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Settlement House Girl SETTLEMENT HOUSE GIRL: Growing Up in the 1950s at North East Neighborhood House, Minneapolis, Minnesota

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. It was customary for the settlement house workers to live on site and be part of the community. Settlement House Girl chronicles author Caroline Arnold's childhood at North East Neighborhood House in Minneapolis, Minnesota, as she interacted and shared meals with other settlement house residents, participated in clubs, sports and community activities, and observed the roles of the staff and her social worker parents. It is an inside view of a working settlement house in the 1950s. The 38 chapters of the book range from her first days at the NENH nursery school, to after-school clubs and community holiday celebrations at the settlement, family and school life, and summers at Camp Bovey, the NENH camp in Wisconsin.

North East Neighborhood House, founded in 1915, was part of the settlement house movement that began in England in 1884 and was brought to the US by people like Jane Addams at Hull House in Chicago. Settlement houses, often called neighborhood houses, provided social services in immigrant and poor urban neighborhoods. Activities were led by volunteers who came from other parts of the city and by staff members who lived at the settlement house.

Caroline's father, Les Scheaffer, was the NENH director from 1948 to 1966. Few families lived in settlement houses as theirs did and they were one of the last. By the 1950s, the tradition of social workers living in settlement houses was coming to an end. When Caroline's family moved out, it was the end of an era.

The stories in this book will spark memories in adults who grew up in the same time period, whether in Minneapolis or elsewhere. Librarians and teachers who know Caroline Arnold's books for children will find clues to her future life as a writer and illustrator. This book will appeal to those interested in the role of settlement houses in urban neighborhoods at mid-century and in the history of social reform movements. This book is a window onto a time when settlement houses were in transition from their roots in immigrant communities at the turn of the 20th century to becoming today's modern social service agencies. What began as Northeast Neighborhood House more than 100 years ago continues as East Side Neighborhood Services, and is still serving the needs of people in Northeast Minneapolis. Caroline's childhood at North East Neighborhood House provides a unique perspective on the role settlement houses have played in our social history.

The book is a collection of memories of Caroline's life as it was connected to her family's activities at the settlement house and how those experiences shaped her view of the world as a future writer, reader, artist, teacher, traveler, lover of nature and the out of doors. It is illustrated with historic photos.

    North East Neighborhood House NENH

    North East Neighborhood House (NENH), 1929 2nd Street, NE, Minneapolis, Minnesota. In 2001 the building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Our apartment was on the third floor of the building. In 1963, NENH became East Side Neighborhood Services (ESNS), now located at 1700 2nd Street NE.

    I am available to speak to book clubs and school groups via Zoom to talk about writing a memoir and the creative process behind Settlement House Girl. Please contact me by email for more information.

Related Books

Children of the Settlement Houses (Carolrhoda books, 1998)

The Terrible Hodag (Harcourt Brace Jovanovice, 1989)

The Terrible Hodag and the Animal Catchers (Boyds Mills Press, 2005)

  • Lower East Side Tenement Museum
  • Detailed history of North East Neighborhood House:
  • Shadows on a Wall: Autobiographical Writings of Lester Lewis Scheaffer
  • Reviews

    BookLife Reviews (Publishers Weekly) June 6, 2024

    Arnold tells the compelling story of a 1950s childhood spent in the North East Neighborhood House (NENH) in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Offering vital services like "child care, job training, medical and dental care," and classes in English and citizenship, settlement houses, Arnold notes, emerged during the late 19th and early 20th centuries to help recent immigrants transition to American life. Arnold's social-worker family moved to the NENH in 1948 when her father became its director. Through vivid recollections and much clarifying historical context, the author paints a picture of life among a diverse community. Her memories range from being a flower girl at a neighbor's wedding, taking her first train ride, making prank phone calls with friends, to first trying that "exotic foreign food," pizza.

    Arnold's detailed descriptions of NENH life include charming anecdotes, such as going skating with friends in winter, only to later realize that the sweet liquid given to them by a friend's grandmother to keep them warm was actually brandy. Arnold also pens a touching paean to her stamp collection, and she fondly recalls her summers at Camp Bovey-a northern Wisconsin escape for NENH children-where she progressed from camper to kitchen aide, crafts counselor, and finally cabin counselor. Moreover, her transition from living in a settlement house to moving to her family's own house offers insight into how challenging it is for children to uproot themselves from a community and start again.

    Settlement House Girl is engaging, tracing Arnold's growth from a young girl to an adult journeying into being a writer in her later life, but it's also a valuable contribution to the social history of 20th-century America, offering urban history enthusiasts a wealth of information about the daily lives of families living in mid-century cities. The detailed accounts of Arnold's experiences provide a unique glimpse into the fabric of community life during this era, highlighting the interactions and shared experiences that defined the settlement house environment.

    Takeaway: Touching, informative account of life in a Minnapolis settlement house in the 1959s.

    Comparable Titles: Ellen Snyder-Grenier's The House on Henry Street, Jane Addams's Twenty Years at Hull House.

    BlueInk Review (March 2024)

    From 1948 to 1966, Caroline Scheaffer Arnold's father served as director of the North East Neighborhood House (NENH), a settlement house offering a social center for students and the surrounding community. Here, Arnold recalls those years, encompassing the students, employees, and her friends, while also exploring NENH’s impact on her adult life.

    Arnold's family lived in an apartment on the top floor of the NENH bordered by a long hallway. Across the hall was a kitchen, a community dining room where all residents and staff ate family style, and a resident living room. The lower floors housed dormitories for staff and other occupants (typically students from the nearby university), an auditorium, gym, and offices. NENH also served as a community hotspot hosting sports, clubs, and social resources.

    Pulled from her remarkable memory but supplemented by research, the book captures the unique settlement house lifestyle. Arnold recounts, with a dramatized but endearing voice, moments of heartwarming tenderness: a wedding where everyone chipped in, collecting popsicle wrappers to earn gifts for loved ones; her father's attempt to invest in stamps, only to wind up gifting her pages of below-value stamps and a note "hope your envelopes are large enough," and summers spent at NENH's project Camp Bovey.

    The book is episodic with each section acting almost like a short story, anchored by a clear emotional core. One of the more touching recollections is when Arnold returns home as an adult after her father's passing to discover letters and memos showcasing the joy he had running NENH and founding Camp Bovey, which became a beloved institution. The book captures life in colorful anecdotes, and Arnold draws the intriguing settlement house residents with a loving hand.

    Part memoir and part time capsule, the author's recollections are supplemented by photographs, letters, journal entries, and newspaper clippings. Endnotes provide even more personal insight, all resulting in an enjoyable encapsulation of one family's experiences as the settlement facility transitioned into modernity.

    Highly recommended for fans of Jennifer Worth's Call the Midwife trilogy

    Northeaster Newspaper (April 3, 2024)

    Settlement House Girl is a look back at Northeast Minneaspolis in the 1950s. Arnold has authored books for children and she writes in a clear, straightforward manner. If you're a collector of Northeast history books, it's a good one to put on your bookshelf. Cynthia Sowden, Editor