Address to the University Settlement, March 21, 1903

REEL 46_1158.jpg
REEL 46_1159.jpg
REEL 46_1160.jpg
REEL 46_1161.jpg


I feel a certain diffidence in speaking upon Settlements to this body, which represents a Settlement founded by Stanton Coit and carried on so successfully by Mr. Reynolds.

It is well some times to consider the beginnings of a movement, and we recall that it is twenty years ago this month since Arnold Toynbee died. In a memorial service held ten years later that great Master of Baliol College, Jowett, said of him, with rare discrimination, that Toynbee possessed one of those minds which are "constantly troubled in regard to the unequal positions of mankind." May we not take this as the basic scruple which has since been embodied in Settlements?

What is it that these groups of people representing a certain amount of education and material advantage, who go to live in industrial neighborhoods, are trying to do? They certainly cannot point with pride to a list of achievements, for that list no matter how long will always be pitifully [meager] when compared to the needs. They are certainly not trying to build up a new institution for we find within the Settlement itself a great distrust of institutionalism. May we not say that their first aim is to get into such social and natural relations [page 2] with their neighbors that they can reveal to themselves and to the rest of the citizens the kind of life that exists in industrial neighborhoods? -– perfectly frank in regard to its limitations, but also insisting that it has those fine qualities that the best human life exhibits everywhere. It takes a certain amount of courage and training to do this accurately and sympathetically, and there is a tendency to grow so tolerant that some of us are afraid that the Settlements are losing the sense of discrimination. Tolerance naturally results from a closer acquaintance, and upon that we may well pride ourselves, but we may fail to see distinctions and to think we are tolerant when in reality we merely exhibit confusion of mind.

The Settlement embodying Arnold Toynbee's scruple can never fall into that shallow optimism which works so much harm and exhibits such lack of clear thinking. Losing discrimination in mere human kindliness recalls an old horse thief story; a committee of citizens had been called upon to deal with a persistently mean offender, who before the committee had succeeded in capturing him, opportunely died. The citizens, in a revulsion of feeling and with a tenderness which the nearness of death always brings, appointed the same committee to produce the best epitaph possible. The result was as follows:

"Here lies Bill Smith; he did some mean things, but he did some that were meaner."

Discrimination such as that the Settlement wishes to avoid. It cannot say that "all is well." It must at present say that many things are going badly in industrial neighborhoods because the city as a whole does not turn its attention to find out what conditions there are, and does not bring to bear its civic energies to make things better. There is also within every such neighborhood itself vast reserves of moral power which are unused. One object of the Settlement is to evoke the latent force which always lies in large bodies of people, to shift them to new [centers] of spiritual energy, to arouse creative powers. The Settlement believes that this power [page 3] resides not only in the young but in older people as well and can be found in every family, men, women, and children as they live together, and it resents the violence which comes from dividing people upon age and sex lines.

There is industrial power and skill as well as spiritual energy to be found in almost every foreign colony. If I may illustrate from the neighborhood of Hull House I would tell of the Italians we have found who are really fine wood carvers and modelers. A Neapolitan a few years ago was "fired" out of his tenement because he had carved his doorposts with a very beautiful pattern exactly the same as one he had formerly executed in a church in Naples -– a church by the way which is "double-starred" in Baedeker. Another man got into serious trouble with his landlord because he put a colored stucco wreath on his ceiling, which, as he afterwards carefully explained, Americans do not like. "They like everything smooth and shiny and a gray color –- white." We have so few American workmen who are skilled in wood carving, metal work, pottery or stucco, while in every foreign colony such talent is literally going to waste. The buying public are gradually discriminating against the monotony of factory-made goods, and are beginning to insist that what they buy shall show freedom of expression on the part of the workman. Each year perhaps we are less satisfied with the "ready-made" in furniture, in pottery, in ornament of all sorts, as well as in clothing. Doubtless the next generation will be imitating Germany by establishing schools of technology in which skilled workmen may be taught. In the meantime the men who already possess the skill and eagerness to work, have no incentive to teach their children and no knowledge of the ever-widening public who might demand their goods. They only need to have a place provided for them, equipped with simple apparatus, in which there is some enthusiasm for the value of their work. As it is they grow ashamed of their talent all too quickly in the materialistic atmosphere of Chicago. I do not know whether the atmosphere of New York is materialistic enough for that or not. [page 4]

The foreigner has vast reserves of tradition and historic consciousness which root back in all parts of Europe and which would supply a background which we very much lack in American cities. At one time we were able to give a Greek play at Hull House, produced by Greeks of the Chicago colony of fruit dealers. They gave a series of scenes from the Return of Ulysses. We discovered that they all knew their Homeric stories and that most of them were familiar with the Homeric lines. One man confided that he always said his prayers before the rehearsal, hoping that he might show forth "the glory and honor of Greece to ignorant Americans who knew nothing of the ancient world." We sometimes express our minds quite freely about foreigners, but we take very little pains to find out what they think of us, and the picture they draw is by no means flattering. A Settlement should be able to reveal the two sets of people to each other and not devote all its energies to philanthropic doings and tricks of education.

There is room in a Settlement for all sorts of social creeds. The man who believes that there is no use in the smaller activities because social affairs are so bad and so huge that only the city or state can cope with them, will some day find himself lifting his hat before the august spectacle of a fine and delicate character, [molded] in the most abject surroundings. The man who says that nothing is really accomplished by state activity and that we must concentrate our care upon the individual will some day find his heart breaking to see a child of promise and power broken down by sheer weight of overwork and over-hours, and he will be forced to admit that nothing but state regulation can prevent the premature thrusting of children into industry and the shocking social waste which follows; or he will see a family lately emigrated and full of the vigor of country life gradually growing pale and ill and dropping out one by one from their places in the community from sheer lack of decent air and light in the house they occupy, and he will appeal to the city [page 5] for better regulation and enforcement of tenement house laws in blank despair of individual effort.

The Settlement is founded upon a scruple, and upon no [preconceived] notion of activity. We need not be afraid of institutionalism for it has its place and use in every community. We need not be afraid of losing the personal touch so long as we really respect our neighbors and care for them individually. I am not quite willing to accept the dictum quoted by Mr. DeForest, "Not alms, but a friend," as conclusive. You cannot go into a man's house with a stern resolution to be a friend to him. The delicate flower of friendship does not grow that way. But you can become identified with the interests of the neighborhood of which he is a part. You find yourself working shoulder to shoulder with the man who lives next door because you cannot obtain certain much desired results without his co-operation, and friendship springs most naturally in comradeship and identity of interests. The definition of the cultivated man must always be that of the man who is able to forget differences of dress, of language, of manner and other superficial distinctions because he is able to perceive and grasp the underlying elements of identity and comradeship. Because the differences are lost in the perception of oneness which history and literature bring, because they are engulfed in the moral energy which the present demands. To such a man the old notion of the "Social Gulf," which the Settlements themselves used to mention, will seem quite absurd. The Social Gulf is always an affair of the imagination, and curiously enough appears deepest to those of the shallowest imagination.

English and American Settlements unite in a desire to minimize their activities as rapidly as other agencies will carry them on. Settlements have started kindergartens which have later become incorporated in the public school systems; reading rooms and libraries, which they have gladly handed over to the Public Library Boards. Baths, play-grounds and gymnasiums are to be found in several Settlement neighborhoods, cared for entirely by public authorities. A Settlement [page 6] must always hold its activities in the hollow of its hand, ready and glad to throw them away. It must daily live to die, and that Settlement may indeed be proud which is able to say, "This neighborhood no longer needs that kind of help because its own civic and moral energy is aroused." The ideal Settlement in the end will become absorbed and lost. Only on such high terms as these is the Settlement worthy of the foundation of Arnold Toynbee.