Why a City Should Have a Settlement, (June 1938) Vancouver, Canada


Helen Hall advocated for the importance of settlement houses and social welfare services over the span of her fifty-year career. Born into a white, middle-class family in 1892, Hall entered college expecting to pursue a career in sculpting.1 However, after one year of art classes, Hall realized she “wanted to stop and find out what was done for people when they were very poor, and in trouble.”2 Her curiosity inspired her to enroll in the New York School of Philanthropy for one year.3

Much of Hall’s social work involved settlement housing, both directing their programs and advocating for their significance. During the late nineteenth and throughout much of the twentieth century, settlement houses served as the central location for community services in urban neighborhoods. Settlements were designed to aid these communities through employment assistance, social clubs, housing aid, healthcare, educational programs, and other services.4 Social reform movements at the end of the nineteenth century inspired willing individuals (often upper-class women) to work and live alongside these communities in the settlement houses.5 These homes often focused their efforts on local immigrant communities who frequently faced poor living conditions, deficiencies in education, and obstacles to employment. Such services were often accompanied by efforts to “assimilate” new immigrants into American culture.6

Hall not only worked to address the material needs of these populations through her settlement work, but also their political needs. Alongside other settlement workers, Hall worked to persuade institutions and the public to recognize the structural inequalities plaguing cities. She pointed to the “lack of awareness” surrounding chronic unemployment, challenging popular discourse that framed joblessness as the result of personal failings. In her memoir, Unfinished Business: In Neighborhood and Nation, Hall explained, “I have always felt that a settlement’s job of interpretations is a primary one.”7

Hall’s commitment to social welfare was not limited to the United States. During World War I, Hall worked for the Red Cross and traveled to France, where she worked in hospitals and organized social and educational programs for young women. After the war, Hall traveled to China and the Philippines to assist the War Department’s Organization of Service Clubs for two years.8 Hall then returned to settlement work. She headed the University House Settlement in Philadelphia from 1922 to 1933 before becoming the second director of the Henry Street Settlement in New York City from 1933 to 1967.9

Hall also frequently testified before Congress and spoke about national health coverage, unemployment, civil rights, birth control, and public housing.10 Hall was invited to speak at the Sixth Canadian Conference on Social Work in 1938 likely because of her longstanding commitment to public advocacy regarding issues of social welfare. The organization’s president, Harry Cassidy, spoke about the need to garner more support for the social sciences in an era marked by increased public attention to the natural sciences.11 In her speech, Hall attested to the importance of settlement work and its ability to enhance civic engagement amidst communities with diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds.12 Hall also congratulated conference attendees on the opening of the very first settlement in British Columbia: The Alexandra Neighbourhood House.13 Hall and her husband Paul Kellogg served in advisory roles during the House’s transition from an orphanage to a settlement in 1938.14

Despite her many contributions to the settlement movement, Hall remains fairly unknown outside of the social work community. Janice Andrews states that “certainly one reason for Hall not being better known is that Hall was not interested in taking center stage and often avoided any credit due [to] her by insisting others played a more significant role or simply by refusing to let accolades be recited for her.”15 Though she has not received much attention for her work, Hall helped define the profession of social work and played a pivotal role in the settlement movement of the twentieth century.


  1. Janice Andrews, “Helen Hall (1892-1982): A Second Generation Settlement Leader,” Journal of Sociology & Social Welfare 19, no. 2 (1992): 97.
  2. Helen Hall, Unfinished Business: In Neighborhood and Nation (New York: Macmillan, 1971), ix.
  3. The New York School of Philanthropy is now known as the Columbia School of Social Work. Andrews, “Helen Hall,” 97.
  4. Michael Fabricant and Robert Fisher, Settlement Houses under Siege: The Struggle to Sustain Community Organizations in New York City (New York: Columbia University Press, 2002), 4-5.
  5. Robert C. Reinders, “Toynbee Hall and the American Settlement Movement,” Social Service Review 56, no. 1 (1982): 45.
  6. Mina Julia Carson, Settlement Folk: Social Thought and the American Settlement Movement, 1885-1930 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990), 101-121.
  7. Fabricant and Fisher, Settlement Houses under Siege, 40; Hall, Unfinished Business, x.
  8. Andrews, “Helen Hall,” 97-98.
  9. Walter H. Waggoner, “Helen Hall Dead; Led Social Reform,” New York Times, September 2, 1982, sec. Obituaries.
  10. Fabricant and Fisher, Settlement Houses under Siege, 39.
  11. Harry M. Cassidy, “Some Essentials in Canadian Social Welfare,” Proceedings of the Sixth Canadian Conference on Social Work (Vancouver: 1938), 8.
  12. Helen Hall, “Why a City Should Have a Settlement,” par. 10-12.
  13. Helen Hall, “Why a City Should Have a Settlement,” par. 5; Association of Neighbourhood Houses BC, “Our History,” anhbc.org.
  14. Eleanor Stebner, “A Historical Who’s Who in Metro-Vancouver Neighbourhood Houses (NHs),” Neighbourhood Houses in Metro Vancouver.
  15. Andrews, “Helen Hall,” 102.