department to organize recreational services for enlisted men serving in China and in the Philippines, a mission she served from 1920 to 1922. And then it was back to the States and appointment as director of University Settlement in Philadelphia, a position she held from 1922 to 1933, when she moved to New York to become Lillian Wald’s chosen successor at Henry Street Settlement from 1933 until her retirement at age 75 in 1967.
There were many other duties and assignments, of course, for Helen always placed a high priority on settlement outreach into the larger community and on settlement responsibility for addressing pressing concerns of public policy. In 1928, Albert J. Kennedy appointed her chairman of the Unemployment Committee of the National Federation of Settlements. The Committee conducted a number of nationwide surveys of urban unemployment, 1928-32, and published Some Folks Won’t Work (1930) and Case Studies of Unemployment (1931). Additionally, Hall wrote
several articles on unemployment, testified before legislative bodies in support of unemployment insurance and relief, delivered speeches about unemployment conditions, and served as an adviser on unemployment for Pennsylvania Governor Gifford Pinchot. In the early 1930s, Hall visited England and made comparative studies of unemployment conditions and methods of relief. As president of the National Federation of Settlements, 1934-40, she carried a major obligation to voice neighborhood needs in the mayor’s office, in state government in Albany, and in the nation’s capital.
As a member of a special commission of Foreign Policy Association in 1934, she studied economic and social conditions in Cuba. In that same year she served on the Advisory Council to the Committee on Economic Security, whose charge it was to draft national legislation on social insurance. Consumer affairs, housing, medical care, juvenile delinquency, drug addiction, civil rights and civil liberties, constructive work of the United Nations- all commanded her attention and engaged her efforts. During World War II, 1942-43, Helen rejoined the American Red cross on special assignment to oversee the development of service clubs and rest homes in General MacArthur’s theater– Australia and the South Pacific. Here was an opportunity, again, to touch the lives of “lonely and wounded men.” As director of Henry Street Settlement, she carried many portfolios of social and public concern.
The board of directors of Henry Street Settlement in 1933 asked Hall to succeed Lillian Wald as headworker of the New York City settlement, a position Hall held until her retirement at age 75 in 1967. Like Wald, Hall was committed to social action and social justice, and she emphasized the importance of changing public policy to secure decent urban neighborhoods.
In 1934, President Franklin D. Roosevelt named her a member of the advisory council to the Committee on Economic Security, which drafted social security legislation. She was president of the National Federation of Settlements from 1934-40. As a member of a special commission of the Foreign Policy Association in 1934, Hall studied the social and economic conditions in Cuba.
She married Paul Underwood Kellogg, editor of The Survey, in February 1935. During World War II, 1942-43, Hall took a leave of absence from Henry Street Settlement to rejoin the American Red Cross. She organized service clubs and rest homes for the Red Cross in Australia and the South Pacific.
Throughout her career, Hall was involved with consumer affairs. In 1934-35, she served as consumer representative of the New York State Milk Advisory Committee. She helped organize and served as chairman of the Consumers’ National Federation, 1936-41. Later, she was named vice-chairman of a consumer advisory committee to the Office of Price Administration. In 1952, Hall became a board member and advisor for Consumers’ Union. Her work at Henry Street Settlement led to a joint settlement study of purchasing and credit practices of low-income families; the project resulted in a book, The Poor Pay More, published in 1963.
In the decades following World War II, Hall initiated many community programs to combat juvenile delinquency. In 1955, she helped found the Lower Eastside Neighborhood Association; and in 1957, she assisted in organizing Mobilization for Youth. Additionally, Miss Hall fought for improved medical care on the Lower East Side and sought to interpret the work of the United Nations to her neighbors.
Her marriage to Paul Underwood Kellogg in 1935 provided joy and loving companionship for twenty-three years they had together; the moving memory of the partnership continued to sustain her from his death in 1958 for another quarter century to her own death last summer, in August 31, 1982.
In 1947, Bates College awarded her an honorary doctor of laws degree; in 1969, Smith College conferred on her an honorary doctor of humane letters degree; and in June 1972, she received an honorary degree from Columbia University.
Helen Hall’s autobiography, Unfinished Business, was published in 1971. Miss Hall died in her Manhattan apartment on 31 August 1982, at age 90.
References: University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, Social Welfare History Archives. Minneapolis, MN: https://www.lib.umn.edu/swha
How to Cite this Article (APA Format): Social Welfare History Project (2011). Helen Hall (1892-1982): Settlement house leader, social reformer and consumer advocate. Social Welfare History Project. Retrieved [date accessed] from https://socialwelfare.library.vcu.edu/people/hall-helen/
5 Replies to “Hall, Helen”
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My name is Margarita Calderon. I worked in the University Settlement Child Care Center Located at the time in Manhattan, N.Y., many years ago, as an Assitant teacher and then moved up to Head Teacher working with a family group. More or less in the 70 s. approximately from 1970 to 1974, during this time I worked under Mrs Helen Agner. Im not too sure of the spelling of her name. I would like to know if you can help me to locate her again. I am now 91 years old and retired and I live in Ecuador. I was very fond of this Director of the establishment I worked for; we lost complete communication and recently I was wondering if I could find her through the internet, and with no success of finding her; I am writing to you in hope that you can help perhaps with any information.
Thank you for your time and cooperation and attention to this search.
Ms. Calderon: You wrote last year and I am just now reviewing your comment. Unfortunately, I have no good access to the files of University Settlement’s files; however, I believe it would be worth your time to contact the organization and request the same information you requested from me. Good luck and good health, JEH
I had the pleasure of working with her as a young organizer on the Lower East Side. She mentored me in my role at the Lower Eastside Neighborhood Association (LENA) as we fought to obtain the new Gouverneur Hospital. She was still alive to see it completed after I helped organized the campaign against the wishes of the powerful private hospital interests. Think of the term “head worker.”
Terry: Thanks for the comment about Ms. Hall and your early career. I am sorry we did not have the opportunity to become more acquainted when you were active with NASW. FYI, I had the pleasure of being invited by Ms. Hall to come to New York and direct Henry Street sometime in the late 1960s. I met her while I was on the Board of NFS and we talked about the fact I did my field work at University Settlement House in Philadelphia (1954-56) where she earlier served as the Executive Director before moving to NYC. Warm regards, Jack Hansan