Fiftieth Anniversary Dinner Of United Neighborhood Houses
An Address by Mr. Mark A. McCloskey, at the Waldorf -Astoria Hotel, November 12, 1951
New York’s United Neighborhood Houses celebrate a half century of shoulder-to-shoulder battling by New York City’s settlements for a host of good human causes. The settlements have a wonderful collection of firsts in social advances. They have the first kindergarten and the first visiting nurse, the first outdoor playground and a host of other victories. They battled, too, for child labor laws, for the Children’s Bureau, for services to immigrants and for better immigration laws, for public recreation and public adult education. The voice of the settlements on behalf of public relief, public housing, security against the hazards of unemployment, sickness and old age, has joined the chorus in legislative halls for those human needs which cannot be secured by families single-handed. Most of these struggles have been sanctified by the conscience of modern society. Looking backward, the wonder is that the winning of these causes required so much vision and so high a cost in anguish and energy.
As United Neighborhood Houses faces its second fifty years, the old-fought-over ground has to be held and new positions taken. Many and new allies have come forward in the specialized welfare services to work along side the settlements and to simultaneously support and sting to better efforts the public services brought into being through their labor. It is a wise public that supports its own gadflies to sting, to prod, to criticize the public welfare services. The tasks ahead for United Neighborhood Houses and its fellow watchdogs are plentiful. It has with others to fight against the disgusting suggestion of curtailing public welfare funds by publicizing the names of the needy. This proposed violation of taste and decency smacks of the ducking stool and the pillory. Its proponents should quietly and in shame withdraw their proposal. New York City is rightly proud of its public housing record. There has been a long and steady march from the outlawing of the backyard toilet to today’s achievements. It is a record unmatched in our country. Nevertheless a rearguard action must be fought against those who hate and would cut the public housing program and a forward push for sizeable rooms and chances for personal privacy. Keep shrinking the sizes of our homes and we will shrink the spirit of the dwellers and make more difficult the job of the family builders.
Waiting for satisfactory solution is the manning of the recreational and educational facilities provided in the housing projects. The voluntary agencies make a valiant effort but a base of public services is necessary for them to build upon. The physical ghettos are disappearing but we are going to have social ghettos if we don’t work against their coming. The prevention lies in area instead of spot planning, in combinations of public and private housing set down near small industries and commerce.
There is need to push ahead for welfare services at both ends of the age scale, for more child care as well as housing, recreation and re-training for the aged. Who will deny the current need and importance of consumer education and cooperative effort on behalf of consumers. This, too, is a settlement job.
The settlements’ long-time effort for neighborhood assumption of citizenship responsibility is more important now than ever before as power concentrates in City Halls and State Buildings. Community organization is high on the priority list of our social problems awaiting solution.
There has been a good deal of mental bullying of late, not only within bureaucracies where it always has a good chance, but elsewhere. Coupled with stimulated and unwarranted hysteria, it makes a bad team. The settlements will join with all those who would resist these evils. They will uphold the right to freedom of opinion, the right to be different and “say one’s piece”. Our age makes uniform the materials we use, our dwellings and our work. All the more need to fight off the regimentation of intellect and taste.
Some old delightful tasks we will always have such as the search for unusual talent and unexplored riches, to mine the good ore and to find new methods of release for human powers. While doing this, they must press at the same time for increase in the scope and particularly the quality of public recreation and education.
Above all, the settlements are called upon to continue to be free, to list where they will, to be different in emphasis, varied in interest and program as well as personal leadership, but called to unity and joint action in support of our common humanity. Time will not tame the settlements in the next fifty years.