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The Three R's

   Settlement residents approached the problems of the inner city with a philosophical view that differed substantially from the position held by their colleagues working in the charity organizations. However, these two groups were similar in several important ways.

   Like the charity organization workers, settlement workers attempted to translate some of the new concepts of scientific thinking into strategies that would give their work maximum impact and efficiency. The early settlement workers attempted to apply scientific thinking through what they often referred to as the three Rs of settlement work: Research, Reform and Residence.


   Instead of investigating the poor, settlement workers researched the problems of the poor through scientific surveys. The studies typically documented the systemic nature of the problem. Surveys were usually sophisticated indictments of the economic, political and social systems prevalent within the inner cities.

   An early example of a successful and important survey focused on the plight of recently urbanized African Americans in Philadelphia. Initiated by Susan Warton, from Philadelphia's College Settlement, that survey employed a young African American teacher, W.E.B. DuBois, as primary researcher. Published in 1897, THE PHILADELPHIA NEGRO: A Social Study, was an important first effort in documenting the trials of urban African Americans.

   The study also provided an early argument that the social problems were the result of structural circumstances rather than individual deficiencies. The Philadelphia survey was followed by similar work in other urban areas that served to heighten awareness of the the plight of the urban African American.

The Pittsburgh Survey was the most influential.


   There were other important settlement-sponsored surveys with national impact. HULL HOUSE MAPS AND PAPERS was published in 1895, documenting the problems faced by new immigrants living in inner-city Chicago. In Boston, Robert Woods' South End House published THE CITY WILDERNESS in 1898 which also focused on new immigrants and their poverty. Many settlements published lesser known but locally important surveys that described the conditions and trials of a variety of groups including immigrants, working women, children and the unemployed. Even the media joined the rush to use the principles of surveying. Jacob Riis's photographic survey of how New York's poor lived, How The Other Half Lives (1890), helped change how many viewed the poor.


   Instead of treating the poor individually, settlement workers concentrated on changing the general situations they uncovered in their surveys. Public education, juvenile courts, public playgrounds, citizenship, daycare, and cultural awareness programs are just a few examples of the reform activities adopted by settlement workers.

   Many settlements inevitably found themselves pulled into union organizing and local politics as they searched for strategies to improve the lives of their neighbors. Hull House became involved in organizing women's unions almost from the day it opened its doors. Led by young Hull House resident, Mary Kenny O'Sullivan, the settlement served as a hub for organizing shirtwaist workers and pushed for the passage of the Illinois Factory Act, a bill that provided protective policies for working women and children. Their crusade expanded to include child labor and eventually, under the adept leadership of Florence Kelly, led to the establishment of The Women's Trade Union League.

   In 1896 Hull House became a staunch supporter of the textile workers union. When the union struck, residents held mass meetings and organized demonstrations of sympathy. When the strike was unsuccessful, they raised funds to help the union members find employment in other areas. During the Pullman Strike, when prominent union leader Eugene Debs was arrested, Hull House resident Florence Kelley organized protest rallies.

   Dirty streets and inadequate refuse services propelled some Hull House residents into local politics. The Hull House neighborhood was run by a local ward boss who provided many neighbors with employment but was more interested in collecting graft than garbage. As a result, in 1893, a political campaign took place against the ward boss. This crusade was successful but also taught Jane Addams an important lesson in local politics: Hull House's reform candidate quickly succumbed to the temptations of graft, becoming just another pawn of the boss system. While not all settlement activities were successful they were consistent aimed at modifying the general situations facing the poor rather than changing the individual.


   Settlement workers saw themselves as neighbors. Their ideals were fraternal rather than paternal. The settlements acted out their image of the ideal neighbor, working to create an integrated community by acting cooperatively with the people and indigenous organizations and institutions of a specific location.

   After residents established their presence in the neighborhood they set about creating basic services such as kindergartens, playgrounds and nurseries. As reform issues emerged from their work in the community, settlement workers would then take on broader issues such as citizenship classes, trade unions and garbage collection. As historian Walter Trattner observed;


While the charity organization society agents constantly said 'don't', 'don't' settlement house residents would say -'do', 'do'.

   Usually the two movements worked with different populations. Charity workers focused mostly on the so-called indigent population, or those we refer to today as the chronically poor. The settlement movement, in contrast, devoted most of its energies in working with what we would today regard as the poorer segments of the working class, particularly immigrants.

"Robber's Roost" by Jacob Riis

W. E. B. DuBois

"The Bend": One of New York's most crowded areas, by Jacob Riis

Jacob Riis

An anti-child labor poster

Florence Kelly

Fire was a constant hazard in poor neighborhoods

This tenement scene was a compelling argument for reform

Adapted from

Special thanks to the late Professor Dan Huff and Boise State University School of Social Work

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