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Union Settlement, New York City

Union Settlement, East Harlem, New York City

Union Settlement Association
Union Settlement Association

Note: At the end of the chronological history of Union Settlement there is a detailed description of the agency as it existed in 1911.  This latter portion of the entry is taken from the HANDBOOK OF SETTLEMENTS published in 1911.  This valuable collection of national information about settlements and their activities was organized and written by two settlement house pioneers, Robert Archey Woods and Albert J. Kennedy, and published by The Russell Sage Foundation of New York.


Union Settlement Association
Union Settlement Association

Introduction: Since 1895, Union Settlement has served the people of East Harlem. We believe the key to our endurance lies in our adaptability. East Harlem has long been a portal community whose population shifts with each new trend in immigration. With each new generation, beginning with the Irish, Eastern European, and Italian populations of a century ago, to the current mix of Hispanics and African Americans, and the latest arrivals from Central and South America, West Africa and the Caribbean, Union Settlement transforms itself to meet new demands and has proven a sustained, and sustaining force within the community.


1890’s — 3,687,000 immigrants arrive at U.S. ports. Until the 1880s, most had come from western and northern Europe. New immigrants were from southern and eastern Europe, and were less prepared to fit into American life. Almost all had to start at the bottom of the economic ladder.

1895 — Union Settlement Association is founded by alumni, faculty and students of Union Theological Seminary at 202 East 69th Street in response to the desperate conditions of immigrants struggling to make a new life in America. Within five months, the agency moves to its present site at 237 East 104th Street.

1896 — Within one year of opening, Union Settlement programs serve 2,000 community residents each month.

1900 — Union Settlement serves more than 3,000 people each week. Programs include Kindergarten, Library, Girls’ Clubs, Cooking Classes, Boys’ Clubs, Literary and Dramatic Club, Workingmen’s Club, Mothers’ Meetings, Helping Club, Coal Club, Music Classes, Penny Provident Bank, Sunshine Club, Sewing School, Classes in Physical Culture, Acorn Club, Young Ladies’ Union Club, Pleasure Club, Junior Athletic Club, Mandolin Club, Glee Club, playgrounds and parks.

1915 — In response to the economic crisis of 1915, Union Settlement provides relief work, such as bandage rolling and rug making, for 300 unemployed.

1917 — Union Settlement establishes campgrounds in Palisades Interstate Park. Surrounded by lakes and woods, the camps provide important growth experiences to tens of thousands of youngsters from 1917 to the 1960s.

1930 — Jobs are created to upgrade Union Settlement’s building. Food is purchased wholesale by Union Settlement to sell cheaply. Fuel is given out at Police Stations.

May 18, 1951-Union Settlement's Activities Council is awarded the Eleanor Roosevelt Community Service Citation. From left to right, Mrs. Roosevelt, Robert Vinter, Jr., Asst Director, Recreation and Education Department and Hazel Harris, President of Union Settlement's Activities Council.
May 18, 1951-Union Settlement’s Activities Council is awarded the Eleanor Roosevelt Community Service Citation. From left to right, Mrs. Roosevelt, Robert Vinter, Jr., Asst Director, Recreation and Education Department and Hazel Harris, President of Union Settlement’s Activities Council.

Union Settlement creates an Emergency Relief Fund. Seventy-five percent of the East Harlem community is on relief.

1932 — The New York Committee of the American Birth Control League opens a Birth Control Clinic at Union Settlement. The clinic is one of the first in the city and in East Harlem.

1935 — The Federal Works Progress Administration provides recreation workers, teachers, craftsmen, artists and musicians to supplement the Union Settlement staff.

1937 — Union Settlement opens a Cooperative Grocery, in league with the Consumer Cooperative Society, and the Farmer-Consumer Milk Cooperative, which remains open until 1960.


Literacy Program
Literacy Program

1942 — In response to the growing population of isolated elderly, Union Settlement initiates one of the first Old Age programs in New York City. The program is a precursor to today’s senior services, and consists of recreation, meals and literacy activities.

1943 — Union Settlement opens school-age day care for children of working mothers.

1955 — A Community Center and a Day Care Program open at Washington Houses, a large public housing project in East Harlem. Then and now, Washington Houses Community Center houses youth services. Currently, Youth at Union and the Settlement College Reading Program make their homes there.

1957 –Union Settlement Federal Credit Union opens its doors for business. The credit union, a financial cooperative, is East Harlem’s alternate banking system. Members pool their assets and lend money to each other at low interest rates. Today, through aggressive outreach in the community, the Credit Union has 4,700 members and has provided over $32 million in personal, home, business and educational loans. The East Harlem Project is established to coordinate community service efforts focusing on schools, housing and tenant organizations. The Project, preceded by block associations in the 1940s, is co-sponsored by the James Weldon Johnson Community Center.

1959 — Youth Employment Service is created in cooperation with other settlements in East Harlem (James Weldon Johnson and LaGuardia), schools, churches and individual community members. The Service provides literacy, job readiness and job support programs to high school dropouts. Thousands of young people are served during its 21-year history. Today, our adult education program and Youth at Union offer literacy classes, job skills training, GED preparation and more.

A 1911 description of Union Settlement taken from HANDBOOK OF SETTLEMENTS written by Robert Archey Woods and Albert J. Kennedy, and published by The Russell Sage Foundation of New York.

Union Settlement

Established May 26, 1895, by the Alumni Club of Union Theological Seminary (Union Settlement Association). Aims: “…to maintain a settlement in New York City for the assertion and application in the spirit of Jesus Christ, of the principles of brotherhood along the lines of educational, social, civic and religious well-being.” Incorporated April 16, 1902, “…to afford men and women the opportunity to make their homes in crowded neighborhoods and live there, laboring intelligently for the needs of their locality, and co-operating in every way possible with the religious and philanthropic work already carried on there.”  Maintained by an association, with varying dues, and by voluntary subscription.

Neighborhood. The upper East Side of New York, from 96th to 116th Street, and from the East River to Fifth Avenue. The territory is constantly growing more congested, and tall tenements are replacing the smaller dwelling houses and tenements of a decade ago. The neighbors, Irish, German and American in 1895, are being swept before an influx of Italians and Jews, who have now practically pre-empted the territory.


I. Investigations.—Assisted the Tenement House Committee and the Charity Organization Society to gather material for its exhibit (1899); made special studies of tenement hallways for the Housing Commission (1900); assisted the Federation of Churches in its sociological canvass (1897); made several special studies into labor conditions for the Consumers’ League; and conducted a study of the movements of population in the neighborhood (1907). Students of the Union Theological Seminary and Columbia University have carried on investigations with the advice and under the direction of the settlement. A study of midwifery was carried on in cooperation with the Committee on Public Health of the Association of Neighborhood Workers, and a law has been obtained committing to the department of health the regulation and supervision of the practice of midwifery.

II. Efforts For District Improvements, (1) Housing.—A number of informal studies of neighborhood housing conditions have been made in cooperation with the various housing commissions; much informal work in studying and reporting violations of the law. A special study was made for the Tenement House Commission on the lighting of halls at night; reports prepared regarding alleged prostitution in tenement houses, etc.

(2) Streets and Refuse.—The head resident became local chairman of the City Vigilance League (1895), through which organization various sanitary and civic improvements were secured. Co-operation has been maintained with the department of street cleaning; and (in co-operation with the Association of Neighborhood Workers) the commissioner was persuaded to place cans in the streets as receptacles for newspapers, fruit skins, etc. Investigations of the pushcart situation have been made for the Commissioner of Immigration in the hope of some regulation.

(3) Recreation.—Maintained a public playground from 1896 to 1903 which was developed to a high state of efficiency by securing the co-operation of the department of education; was instrumental in inducing the city to purchase the ground for a public playground (1906). The nine yards of the settlement house have been thrown together for use as a playground, thus supplementing the public play space of the neighborhood. From time to time has secured the temporary use of vacant lots for playgrounds and athletic f1elds; has had a part in the general citywide campaign for more parks and playgrounds. The head resident served on the Mayor’s Playground Commission (1909). Has carried on systematic inspection of motion picture shows; and from time to time has investigated dance halls and other recreational features of the neighborhood. Working Men’s Club was instrumental in closing certain vicious resorts.

(4) Public Schools.—The head resident was made chairman of the local board of school inspectors (1897), and was instrumental in securing temporary school accommodations for several thousand children pending the erection of permanent buildings; and in increasing the general efficiency of the school system in the district. Two residents have served on the local school board, and one as the president of the board (1910). The settlement library is used for reference by pupils and teachers; and a ‘study room is maintained. Some home and school visiting is carried on by residents.

(5) Health.—Carried on a city-wide study of midwifery in co-operation with the Nurses’ Settlement. The head resident served on the Mayor’s Hospital Commission (1909). Active co-operation has been maintained with the Association of Tuberculosis Clinics (of which the head worker was an organizer), and other agencies in the fight against tuberculosis. District nursing has been carried on, in co-operation with Henry Street Settlement, the work of eight nurses being directed at the settlement. An infant-feeding station has been maintained. A resident gives special attention to the sick; co-operates with hospitals and gives special medical educational work, and sanitary supervision of contagious diseases.

III. Local Institutional Improvement. The settlement was instrumental in securing a public playground. A public bath was located in the neighborhood through the efforts of the settlement in organizing public sentiment.

IV. General Propaganda. The head resident serves as Lecturer in Applied Christianity and Director of Student Work at Union Theological Seminary. Through the interest of the settlement the Seminary has for five years conducted a Quiet Day for social workers on Lincoln’s Birthday with a view to interpreting the religious significance of the social movement. The head resident also serves as a staff lecturer of the School of Philanthropy; and has organized extension lectures on social questions for church workers. Residents serve on various Boards and have taken an active part in preparing the Congestion Exhibit (1908), and the Child Welfare Exhibit (1911). The head resident has served for several years as president of the Association of Neighborhood Workers and chairman of the Committee on Legislation.

Maintains penny savings; public library; resident nursing service (co-operation Henry Street Settlement); educational sanitary service; kindergartens (co-operation New York Kindergarten Association); playground; study room; workingman’s club; gymnasium and athletic club; classes in cooking, embroidery, basketry, sewing, dressmaking, pasting, kitchen garden, carpentry, city history, choral club, dancing; athletic classes and events; clubs for men, women, young people and children. The House provides quarters for the Church of the Son of Man in a separate building at 227 East 104th Street (1911). The Church maintains a Bible school, evening service and mid-week prayer meeting. Summer Work.—Playground; ice water fountain; outdoor concerts; picnics and excursions; two houses and a camp, accommodating children, boys, girls and adults, vacations and excursions in co-operation with Fresh Air agencies, resident nursing service with baby shelter and informal health work.

Former Locat1ons. 202 E. 96th St., May 26, 1895-July, 1895; 210 E. 104th St., July, 1895-Oct., 1895; five back yards formed into playground, 1900. Playground completed with nine yards in 1907. Athletic Field 101st St., Second and Third Aves., Aug. 10, 1896. Acquired by City for Playground, December, 1906. Athletic Club and Gymnasium, 235K E. 100th St., 1897-1902; 205-7 E- 101st St., 1902-1903; 205-7 E. 99th St., 1903-1904. Religious Work, 176 E. 106th St. 1897; 1915 Third Ave., 1897; 248 E. 104th St., 1898-1899.

Residents. Women 17, men 9. Volunteers. Women 56, men 12.

Head Res1dents. William E. McCord, May 26, 1895-Apr., 1901. Gaylord S. White, May, 1901-.

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