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Henry Street Settlement records

Identifier: sw0058

Scope and Content

The Henry Street Settlement records document the settlement's work as well as its concerns for social issues in New York City and nationally. While material in the collection dates from 1892 to 2003, the vast bulk of the records documents the Helen Hall years, 1933 to 1967.

The records include: agendas, minutes, correspondence, memoranda, newspaper clippings, financial records and budgets, brochures and newsletters, architectural drawings, maps, photographs, pamphlets, scores, scripts, and scrapbooks. These records describe Henry Street Settlement's services and programs, including those related to: the arts, child care, camping and youth activities, health care, mental health, senior citizen activities, consumer education, juvenile delinquency, employment programs, adult education, and homelessness. The records also detail the settlement's internal administration. In addition, extensive correspondence files show the settlement's interactions with other persons and organizations, including various city, state, and federal government officials and agencies.

Series 1, Administration, documents the internal workings of the settlement as well as its history, organization, mission, policies, and clientele. The series also includes records from thesettlement's Community Studies Department. The correspondence, questionnaires, reports and related records document a range of social issues and reflect contemporary social work methodology and ideology. Series 2, Services and Programs, consists of the records of the settlement's many permanent programs, such as the arts department and camps; special short-term projects, such as the Pre-Delinquent Gang Project; regular programs that are no longer in operation; and proposals for programs that were never funded.

The Related Organizations series (Series 3) includes records of the organizations which were closely tied with Henry Street administratively or grew out of Henry Street programs. The Organizations, Subjects, and Correspondence series (Series 4) is an alphabetical arrangement of files documenting the people, organizations, and subject areas with which Henry Street was concerned. Series 5 contains scrapbooks that document primarily the Henry Street Music School and the Henry Street Visiting Nurse Service. The series also contains some information regarding the settlement in general. Series 6, Memorabilia and Ephemera, consists of individual items or groups of items donated to the Henry Street Settlement by supporters, former staff, and alumni. The materials document people, events, and programs at the settlement. Series 7 contains grant proposals, applications and reports from the Henry Street Settlement Development Office. These are a rich source of information on a wide range of settlement programs, in particular arts, youth activities, and homeless services. The Henry Street Oral History project records (Series 8) consist of tapes, transcripts or partial summaries, interviewers' reports and conclusions, and release forms. The interviews of current and former settlement staff, program participants, neighborhood residents, and settlement benefactors document people and programs at Henry Street as well as life on New York City's Lower East Side.

Principal correspondents include Lillian D. Wald, Helen Hall, and Bertram M. Beck, all of whom served as the settlement's headworker or executive director. Other settlement employees who are documented in the records include Ralph and Ruth Tefferteller, Susan Jenkins Brown, Karl Hesley, Alwin Nikolais, Atkins Preston, and Leona Gold. The Henry Street Board of Directors included a variety of influential persons including: Herbert H. Lehman, Nicholas Kelley, Felix M. Warburg, James Felt, Mary Dublin Keyserling, A. Fairfield (Allston Fairfield) Dana, and Winslow Carlton. The researcher can also find information regarding other settlement figures, such as Helen M. Harris, Lillian W. (Lillian Wester) Robbins, and Mildred Gutwillig. Paul Underwood Kellogg, Robert Wagner, and Leonard Farbstein also appear.


  • 1892-2009

Language of Materials


Use of Materials

Open for use in Social Welfare History Archives reading room.


The Henry Street records are open to research use with no restrictions.


"The sight of a woman in a rear tenement, under unspeakably distressing conditions, was the starting point of the Settlement," Lillian D. Wald related during the Henry Street Settlement's 20th anniversary celebration in 1914. "Miss Mary Brewster and I, both graduates of the New York Hospital Training School," Wald continued, "established ourselves on the top floor of a tenement house near by. We charged ourselves with creating a visiting nursing service, on the terms most considerate of the dignity and independence of the patients ... and also with contributing our citizenship in an industrial neighborhood."

Known as the Nurses' Settlement when it was established in New York City's Lower East Side in July 1893, the Henry Street Settlement earned national standing in the settlement movement. It served an immigrant neighborhood composed initially of Russian Jews, intermixed with Irish and Italians. As these groups were able to move to other areas in the years after World War II, they were replaced by African American, Puerto Rican, and Chinese residents.

The work of Lillian D. Wald and Mary Brewster from their office on the top floor of a tenement at 27 Jefferson Street soon attracted the attention of banker Jacob Schiff. In 1895, he purchased a house at 265 Henry Street and donated it to the settlement. Four more buildings on Henry Street had been added to the settlement by April 1903, when the Henry Street Settlement was incorporated. Among the incorporators and first directors were Lillian D. Wald and Lavinia L. Dock.

By 1913, the settlement offered a variety of programs in addition to a visiting nursing service that extended beyond the Lower East Side. The settlement was operating two branch centers -- one on East 79th Street and a second, the Stillman House for Colored People, at 205 W. 60th Street. The settlement also ran two summer camps, Camp Henry for boys and Echo Hill Farm for girls, and programs for boys and girls in the city were already well established. In addition, Rita Wallach Morganthau and Alice and Irene Lewisohn had begun offering dance and drama classes, work that led to the establishment of the settlement's well-known Neighborhood Playhouse at 466 Grand Street in 1915.

The work of the visiting nurses and the social settlement were closely allied at first. By the time Helen Hall was named to succeed Lillian D. Wald as headworker in 1933, the two had grown into virtually separate enterprises. Hall, a social worker rather than a nurse by training, separated the nursing service from the settlement administratively in 1937. The Henry Street Settlement and the Visiting Nurse Service of New York were incorporated as separate legal entities in 1944. (During the reorganization, the settlement was known briefly as the Lillian Wald Settlement.) Helen Hall, the former headworker at Philadelphia's University Settlement and a leader in the national settlement movement, directed Henry Street until she retired in 1967 at age 75. Her husband, Paul Kellogg, editor of Survey magazine, also made his home at the settlement.

During Helen Hall's tenure as headworker, the settlement continued to grow in size and stature. A credit union was established in 1937 and a mental health clinic was organized in 1946. In 1948, Mr. and Mrs. Herbert H. Lehman dedicated a new settlement building, "Pete's House," named in memory of their son who had died in World War II. As new public housing projects were established, the settlement expanded its consumer education efforts. Home planning workshops offered housing residents the space and tools to mend furniture, clothes, and shoes. The Lower Eastside Neighborhoods Association (LENA) was organized at Henry Street in 1955 and Mobilization for Youth was created there in 1957. A new building, the Charles and Stella Guttman Building, opened its doors in 1963.

During this time, Helen Hall and the settlement's Community Studies Department studied, analyzed, and reported on the Lower East Side's changing social conditions. The results of many of her probes were published in the Survey . When a bibliography entitled The Helen Hall Settlement Papers was compiled in 1959, 65 studies made between 1928 and 1958 were listed.

Bertram Beck, the former director of Mobilization for Youth and associate director of the National Association of Social Workers, succeeded Helen Hall in 1967. During his ten-year stay, the settlement brought its arts programs under one roof in the new Arts for Living Center. Like most social service organizations at the time, Henry Street also grew to rely on increased government funding. (In 1975, for example, public funds accounted for two-thirds of the settlement's $4.5 million budget.) New services were organized, including a day care center and jobs programs as well as programs and temporary shelters for homeless families.

In 1970, the settlement began referring to itself as the Henry Street Urban Life Center, but retained Henry Street Settlement as its legal name. According to the board minutes of June 22, 1970, the name change was "seen as an aid in fund raising and in securing public understanding .... The word 'settlement' was derived from the fact that the settlement pioneers moved into the poor community and settled there. The term, 'urban life center,' is designed to quickly convey the notion of interaction between the staff and people who live in the neighborhood..."

In 1977, Bertram Beck was succeeded by Frank Seever, who had been director of Chicago Commons. Niathan Allen served as the settlement's fifth executive director from 1981 to 1985, when Daniel Kronenfeld was appointed. During the 1980's and 1990's the settlement expanded its arts, homeless, senior citizen, youth, employment, and mental health programs and continued to add new projects, including education and assistance programs for persons affected by HIV/AIDS. In 2002, Daniel Kronenfeld was succeeded by Verona Middleton-Jeter.

Additional information about the history of specific projects and activities is included in the series descriptions.


143.5 Linear Feet (154 manuscript boxes, 53 record cartons, and 3 flat storage boxes)


Records of the Henry Street Settlement, a settlement house located on New York City's Lower East Side. Contains minutes, correspondence, memoranda, reports, architectural drawings, publications, financial records, newspaper clippings, scripts, scores, photographs, maps, and newsletters. The records document the administration and programs of a leading organization in the settlement movement and reflect social issues affecting immigrants and low income groups. Topics include: the arts, child care, camping and youth activities, health care, mental health, senior citizen programs, consumer education, juvenile delinquency, employment programs, adult education, and services for the homeless. Other social service organizations in New York City are also documented. The bulk of the records date from 1933 to 1967, the years when Helen Hall served as headworker. The records also contain material dating from the administrations of founder, Lillian D. Wald, and Helen Hall's successor, Bertram M. Beck. Also includes a small amount of records from the 1990s and 2000s, including grants files and arts program files.

Arrangement of Records

The records are organized into eight series:

  1. Series 1. Administration, 1892-1993
  2. Series 2. Services and Programs, 1903-2003
  3. Series 3. Related Organizations, 1893-1979
  4. Series 4. Organizations, Subjects, and Correspondence, 1916-1976
  5. Series 5. Henry Street Scrapbooks, 1929-1964
  6. Series 6. Henry Street Memorabilia and Ephemera, 1912-2000
  7. Series 7. Development Office Grant Files, 1998-2000
  8. Series 8. Henry Street Oral History Project, 1992-1993

Other Finding Aid

Unpublished inventory available. Please contact Archives for more information.

Acquisition Information

The records are a gift of the Henry Street Settlement's board of directors. The records documenting the years when Helen Hall was Henry Street executive director were shipped to the archives in 1972. Additions to the collection arrived in 1974, 1978, 1994, 2003, and 2004. Also, settlement-related records that were contained in Helen Hall's personal papers were added to the Henry Street Settlement records during processing.

Related Materials

The primary sources for studying the early history of the Henry Street Settlement are the Lillian D.Wald papers at the New York Public Library and the Columbia University Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Closely related collections at the Social Welfare History Archives are the Helen Hall papers (SW034); the Henry Street Visiting Nurse Service (SW063), particularly for early annual reports of the settlement as well as the nursing service; and the records of the Henry Street Music School (SW062).

Processing Information

The inventory was prepared by Susan D. Steinwall in 1983 and revised by Linnea M. Anderson in 2004. The Henry Street Settlement records were processed in 1982 and 1983 with financial assistance from the National Endowment for the Humanities. The records that were processed during the 1980s are housed in boxes 1 through 143. Additional records that were received in 1994 and 2003-2004 have been minimally processed. These materials are housed in boxes 144 through 153.

The bulk of the collection, that which arrived in 1972, consisted of one large alphabetical run of files. This run was broken into Series 1 through Series 5. In nearly all cases, the internal integrity of the folders was not disturbed. Most of the more recently acquired records form series 6, 7 and 8. A small amount of the recent material consists of additions to Series 1 through Series 4. These records have been listed under the appropriate series in the finding aid.

Henry Street Settlement records
Susan D. Steinwall, revised by Linnea M. Anderson
September, 2004
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Revision Statements

  • 8/19/16: corrected extents
  • 8/19/2016: removed extra dates fields
  • 5/12/2020: minor edits

Collecting Area Details

Contact The Social Welfare History Archives Collecting Area