Caroline Arnold's Books

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Children of the Settlement Houses Children of the Settlement Houses

Since the late 1800s, children, families, and communities across the United States have benefited from settlement houses--places that serve the needs of immigrants, poor families, and minorities in city neighborhoods. This book, illustrated with photographs and prints from the past, explores the origins of settlement houses and looks at the children whose lives were changed by them.

The author, who grew up at the Northeast Neighborhood House in Minneapolis, Minnesota, has first-hand knowledge of what life was like at a settlement house. Her father was the director of the settlement house, and her mother supervised the nursery school and other programs. As a girl, Caroline participated in after-school clubs and art and gym classes at the settlement house, and in the summer she went to Camp Bovey, the settlement house camp in northern Wisconsin.

Book notes

In 1948, soon after my fourth birthday, my family moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota where my father, Lester Scheaffer, had a new job as the director of the Northeast Neighborhood House, a settlement house in northeast Minneapolis. Like settlement houses in other American cities, the Northeast Neighborhood House (NENH) had been started by social workers in the early part of the century to help people in the surrounding neighborhood, most of whom were recent immigrants. The services provided by settlement houses ranged from English classes and day care for working mothers to dental clinics, social clubs, and sports programs. It was traditional that the staff live in the settlement house building and be part of the community. Most of the workers at NENH were young and single and lived in dormitory rooms. Our family lived in an apartment that took up half of the third floor of the building. The other half of the floor was a large kitchen and dining area where everyone ate their meals. My mother was also a social worker, and her job was to supervise the meals, manage the residence facilities, and oversee the nursery school. The Northeast Neighborhood House was a large brick structure, a bit like a small high school or YMCA building. From the windows of our apartment we looked down onto Second Street, where, until they tore up the tracks some years later, streetcars clanged by every fifteen minutes or so. After nearly eighty years of use, the building became increasingly crowded as programs expanded, and in the spring of 2000 construction began on a new larger building on land nearby. My family lived at NENH until I was ten. It was a somewhat unusual childhood because in addition to my immediate family I was part of the larger “family” that lived and worked at the settlement house. And instead of living in a traditional home, my “house” included a gymnasium, an auditorium, clubrooms, workshops, and a fully equipped playground. Among the programs for children offered at that time were clubs and sports. Almost every afternoon after school I was busy with puppetry, cooking, drama, crafts, gym, or other activities with neighborhood kids. In the summer I attended Camp Bovey, the NENH camp in northern Wisconsin.

  • Lower East Side Tenement Museum
  • Reviews
    School Library Journal, January 1999

    This title offers a fascinating look at how poor immigrants in urban settings were helped through community centers that offered classes, sports activities, libraries, and at some locations, medical services. The book is clearly written and chapters are short. Black-and-white photographs on every page enhance the texts.

    Booklist, September 15, 1998

    This title in the Picture the American Past series offers an excellent introduction to an important aspect of urban American history and instrument of social change: settlement houses, the turn-of-the-century predecessor to today's community centers. Settlement houses provided the urban poor and new immigrants not just with showers and meals but with a place to learn, play, explore the arts, and gain a sense of community and belonging. The well-chosen black-and-white historical photographs are emotionally affecting and provide a wealth of visual information about the times. The simple text effectively covers the history of settlement houses and includes personal remembrances from those who took advantage of their offerings as children, from New York to San Francisco. However, the photos themselves make this book a strong, worthy addition to American history collections. For educators and adults, there are suggested tie-in activities to encourage reader engagement. A time line, a glossary, a reading list, and the address of the excellent New York Lower East Side Tenement Museum Web site are included.