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Alliance of Cambridge Settlement Houses records

Identifier: SW 0057

Scope and Content

The records of the Alliance of Cambridge Settlement Houses document settlement work in Cambridge, Massachusetts, primarily within the context of the social turmoil and experimentation in public social programs that characterized the late 1960s. The records consist largely of minutes, correspondence, reports, financial records, and group work project files. Some records predate the formation of the Alliance. There are board minutes (1902-1914) for Margaret Fuller House and Cambridge Neighborhood House records documenting club activities (1939-1963).

The records document several previously independent settlement houses - - Cambridge Community Center, Cambridge Neighborhood House, East End House, and Margaret Fuller House - - as they coordinated their administrative operations. Included are policy formulation, financial, and personnel records; files on specific programs; and correspondence with member houses and with other organizations. Recruitment and utilization of student volunteers is a prominent feature in these records. Many documents from the period of Isabel Pifer's administration (1963-1967) are scrupulously annotated, indicating efforts at resolution of pending issues. However, subsequent administrators were less thorough in documenting their activities. The Member House series details the varying characters and shifting programs of the individual houses, which were frequently at odds with Alliance policy. Minutes and correspondence convey a sense of their changing perceptions of the Alliance and its efficacy.

The records also reflect the issues associated with urban redevelopment and relocation and offer a case study in the local application of federal programs. The theme of resident's control of federally funded projects emerges repeatedly, particularly in files relating to Model Cities and multi-service delivery programs. Interracial tensions appear most prominently in material relating to the Cambridge Community Center and the Cambridge Civic Unity Committee. Increasing tension in police-community relations is also apparent throughout the Program series.


  • 1902-1914
  • 1939-1971
  • (bulk 1960-1969)

Language of Materials


Use of Materials

Open for use in Social Welfare History Archives reading room.

Historical Note

The Alliance of Cambridge Settlement Houses was a federation of Cambridge, Massachusetts, neighborhood centers, incorporated in June, 1963. Participants included Cambridge Community Center, Cambridge Neighborhood House, East End House, and Margaret Fuller House. The Alliance pursued a range of programs in the Cambridge community including extension education, pre schools, and community schools; youth programs and camping; housing and community organization; senior services; and counseling and community mental health.

The Alliance of Cambridge Settlement Houses (ACSH) was founded in October, 1961, and comprised four member houses: Cambridge Neighborhood House, Margaret Fuller House, East End House, and Cambridge Community Center. Encouraged by the National Federation of Settlements' 1958 publication on settlement coordination and subsequent Boston-area agency planning, executives of four Cambridge settlements prepared merger plan in 1961. With foundation funding commitments, the Alliance of Cambridge Settlement Houses was incorporated on June 20,1963. Pressure from the Alliance's major funding source led to the merger of three of the houses in June of 1967. Cambridge Community Center, located in a predominantly Black neighborhood, remained separate. A fifth settlement, Christ Child House, cooperated informally in Alliance deliberations and programming. Isabel Pifer was hired as the first ACHS administrator in October, 1963. In 1967, she was succeeded by Walter Benecke, who was followed by A. Meado Zaki in 1969. Much of the early history of the Alliance was devoted to establishing formal organizational structures and defining the relations between the Alliance and its member houses.

The Alliance provided a number of community services. It was especially active in community planning and development. In 1963, the Alliance advised community organizers in the vicinity of Cambridge Community Center on establishing the Grass Roots Housing Council of the Riverside Neighborhood Association. In addition, urban renewal plans for the Boston Inner Belt highway construction project led to Alliance negotiations with both the Highway Administration and the Cambridge Housing Authority. These and other redevelopment concerns spawned the Cambridge Economic Opportunity Committee (CEOC) in 1965 and the Cambridge Corporation community development agency in 1966. Ultimately, CEOC funded the Alliance's Head Start program and its tutoring project, Tutoring Plus. Federal money and Alliance coordination also resulted in a Model Cities program in 1968.

Office of Economic Opportunity funds also supported Alliance youth projects. A science day camp staffed by student volunteers, teenage employment skills training (TEST) and the Neighborhood Youth Corps all played a part in an ambitious youth program that emerged in the years from 1965 to 1967. For younger children, the Alliance coordinated the camping programs of its member houses into a single unified program in 1964. By the end of the decade, the Alliance's camp was also attempting to cooperate with Scouting and "Y" Camping programs.

In 1964, the Alliance board proposed a multi-service center to provide social, psychological, and legal counseling to the whole range of age and language groups in the community. An initial move in this direction was the family counseling project, funded by the Permanent Charity Fund and operated in conjunction with the Family Society of Cambridge between 1964 and 1968. A similar program that provided recreation, counseling, and referral services to senior citizens opened in March, 1967. Ultimately, the Multi-Service Center for Senior Citizens developed into a series of drop-in centers that were better suited to the client population. Psychological counseling for all age groups, first proposed in 1964, was the focus of a joint project with the Cambridge Mental Health Association. By 1967, the Alliance was involved in plans with Cambridge Community Services, Elizabeth Peabody House, and other agencies in the neighboring town of Somerville to develop a Comprehensive Mental Health Center the area. At the same time, with Cambridge Economic Opportunity Committee (CEOC) and Model Cities funding, the settlements developed a community controlled multi-service center in 1968.

Amid these and other ambitious initiatives, the Alliance had to cope with recurrent financial troubles. Conceived in the hope of increased fund-raising potential and heightened operational economy, the Alliance did manage to install a unified accounting system among its member houses by 1965. Operational economy foundered, however, in the face of expanded programs and regular annual deficits. Tensions developed within the Alliance over disproportionate funding and resources, in particular involving the Cambridge Community Center, which had primarily African American clients. Its separate status was a source of continuing anxiety during a period of escalating racial tensions. Fund-raising efforts were stymied by a United Community Services prohibition against independent soliciting campaigns, which was relaxed only in 1969. By 1971, the end of the period documented by the records, financial problems threatened to curtail the community service programs that had formed the focus of the Alliance. The Alliance appears to have ceased operations around 1973.


10.5 Linear Feet


The Alliance of Cambridge Settlement Houses records consist of minutes, correspondence, project applications and reports, financial documents, and group work records. The Alliance of Cambridge Settlement Houses was a federation of Cambridge, Massachusetts, neighborhood centers, incorporated in June 1963. Participants included Cambridge Community Center, Cambridge Neighborhood House, East End House, and Margaret Fuller House. The records, which are mostly from the 1960s, reflect problems of urban renewal, poverty, and race relations set against the background of massive federal funding initiatives such as Head Start, Model Cities, and the Economic Opportunity Act. The records document settlement concerns with housing, mental health, child care, aging, arts education, and the problems of youth. Group work records, 1949-1966, reflect youth problems, the utilization of volunteer staff, and field experience for social work education.


The Alliance of Cambridge Settlement Houses have been arranged in four series:

  1. Series 1: Administration
  2. Series 2: Programs
  3. Series 3: Member Houses
  4. Series 4: Other Organizations

Other Finding Aid

Unpublished inventory available. Please contact the Archivesfor more information.

Alliance of Cambridge Settlement Houses records
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Collecting Area Details

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