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South End House, Boston, MA


Origins of South End House, Boston, Massachusetts

By John E. Hansan, Ph.D.


Note: This is a long entry that uses original source materials to describe the first twenty years of programming, neighborhood betterment and other accomplishments by the staff and volunteers of South End House (1891 — 1911).  The materials used include:  The Development of USES – A Chronology of the United South End Settlement Houses: 1891 –1966, by Albert Boer and the HANDBOOK OF SETTLEMENTS, published by The Russell Sage Foundation of New York in 1911.  In the Handbook, there is a detailed description of South End House under the the section on Massachusetts. It is an extraordinary piece of history for this entry because the authors of the Handbook were Robert A. Woods and Albert J. Kennedy who collaborated on this study of settlements in existence at that time. Robert A. Woods was the first head worker at South End House and remained in that position until his death.

Introduction: Arnold Toynbee and Reverend Samuel A. Barnett conceived the plan for the first “university settlement” as a means to give Oxford University men the opportunity to live and work among the poor.  In 1885 Toynbee Hall was established in the East End of London. Canon Barnett’s work and the development of Toynbee Hall became the example and inspiration for the establishment of many more settlements, both in England and the United States.

Toynbee Hall, circa. 1902
Toynbee Hall, circa. 1902

Many visitors interested in the “practical application of Christianity” were attracted to Toynbee Hall to study their pioneer efforts. For example, Jane Addams and her friend Ellen Gates Starr founded Hull House in 1889 on the South side of Chicago, Illinois after being inspired by visiting Toynbee Hall. Robert Archey Woods, a new graduate of Andover Theological Seminary was selected by his mentor to visit London and become a resident of Toynbee Hall.  For six months he studied English efforts to help the poor and absorbed the ideas and experiences of Canon Barnett. On his return, The lectures Woods gave at the Andover seminary describing his experiences at Toynbee Hall were published in 1891 as: English Social Movements.

After young Woods returned from his London visit of six months, he and his mentor, Professor William J. Tucker, discussed at length the possibility of establishing a similar center of “social Christianity” in Boston.It was in 1891 that Professor Tucker invited interested persons to attend a meeting to organize Andover House in Boston. This meeting was held at the Union Congregational Church on Columbus Avenue in Boston’s South End in October. Thanks to the warm reception of the idea, a second meeting was set up in order to perfect the organization.In December, the Association, with William J. Tucker as President, chose 6 Rollins Street as the location for Andover House. A voluntary committee of ladies began to furnish the house.

Boston’s First Settlement: Andover House was the first settlement in Boston.  At the time there were four others in existence:

Robert A. Woods was appointed as the first Head Worker. Andover House opened with four men in residence in 1892. They started clubs for boys and girls and organized a literary society for young men and women. From the journal of Edward H. Chandler, the first resident of Andover House, the following activities were noted:

  • January 1: First one to take up residence: E. H. Chandler … very little furniture on hand-no shades-only five rooms carpeted.
  • January 2: R. A. Woods came in from Andover … shades put up. Residents boarded at Sanford Cafe!
  • January 7: G. P. Morris moved in
  • January 12: Miss Long moved in and assumed charge of housekeeping arrangements.
  • January 17: First meals served in the house.
  • January 18: The Reverend J. A. Bevington moved in, completing the corps engaged.
  • January 28: By invitation, R. A. Woods joined the Ward 16 Conference of Associated Charities.
  • January 30: Invitation to ‘John Bull’ (so called), to bring his friends in next Monday morning, to form a club at the house. But John Bull and his chum McCarthy did not appear on the morning they were invited, and the residents feared their first attempt at a Boys’ Club was a failure. Then the next day John Bull and McCarthy came in with talk of a funeral the day before. They played games for an hour or so with Woods and Morris. The settlement was “in business’.” (from Andover House records)

From the records of Andover House, during that first year the following activities showed rapid growth in different directions:

• A circulating library and a stamps savings office were established.

• Cooperation with Associated Charities and other helpful agencies in the district began. Acquaintance was made this first year with a number of trade union leaders,

• The Reverend Bevington and E. H. Chandler joined the Ward 17 Conference of Associated Charities,

• The first South End Free Art Exhibition was held at old Franklin School, Washington and Dover Streets.

• First record was made of flower distribution through an Association of Mutual Helpers (forerunner of the later well-appreciated Fruit and Flower Mission, which donates flowers and fruit to shut-ins and to hospitals).

• Participation by younger children from the South End in “Country Week” started. “Country Week” began in 1877 in Boston. Rev. William Gannett had heard accounts of bringing poor children to the countryside in Copenhagen, Denmark and began to experiment with a similar program in the Boston area. The Young Men’s Christian Union shortly thereafter took over the management of “Country Week” at Rev. Gannett’s request. In many ways one can find that camping, which later became an essential part of the settlement’s work, originated with the humble beginnings of “Country Week,”

The activities so listed illustrate a basic tenet of the settlement movement, namely the coordination of existing services, under whatever auspices those services had developed, The year 1893-1894 witnessed even greater breadth of cooperating efforts. While families living in the country were persuaded to take children into their homes from areas such as the South End, the parents of city children were taught what some of the benefits of visits to the country might be.

  • The Opportunist Club — young businessmen and residents of the house assisted in relieving the great distress among the unemployed in the South End. Active relief work was carried on in connection with the Workingmen’s Relief Committee of the Central Labor Union. Several restaurants offering low cost meals were opened by the settlement on Harrison Avenue. They served hot meals to the factory workers in the area.
  • A hearing on the subject of public baths took place before a committee of the City Council, at the request of a group of South End House residents and trade unionists. The lack of sanitary facilities in the many houses was of great concern to the settlement.

The name of Andover House was changed in 1895 to South End House. The major reasons for the name change that were noted,was to give the settlement more identity with the local neighborhood and minimize the original sectarian connection with Andover Theological School.


Note: In 1911, Robert A. Woods and Albert J. Kennedy collaborated on a study of settlements then in existence.  They produced  HANDBOOK OF SETTLEMENTS, published by The Russell Sage Foundation of New York.  In the Handbook, in the section on Massachusetts, there is a description of South End House. (Note: some of the formatting has been changed for ease of reading.)

South End House

Headquarters: Men’s Residence and Housekeeping Apartments, 20-22 Union Park (1901- 1909). Women’s Residence, 43-45 East Canton Street (19oo-, 1906). South Bay Union, Neighborhood Town Hall, 636-640 Harrison Avenue (1903-). Room Registry and Boarding Club, 171 W. Brookline Street (1907-). Residence Head, of the House, 16 Bond Street (1902). South End Music School (Affiliated), 19 Pembroke Street (1910). Summer Homes: Children, Winning Farm, Lexington, Mass.; Older Boys, Bretton Inn Caddy Colony, Bretton Woods, N. H.; Young Women, Camp Content, Little Sebago Lake, Maine.

Establ1shed October 1891, by Professor William J. Tucker of Andover Theological Seminary, and called until 1895 the Andover House. Aims: “The house is designed to stand for the single idea of resident study and work in the neighborhood where it may be located. . . . The whole aim and motive is religious, but the method is educational rather than evangelistic. A second, though hardly secondary, object….will be to create a center, for those within reach, of social study, discussion, and organization.”—Circular No. 1, October 9, 1891.

The house aims to bring about a better and more beautiful life in its neighborhood and district and to develop new ways (through study and action in this locality of meeting some of the serious problems of society.”—1896.

To foster and sustain the home under tenement conditions; to rehabilitate neighborhood life and give it some of that healthy corporate vitality which a well-ordered village has; to undertake objective investigations of local conditions; to aid organized labor both in the way of inculcating higher aims and in the way of supporting its just demands; to furnish a neutral ground where separated classes, rich and poor, professional and industrial, capitalist and wageearner, may meet each other on the basis of common humanity; to initiate local co-operation for substantial good purposes; to strive for a better type of local politics, and to take part in municipal affairs as they affect the district; to secure for the district its full share of all the best fruits of the city’s intellectual and moral progress; and to lead people throughout the city to join in this aim and motive.”—Woods, Robert A.: The City Wilderness, p. 274. 1898.

“Its aim is to work directly in one neighborhood, indirectly through the city as a whole, for the organic fulfillment of all the responsibilities, whether written down or implied, for the well being of the community, that attach to the citizen in a republic.“—Feb. 5, 1904.

Incorporated 1897.


I. INVESTIGATION—The work of the house was initiated with the publication of the first adequate study of settlements and allied forms of social enterprise in England. The objective study of neighborhood, district, and city conditions constitutes an important part of its work, and a considerable body of material dealing with phases of city life and institutions has been published. Members of the house have been called to do similar work in Pittsburgh, Buffalo, etc., and to direct two inquiries of national scope into the history and status of the settlement movement.

II. EFFORTS FOR DISTRICT IMPROVEMENT — (1) Housing.—Assisted in several studies of housing conditions; represented in the directorate of a model buildings company; presented testimony before various commissions; and had a part in securing the present adequate law. By detailed study of its neighborhood and co-operation with the city departments, has been able to assist in the enforcement of the building code.

(2) Streets and Sanitation.—Improved the sanitary service of the district by acting as a center to receive complaints; and by initiating and co-operating with neighborhood clubs and district improvement associations.

(3) Play Spaces.—Co-operated with the various city-wide endeavors for parks and playgrounds, and helped to secure the present Ward Nine playground. Endeavors to secure the adequate use of the playground by providing direction for groups of children and young people. Has maintained vacant lot playgrounds.

(4) Public School and Education.—Co-operates with neighborhood public schools through visitation, meetings with teachers, conferences, work for backward children, etc. A resident acts as home and school visitor. The head resident has long interested himself in the development of the idea of industrial education, pointing out the present waste of years between fourteen and sixteen in the case of working children, and served in 1906 as temporary secretary of the state commission on industrial education. Through the publicity given to the Franklin Fund, helped save the fund to its present use in the Franklin Union.

(5) Labor.—Residents early established acquaintance with trade union leaders, and the head of the house acted as treasurer of the relief committee of the Central Labor Union in 1893-4. The unions co-operated with the settlement in securing the Dover Street bath house; in organizing several series of conferences on labor matters; and in efforts for arbitrating strikes. Secures a union of forces between agencies for general social betterment and the trade unions in matters before the city government and the state legislature. Rendered valuable service in bringing about the complete change of front on the part of the labor unions toward industrial education. Several studies of women’s work have been made, and aid has been given in organizing several women’s unions and the Women’s Trade Union League. An investigation into the work of children leaving school was in part responsible for the present law providing for the licensing of boys engaged in street trades by the school board.

(6) Political and Civic.—The head resident has served actively for many years as a member of the Public Franchise League, which secured the municipal ownership of Boston’s subways; and for ten years was a member of the Municipal Bath Commission. The settlement co-operates with the better grade of politicians in the neighborhood and district leaders are stimulated to secure public improvements. Out of its studies into political machinery came the bill by which aldermen were elected at large, and residents took an active part in the campaigns of 1905-6 and 1909-10 on issues which transcended party lines. Residents have always worked for the candidates of the Public School Association.

(7) Economic.—Active in the relief work of the crisis of 1893-4. A club of business men was organized which opened two restaurants; made an investigation into unemployment; hastened a state appropriation for the employment of labor; and a state commission on unemployment. Acted as a center for distribution in the coal strike of 1902. From time to time served as a center for the sale of coal in small lots, and for two years maintained a restaurant and counter for the sale of cooked food. A lace making experiment conducted for several years later became an independent enterprise. Conducts the largest stamp savings center in New England.

(8) Legislation.—The head resident has strongly urged and earnestly striven for the gradual segregation from the community of its degenerate and degraded types. An active part has been taken in securing the Massachusetts legislation against the tramp evil; Mr. Woods was appointed chairman of the board of trustees of the State Hospital for Dipsomaniacs (1907), and had a part in securing the passage of a bill (1910) to separate licenses for the sale of liquor for consumption at a bar from licenses for the sale by bottles or cans for home consumption; the number of licenses also being greatly reduced.

(9) Moral.—Constant watchfulness as to the standing of the saloons, etc. of the quarter. Has been able from time to time to influence the city departments to action. Much work for the moral rescue of individuals has been undertaken. In co-operation with various city societies residents have contributed to the total effort for a better standard of social morality. Active in the campaign which secured the juvenile court, and co-operates with its officers in various ways.

(10) Health.—A pioneer in the anti-tuberculosis campaign in the city; maintained for some years a dispensary for the sale of milk for infants (now independent); maintains a resident nursing service; and substantially assisted the Boston Dispensary in initiating its medical-social work. It has been a factor in providing several notable exhibits, particularly the dental exhibit (1908).

(11) Awakening Local Initiative.—Neighborhood committee organized (1905) to co-operate in efforts for district betterment; Club Council, 1909; Neighborhood Association, 1910. Residents have had a leading part in initiating and carrying on the work of the South End Improvement Association (1908), with 700 paying local members.

(12) Artistic.—Picture exhibits, yearly courses of lectures, concerts, etc. Some activities have been turned over to city and private organizations.

III. LOCAL INSTITUTIONAL IMPROVEMENT. Largely through the efforts of the residents there has been secured to the district a public bath/ a public playground, a public gymnasium, and a branch of the public library.

IV. Co-operation. Members connected in advisory and off1cial capacity with other settlements, and with charitable, civic, and other organizations.

V. General Propaganda. Through studies and books, various lecture appointments in colleges, etc., and by public meetings and conferences, the settlement has done much to extend the philosophy of the movement and helped to create the present more responsible public attitude toward industrial districts. Its fellowships in connection with New England colleges have graduated a succession of trained workers into the field of social endeavor. The head of the house has been lecturer in social ethics at the Episcopal Theological School (Cambridge) since 1896. Residents are members of a great variety of boards.

TENEMENT NEIGHBORHOOD: A mixed factory and tenement quarter in an increasingly congested section, with much old housing, and generally adverse conditions. The people are of Irish extraction, though Jews and Italians border the district and are beginning to come in.

Ma1nta1ns kindergarten; resident nursing service; stamp savings service in homes and factories; recreation hour for factory girls; classes in housekeeping, cooking, sewing, dressmaking, millinery, sloyd, wood carving, arts and crafts, boys’ brigade, clay modeling, drawing, painting, music (girls’ chorus, pian0, violin), dancing; clubs for men and women, young people and children with civic, musical, athletic and social interests. Summer Work. —Summer school; window box and home gardens; market inspection; resident nursing work; picnics and excursions; vacations at several country centers.


Neighborhood. A district of substantial family residences which have been turned into lodging houses, and are generally overcrowded. The sanitary equipment is nearly always inadequate. The people are largely Americans and Canadians, generally single, engaged as students, clerks, mechanics, etc. The practical disappearance not only of home life but even of the boarding house with its parlor and dining room; the extreme decay of neighborly acquaintance and responsibility; the frequent juxtaposition of rampant or concealed evil with virtue or complacence, create for many people conditions of extreme discomfort and moral strain.

Maintains room registry; boarding club of young women; meeting place of several clubs of landladies and others; conferences, socials, etc. The South End Improvement Association through its committees and by large meetings does much to awaken interest in the welfare of the district and to create a solid front for better things.

Former Locations. Headquarters: 6 Rollins St., Nov., 1891-1901; Club and Class Center, 611 Harrison Ave , 1895-1903. Center for Work among Negroes: 33 Bradford St., 1902-1905; 478 Shawmut Ave., 1905-1907; 218 Northampton St., 1907; Became Robert G. Shaw House (independent), 1908. Room Registry and Boarding Cluh: 34 Rutland Sq., 1905-1907.

Residents. Women 12, men 12. Volunteers. Women 52, men 13. Head Res1dent. Robert A. Woods, 1891-.


I. Author1zed Statements. Annual reports. See particularly the Fifteenth Annual Report, March, 1907, which traces the growth of the Settlement’s influence. See also: Circulars, bulletins and reports of the Andover House Association, and of the South End House, succeeding it — Editorial. Christian Union, Feb. 11, 1893 — University Settlements, Andover House, Boston. Lend a Hand, xi : 183(1893) — Tucker, William J.: Andover House of Boston. Scrihner’s, March, 1893 — Ely, R. E.: Andover House. Prospect Union Rev., i, No. 1 (Mar. 24, 1894) — Robert A. Wood’s Review of Settlement Achievements. Commons, vi, No. 57 (April, 1901) — South End House. Lend a Hand, xvi: 142 (Feb., 1896) — Balch, Emily Greene (Reviewer): Americans in Process. Commons, vii, No. 8 (March, 1903) — For Americans in Process. South Bay Union, the New Neighborhood Town Hall of Boston (South End House). Charities, x: 219-227 (Mar. 7, 1903) — Meade, E. F. (Reviewer): Americans in Process. Ann. Amer. Acad, of Pol. and Soc. Sct., xxii : 524-525 (Nov., 1903) — The Lace Industry at South End House. Commons, ix : 28-30 (Jan., 1904) — South End House. Commons, x : 252 (Apr., 1905) — South End House Activities. Charities, xiii : 577 (Mar. 18, 1905).

II. Art1cles About The Settlement By Res1dents. Doyen, Mabel F.: The Lace Industry at South End House. Commons, ix : 28-30 (Jan., 1904) — Phelps, Roswell F.: An Experiment in Industrial Democracy. Commons, x : 91-95 (Feb., 1905) — Woods, Robert A.: Andover House Association. Andover Rev., Jan., 1892. Andover House of Boston. Char. Rev., ii : 150 (Jan., 1893). Andover House. Advance, Oct. 11, 1894. South End House, Boston. Kinisley House Rec., Apr., 19oo.








Sources: The Development of USES – A Chronology of the United South End Settlement Houses: 1891 –1966, By Albert Boer

The HANDBOOK OF SETTLEMENTS, By Robert A. Woods and Albert J. Kennedy and published by The Russell Sage Foundation of New York in 1911.

7 Replies to “South End House, Boston, MA”

  1. This is a query. Does anyone know of a Settlement House in or near Boston that existed in 1918, called Margaret Edgerton Settlement House? My mother referred to it in a writing I am editing but I can’t find any reference to it anywhere. I would be grateful for any information.

  2. I am researching a Clara Miller who died on the 31st of May, 1943 while living at 79 Warren Street with Boston Public Welfare listed as informant on her death certificate. Was this address a facility of Boston Public Welfare?

    While living here from at least 1940, Clara Miller was also receiving an annual stipend of @$1,000 from the Stanley McInnis estate in Brandon, Manitoba. Surely $1,000 in 1943 would exclude Clara from welfare support – unless 79 Warren was also a mental institution?

    • I was a part time employee at South End House in the late 1960s while I was studying at Brandeis University. I can assure you the history of South End House correctly describes the agency and its significant history helping the residents of South Boston. Like other settlement houses of the period, South End was a nonprofit organization that served their community in a variety of ways. For years, it offered housing/residence resources for employees, volunteers and others. It is very likely Clara Miller was a volunteer/staff member who lived in residence. The fact that her death certificate has a reference to the Department of Public Welfare is something you will have to explore with that public agency. It still exists and should be able to answer your question about what levels of income were required to be eligible for assistance in 1943. Best wishes, Jack Hansan

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