Henry Street Settlement


An Epicenter of Social Justice, Health Care, Labor Reform, and Arts Programming since 1893

Henry Street Settlement Building Lower East Side

About Henry Street Settlement

 & why it made the Carpe City list

  • Founded by 26-year-old nurse Lillian Wald, The Henry Street Settlement has been an epicenter of social justice, health care, labor reform, and arts programming since 1893.
  • Visit the second floor to see where WEB Du Bois founded the NAACP, check out the backyard to see where Wald built one of the city’s first playgrounds and linger on the first floor for an interactive exhibit that celebrates the remarkable history of the Henry Street Settlement.
  • The Henry Street Settlement began as a neighborhood nursing service that eventually grew into the Visiting Nurse Service of New York.
  • The banker and philanthropist Jacob Schiff bought the townhouse at 265 Henry St. in 1895 and donated it as a headquarters for the Henry Street Settlement.
    • There, founder Lillian Wald expanded the Settlement’s mission to include “social work, country work and civic work.”
      • Social Work meant community building. The Henry St. Settlement offers study spaces, art classes, kids clubs, one of the first playgrounds in the country, and a theater that drew the likes of the famous dancer and choreographer Martha Graham and writer, director and actor Orson Welles.
      • Country Work meant summer camps.  Wald thought city kids deserved some fresh air, so she founded Camp Henry for boys, and Echo Hill Farm for Girls.
      • Civic Work meant community activism. Wald helped found the Women’s Trade Union League, the Children’s Bureau, and the Outdoor Recreation League. Members of the Henry Street Settlement helped introduce the nation’s first school nurses, special education classes, and free school lunches into the New York City public school system.
    • Since Wald lived at the Henry Street Settlement, she invited neighbors from around the corner, and reformers from around the world, to exchange ideas across her dining room table.
      • Everyone from famed photographer Jacob Riis to Eleanor Roosevelt dropped by!
      • Since “a seat at the table” was part of Henry St.’s DNA, WEB Du Bois founded the NAACP there in 1909. The 200 reformers who attended that first meeting enlisted “in the fight for humanity and democracy.”
    • Today, The Henry Street Settlement continues to fight for fair housing, employment, education, and nutrition in New York City.
      • The Settlement serves over 60,000 people every year through social service, arts, and health care programming at 18 locations on the Lower East Side, and through more than 20 public schools and community organizations.

If you are a history buff like us, you will enjoy this short video about the history of The Settlement.

Carpe City Trivia

What exactly is a "Settlement House?"

  • The “Settlement Movement” was a social reform movement that flourished in cities around the country (and particularly on NYC’s Lower East Side) in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
  • It was led primarily by well-to-do, college-educated women who lived, or “settled” amongst the working poor to offer social services like daycare, cooking classes, language classes, and employment assistance.
  • Settlement Houses were also geared toward immigrant communities, offering information and resources that helped newly arrived immigrants adjust to life in America.
  • Critics of the Settlement Movement saw settlement workers as self-righteous do-gooders.
  • Lillian Wald and the Henry Street Settlement gained the trust of the neighborhood. They distinguished their work from that of traditional Settlements because Wald was committed to forging and maintaining deep relationships with her neighbors.
    • For example, she created the visiting nurse service (instead of requiring patients to come to the Settlement.) She understood that visiting patients regularly in their own homes in an “intimate and long-sustained association, not only with the individual, but with the entire family, gives opportunities that would never open up if the acquaintance were casual, or the settlement formally institutional.”
    • She also hired her neighbors as settlement workers. For example, in 1897, Wald hired a local widow to sew nurses’ uniforms. Today, her descendants, the Abrons family, endow the Settlement’s Abrons Arts Center.

You've probably heard of the Ziegfeld Follies, but have you heard of the Grand Street Follies?

The Settlement’s Abrons Arts Center was founded on Grand and Pitt Streets in 1915 as the Neighborhood Playhouse. There, some of the nation’s most preeminent modern dancers, including Martha Graham and Agnes de Mille, produced dance, music and poetry for the Playhouse’s revue program, The Grand Street Follies!

By: Lucie Levine

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