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National Federation of Settlements and Neighborhood Centers records

Identifier: SW0056

Scope and Content

National Federation of Settlements and Neighborhood Centers records consist of correspondence, memoranda, reports, minutes, financial records, photographs, and other documents received from the National Federation of Settlements and Neighborhood Centers, now United Neighborhood Centers of America. The Federation, an association of local settlement houses and neighborhood centers from across the United States and Canada, was founded in 1911.

The records document the work, methodology, membership, and administration of the NFSNC, which was known at the National Federation of Settlements until 1949 and became United Neighborhood Center of America in 1980. The records form an integral part of the Archives' holdings on the history of social reform and social welfare. In addition to advising and supporting the work of member agencies, the Federation determined the needs and goals of settlements and interpreted them to a national audience. Some of the significant issues documented in the NFSNC records are: the ''Americanization" of immigrants in the settlements; the peace movement, especially between 1914 and 1941; the establishment and direction of youth work programs; the role of settlements during wartime; the establishment of such federal welfare programs as unemployment relief and social security; music in the settlements; the relationship of the settlements to New Deal welfare programs; the settlements' responses to the Great Depression; prohibition; the trade union movement; various White House conferences; and unemployment. The records also reflect a substantial amount of theoretical speculation on the settlement movement in general: its functions and programs, methods, goals. The detailed information about these issues and individuals makes this a key collection for the study of social reform, social welfare, and urban life in twentieth century America.

A portion of the NFSNC records (Series 7) contains the papers of the city federations that were members of the national organization. Approximately one half of the entire collection is composed of records documenting the Federation's member houses (Series 8). These two sections are perhaps the richest part of the records. They contain detailed information about the activities of the NFS in relation to local agencies, conditions and issues and document the activities of the settlement movement throughout the first three quarters of the twentieth century. Of special interest are the member houses' annual reports which, while far from complete, are nevertheless informative.

Particularly well documented are the Federation's concerns with social action and ensuing legislative activity on issues such as housing, juvenile delinquency, and urban renewal. The records are also a good source of information on international activities and the Federation's role in sustaining the International Federation of Settlements, dating back to 1921. Federation interest in race relations is documented as early as 1926. Fund-raising and budget records reflect the financial difficulties that the organization faced, particular during and after the 1960s.

More recent materials from the 1960s and 1970s consist of correspondence, memoranda, reports, minutes, financial records, photographs, and other records documenting programs and activities of NFSNC, which was subsequently named the United Neighborhood Centers of America. In particular, the records relate to programs for youth, single parents, and minorities sponsored by the federal government and carried out by NFSNC and a number of other social welfare agencies. Such detailed documentation represents the increased role of the federal government in social programs in the United States during the 1960s and early 1970s, as well as the concerns for minority groups and the civil rights movement. These materials provide major insights into American urban life and the settlement movement from the 1950s to the 1980s.

There is also a rich collection of the Federation's reference materials, a very detailed set of master archives, a complete collection of mailings, and a few historical artifacts. A portion of the older NFS and NFSNC records is on also available on microfilm. This is what the National Federation referred to as its "Bible," which contains all the important financial and year by year operating data of the Federation from 1911 to 1968. The records are quite complete for the years 1911 to 1955, and in some instances are complete to 1962. Also included in the collection are numerous miscellaneous pamphlets (see unpublished Appendix no. 2 available in the Archives ), 4 volumes of Neighborhood, and 2 volumes of NFS annual reports and papers, 1911 to 1930 (see unpublished Appendix no. 3 available in the Archives).

Significant personalities are documented throughout the records. Individuals of interest include: Jane Addams, Paul Kellogg, Robert A. Woods, Albert J. Kennedy, Canon Barnett, Ellen W. Coolidge, Charles Cooper, John L. Elliot, Helen Hall, Frances Ingram, Frances McFarland, Clyde Murray, Lillie M. Peck, Dr. Jane Robbins, Graham Taylor, Lea D. Taylor, Julia Lathrop, and many others. Among the most prominently represented individuals in the collection are NFSNC staff members Margaret Berry, Fern Colborn, John McDowell, Lillie Peck, Albert Kennedy, and Arthur Hillman.


  • Creation: 1891-1984

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Open for use in the Social Welfare History Archives reading room.


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Historical Note

The National Federation of Settlements (NFS) was founded in 1911 by leaders in the settlement house movement, including Jane Addams, Graham Taylor, and Robert A. Woods. The NFS was a social welfare organization devoted to the promotion and improvement of the settlement movement throughout the United States. The social settlement was based on the idea that those who wanted to help the poor would live (“settle”) in the neighborhoods that they hoped to improve, often in a building purchased or donated by a benefactor. Often, settlement workers were young, female graduates of education and nursing programs or women’s colleges. They endeavored to improve the lives of their working class, often immigrant, neighbors though social reform, educational programs, health services, and "friendly example" or “uplift.” The Federation worked with member settlements to strengthen and develop their programs and the well-being of their surrounding neighborhoods, to represent settlement concerns in public affairs, and to educate the public about social issues affecting neighborhoods. The NFS renamed itself the National Federation of Settlements and Neighborhood Centers in 1949. In 1979, the Federation's name was changed again to United Neighborhood Centers of America (UNCA). UNCA continues to advocate nationally for social legislation and work with local member agencies to address social problems at the neighborhood level.

The NFS developed out of nearly 20 years of growing inter-agency cooperation and informal conferences. As early as 1892, pioneers in the U.S. settlement movement met to share their experiences, hopes, and enthusiasm, and collaborated on national issues of concern to them and their neighborhoods. Seventeen settlement leaders who met in New York City in 1908 took initial steps toward forming the NFS. Instrumental at this meeting, and in later years, were Jane Addams, Gaylord S. White, Robert A. Woods, Albert J. Kennedy, Graham Taylor, and Lillian D. Wald. After two years of planning and fund raising, the NFS was launched in June, 1911, at a meeting attended by roughly 200 delegates from settlement houses around the U.S. Jane Addams of Hull House in Chicago became the first president of the new organization. Its first executive secretary, Robert Archey Woods, was associated with Boston's South End House. New York settlement leaders John L. Elliott, Lillian Wald, and Mary K. Simkhovitch also played prominent roles in the new organization. Despite its small and largely voluntary staff, the emerging Federation quickly became involved in a host of progressive social issues that concerned its members. The Federation's general policy, as stated in its 1920 articles of incorporation, was: to federate the social settlements, neighborhood houses and similar institutions for the purpose of promoting the welfare of the settlements and the neighborhoods in which they were located; to encourage the development and maintenance of settlements in cooperation with neighborhood residents; to organize conferences, groups and studies; to cooperate with private and governmental agencies; to consider and act upon public matters of interest to settlements and their neighbors and to act in an advisory capacity to settlements and neighborhood houses.

Many early NFS initiatives anticipated continuing activities in the decades that followed. Influential in the 1912 founding of the United States Children's Bureau, the Federation would later express a repeated interest in day care services (1942, 1965-67, 1971-72). Its early report, Young Working Girls(1913), foreshadowed such subsequent NFSNC initiatives as the 1962-1965 series of Training Center courses on youth employment. Its 1917 resolution in favor of national health insurance was reiterated by comparative studies of the British health system in 1938 and, again, in 1954. Its 1920 conference focus on housing anticipated the formation of an NFS Housing Division in 1933 and its major report on public housing in1955.

Early social meliorism was dampened by concerns regarding the potentially explosive immigrant areas that settlements served and by efforts to provide special wartime services during World War I. During the 1920s, a more individual and cultural focus in settlement work joined the social and political emphasis of the preceding decade. A Music Division was founded in 1922; a Dramatics Division appeared in 1926; and in 1930 the trend culminated in the creation of a Division of Visual Arts. But the cultural emphasis did not completely preclude continuing social involvement. In fact, the 1926 report, Settlement Goals for the Next Third of a Century, placed primary emphasis less on arts projects than on the need to transform charity into social education and action. In keeping with this insight, the Federation produced major studies of prohibition (1927) and unemployment (1930-1931).

In the 1930s, the NFS pressured New Deal officials to pursue progressive measures in employment, social security, and labor policies. Internally, the organization struggled with the consequences of the Great Depression. It recognized the financial hardships affecting its members, who were often on the "front lines" in dealing with the results of the Depression. Consequently, it waived delinquent membership dues. In spite of this measure, and though it was attempting to broaden its membership base, the Federation retained only 160 of the 230 houses that were members in 1930. NFS also lost its constituency of music school settlements during the 1930s and failed to include a significant number of African American settlements, which were represented by the National Urban League.

The 1930s also saw a significant change in leadership. Early NFS executives, Robert A. Woods (1911-1922) and Albert J. Kennedy (1923-1933), were replaced by Lillie M. Peck (1934-1945), whose career was heavily identified with international initiatives on the part of the Federation. NFS had been involved in the formation of a parallel International Federation of Settlements (IFS) in 1921. A string of international conferences in the 1920s and 1930s was interrupted by World War II, but contacts were resumed almost immediately after peace was declared. Lillie Peck became the first postwar president of the IFS (1949-1951) and the organization once again had American leadership from 1963 to 1971, when NFS executive Margaret Berry presided. NFSNC arranged for reciprocal visits of social workers; for cooperation with the United Nations, especially UNESCO; and maintained contacts with a growing number of international settlements.

At home, the Federation continued with social action on employment and economic planning (1944-1946), a committee on housing (1955-1958), and concerted lobbying on juvenile delinquency (1956-1957). During World War II and the Korean War, services to temporary residents near military facilities or to military personnel was an area of vital concern. Under the directorship of John McDowell (1946-1958), the Federation strengthened its ties with religious-based settlement work. It also developed its educational outreach and professional recruiting functions. In 1949, NFS changed its name to the National Federation of Settlements and Neighborhood Centers (NFSNC).

By the late 1950s, NFSNC was pursuing a host of new issues, best articulated in the report of the 1958 Arden House Conference, Neighborhood Goals in a Rapidly Changing World. Education for settlement workers was also important. Federation staff conducted workshops for settlement executives, program directors, and departmental supervisors. It also held institutes conducted by schools of social work with the cooperation of national agencies. In addition, the NFSNC conducted miscellaneous seminars on topics of interest to settlement workers. The late 1950s also saw the institutionalization of the NFSNC educational function in the formation of the NFSNC training center, located initially at Hull House in Chicago. Between 1960 and 1971, the center trained nearly 2000 settlement workers on a wide variety of social problems and administrative skills.

NFSNC's small staff of about seven full-time professional workers provided a variety of field services to a membership of some 255 member houses and city federations. Experienced professional personnel visited communities that had, or wanted to establish, settlements. On these visits, the NFSNC personnel met with the local settlement workers to exchange information about current programs, appraise the local programs, and to suggest plans of action. They also met with other local figures, such as the heads of community chests and city planning councils, regarding settlement work. In addition, the field representatives screened centers that were prospective members in the NFSNC. Staff also prepared special studies of individual houses or cities, usually a few each year on request of the local agencies. These studies were used to determine locations for new facilities, to appraise services, or to resolve administrative or programmatic issues.

Social education and action were a major function of the NFSNC. This involved providing information on social issues and legislation of special concern to settlements, coordinating local settlement studies of social conditions, and publishing the study findings. The NFSNC employed a research consultant who prepared maps, population data, city planning reports, housing data, and reports on existing social welfare studies for many of the Federation's members. These were used in self studies and field reports. The Federation also worked with other national groups, such as the advisory committees of Community Chests, the National Conference of Social Work, and the Consumers National Federation.

In 1959, The appointment of a new director, Margaret Berry, coincided with a shift in Federation priorities to racial and economic justice. Settlements participated in many of the major struggles of the Civil Rights movement. NFSNC's Race Relations Project produced a major report in 1967, just as the tenor of the times changed to a note of interracial confrontation. The 1969, the NFSNC "Techniculture" conference brought to a head the demands of settlements' constituencies of color for greater community control of Federation affairs. The "techniculture" movement reflected trends in the wider society, responding to complex War on Poverty bureaucracies and the professional remoteness of a non-resident settlement staff. Ultimately, the movement accomplished most of its major goals in the years from 1969 to 1971, culminating in the 1972 appointment of the Federation's first non-white executive director, Walter Smart. Meanwhile, in a more traditional mold, NFSNC channeled settlement aid to a number settlements with minority constituencies in the South during its Mississippi Project.

The social frictions of the late 1960s and the economic problems of the early 1970s cut into NFSNC's base of financial support, leading to serious administrative problems. However, the Federation continued to press for social and economic justice. Its Poverty Program Committee produced a federally funded study of the War on Poverty and community organization strategies in 34 communities in 1968. Beginning in 1972, Walter Smart advocated, with some success, for economic development programs in the minority business community. Once again, the perennial issue of housing returned as a priority item. The Federation also devoted considerable energy to advising its members on strategies for obtaining federal funding. Throughout the 1970s, there was a proliferation of programs involving federal agencies and supported by federal funding. These projects involved such issues as teenage parents, training programs for the elderly and teenagers, and juvenile justice.

A more complete account of the Federation is available from Peter Romanofsky, ed., "National Federation of Settlements and Neighborhood Centers" inSocial Service Organizations(Greenwood Encyclopedia of American Institutions, 1978) vol. 2, pages 533-540.


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National Federation of Settlements and Neighborhood Centers records consist of correspondence, memoranda, reports, minutes, financial records, photographs, and other documents from the National Federation of Settlements and Neighborhood Centers, now United Neighborhood Centers of America. The Federation, which was founded in 1911, included local settlement houses and neighborhood centers from across the United States and Canada. The records document the programs, methodology, member agencies, and administration of the Federation, which was known as the National Federation of Settlements from 1911 to 1949; National Federation of Settlements and Neighborhood Centers from 1949 to 1979; and United Neighborhood Center of America beginning in 1980. Information about issues and individuals makes this a key resource for the study of social welfare in twentieth century America.

Arrangement of the Records

The National Federation of Settlements records are arranged into 14 series:

  1. Series 1. Administrative and Historical Records
  2. Series 2. Board and Committees
  3. Series 3. NFS Divisions
  4. Series 4. Settlement Personalities
  5. Series 5 Organizations
  6. Series 6. Subjects and Early Programs
  7. Series 7. City Federations of Settlements
  8. Series 8. Member Settlement Houses
  9. Series 9. Meetings and Conferences
  10. Series 10. Special Programs and Projects
  11. Series 11. Training Center
  12. Series 12. Community Studies
  13. Series 13. Publications and Reference Sources
  14. Series 14. Audio Visual Materials

Other Finding Aid

Unpublished appendices for the finding aid are available. Please contact the Archives for more information.

Included in the National Federation of Settlements records are the 4.5 linear feet of records previously described as "National Federation of Settlements, Supplement One" in an inventory published in Descriptive Inventories of Collections in the Social Welfare History Archives Center(Greenwood, 1970) pp. 465-480. An annotated copy of that inventory is available in the Archives and indicates the final disposition of these records.

Acquisition Information

The National Federation of Settlements and Neighborhood Centers board of directors gave 25 linear feet of records to the Social Welfare History Archives in August, 1964.

Subsequent shipments of NFSNC records, received between 1965 and 1980, were combined to form the supplement, "National Federation of Settlements and Neighborhood Centers, Supplement, 1897-1978." Margaret Berry, then executive director of the Federation, expedited transfer of the bulk of these records in the years between 1965 and 1971. In 1979, Margaret Berry also sent duplicate copies of documents from the International Federation of Settlements to be included with the NFSNC records.

An additional 95 linear feet of material was given to the Social Welfare History Archives in January of 1985. Though the National Federation had anticipated giving these documents to the Archives, two events expedited the shipment. First, the Federation had been planning to move its headquarters from New York City to a new office in Washington, D.C. and a decision had been made to send all items of historic relevance during the move. Second, Executive Director, Walter L. Smart, died suddenly in January of 1985. Thus, the organization was without a leader and, to preserve the documents, they were promptly shipped to the Social Welfare History Archives.

In some cases, gaps in sets of publications and board and committee minutes in the NFSNC records were filled with duplicate copies found in the Henry Street Settlement records and United Neighborhood Houses of New York records.

Microfilm Edition

There is also a microfilm edition (SW Film 3) of National Federation of Settlements and Neighborhood Centers records dating from 1897 to 1965 on six rolls of microfilm. The records were filmed for the Social Welfare History Archives in the summer of 1965 from originals provided by the NFSNC. Most of the records that were then microfilmed have since been given to the Social Welfare History Archives.

Related Materials

Researchers studying the National Federation of Settlements and Neighborhood Centers should also consult the personal papers of Helen Halland Albert Kennedy. In addition, the Archives' Pamphlet Collection contains many NFSNC publications.

Also of interest are two papers written by students which provide a very detailed and documented history of different aspects of the settlement movement. Both have been placed with the Archives' seminar paper collection, filed under the last name of the respective authors: Philip L. Holstein, Hampshire College, "The Social Settlement Movement and Neighborhood Social Services: Past, Present, and Future" and Phyllis M. Endreney, Smith College, "The Settlement Movement: Its Pragmatism, Idealism, and Political Influences. 1944-1980."

Processing Information and Finding Aid Information

Formerly, the three groupings of National Federation of Settlements and Neighborhood Centers records (NFSNC) were described in three separate finding aids, making it necessary for patrons to consult multiple documents in order to obtain complete information on the records. As part of a project to mount finding aids online, the Archives has merged the information about the NFSNC records into one comprehensive finding aid. Unpublished appendices containing further information on publications included in the records are available in the Archives.

The National Federation of Settlements and Neighborhood Centers records were processed from December, 1964, to June, 1965. Subsequent shipments of records received between 1965 and 1979 were processed in 1982 with financial assistance from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

National Federation of Settlements and Neighborhood Centers records
Loren Crabtree, Brian Mulhern, Gary Debele
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