Eleanor Roosevelt and the Rivington Street Settlement House


Hull House was established in 1889.

After having finished boarding school in Europe, ER returned to the United States, and resided, among other places, in New York City. In 1903, nineteen- year-old ER decided to become actively involved in the work of the Junior League for the Promotion of Settlement Movements, an organization dedicated to addressing the social and economic problems rapid industrialization inflicted upon immigrant and urban America. For her contribution, ER worked at the College Settlement on Rivington Street, teaching immigrant children on New York's Lower East Side how to dance and stretch. While working at the settlement, ER witnessed first-hand the abject poverty in which most of her students lived. The experience gave her insight into a world to which she and FDR (whom she was dating at the time) had never been exposed, and it pleased her to know that she was working to improve the lives of others. FDR accompanied her to the settlement several times and was as horrified as she at the conditions that prevailed in the tenements and slums below Houston Street. Later, ER recalled these visits as eye-opening experiences that helped spur FDR's later efforts to address poverty and the social ills it produced.” http://www.gwu.edu/~erpapers/teachinger/glossary/college-settlement.cfm



My Day, newspaper column written by Eleanor Roosevelt, March 23, 1960



NEW YORK—This month has been named "Neighborhood Houses Month," and two important anniversaries fall in this year—the Jane Addams Centennial at Hull House in Chicago and the 60th anniversary of the United Neighborhood Houses in New York City.


United Neighborhood Houses is a federation of 50 settlement centers in New York City's most-troubled neighborhoods. These centers have moved as neighborhoods changed over the years, but many of them still exist.


Next year will mark the 75th anniversary of settlement houses in America. The contribution of these settlement houses has, of course, changed with the needs of the cities. But at all times they have been a great force for good in our City of New York, and nearly every big city in the country can tell the same story of the valuable contribution made by them in some neighborhoods of their cities.


In Hull House in Chicago Jane Addams not only trained many workers who affected the life of the city and later even of the nation, but she made out of her settlement house a center which affected the whole atmosphere of the city of Chicago.


My first social work as a girl of 18 was done on Rivington Street here in New York in an old settlement house. I can't say it was very important work for I was not a trained worker, but it kept children off the streets and it taught me an understanding of a side of life that might have remained to me a closed book if I had not come in close contact with settlement work.


In more recent years remarkable things have been done along these lines. For instance, there is the Neighborhood Conservation Program inaugurated by the Hudson Guild in the Chelsea area of New York City. And who has not watched the growth of the Henry Street Settlement's programs under Miss Lillian Wald and Helen Hall without surprise and gratitude! I will never forget Miss Wald and the influence she exerted. And there are many men, such as Herbert Lehman and Henry Morgenthau, who look back upon their experience with her as part of their education on social problems.


The whole lower East Side of New York City, where Henry Street and the old University Settlement and others are situated shows today the years of work and progress put in by so many workers. These people have worked with the youth; they have worked with the old; they have promoted better housing, an appreciation of art and, above all, they have taught low-income families how to live better without indulging in excessive installment buying that would lay them open to exploitation by unscrupulous credit merchants.


United Neighborhood Houses has inaugurated a joint supplemental fund-raising campaign to help member settlements meet rising deficits, expand existing services, and initiate important new ones. The settlements need to raise nearly $1,700,000 above the $5,500,000 they now raise in order that they may adequately supply the neighborhood services that are required to help with new migration, housing, delinquency and intergroup problems.


As slum areas are torn down in our cities the problem of housing in the interim before new buildings are erected is a very important and difficult one to meet. It requires trained personnel and knowledgeable people to appear before city and state bodies in their effort to be helpful in solving these housing difficulties.  Neighborhood Houses Month was established to call our citizens' attention to these needs, and I hope that all of us in whatever cities we reside will study our neighborhood houses and strengthen their position.



Analysis Questions and Tasks: 

  1. When students study the Gilded Age and Progressive Era, they study the reasons for the massive shift from rural to urban America, the growth of the American city, and the expansion of America’s industrial sector.  To deal with the growing problems in urban areas, the America of the late 1800s and early 1900s sees the birth of the settlement houses of urban America.  Looking at Eleanor Roosevelt’s article, how successful were those houses?  Why did ER believe more needed to be done?
  2. This article was written in 1960.  President Kennedy had promised a war on poverty in America when he was elected.  How rampant was poverty and unemployment in America at the time?  How might ER’s article have influenced Kennedy?  How might Kennedy have influenced her?
  3. Research the issue of slums and poverty in a local city.  What is currently being done by the mayor and city officials to deal with urban development?