The first settlement house in the United States, University Settlement, on the Lower East Side, was founded in 1886 by Stanton Coit, a divinity student influenced by the Social Gospel movement and by Toynbee Hall, the original settlement in London. Based on contact between university students and the working poor, it became a model for more than 400 settlements in New York and other gateway cities: multipurpose agencies addressing the needs and aiding the acculturation of immigrants. In the impoverished and overcrowded Lower East Side, University Settlement was a forerunner of both community organizing and professional social work. Serving as a school, community center, research institute, and welfare agency, it pioneered many services, including kindergartens and public baths, that were later supported or assumed by municipal government. It also was a hub of political reform, where leaders such as CHARLES B. STOVER, Carl Schurz, Robbins Gilman, Nicholas Murray Butler, and Seth Low campaigned for safer tenements, better working and sanitary conditions, abolition of child labor, and for parks and playgrounds. University Settlement eventually established a health clinic, cultural and anti-poverty programs, one of the first senior citizens centers in the country, and an early mental health clinic. More recent programs have also included daycare, Head Start, youth counselling, and home management classes. Since 1911 it has also operated a summer camp in Beacon, N.Y. Eleanor Roosevelt taught dance at University Settlement; Franklin D. Roosevelt later called it “a landmark in the social history of the nation.”

Scheuer, J., Legacy of Light: University Settlement’s First
Century. University Settlement, 1985.

NOTE: Both Seth Low and Nicholas M. Butler served as presidents of Columbia University; Low also served a term as mayor.