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

Speech Text

(The Honourable G. M. Weir, Minister of Education and Provincial Secretary of the Province of British Columbia, introduced the speaker.)

[1] I feel very strongly about my topic tonight, but I do not know whether you are equal to hearing me twice within such a short time, and I would like to say that the settlement people with whom I conferred this afternoon may leave at this point and I will not be hurt! We have just talked over settlement policies together in detail.

[2] I think you all know that the Settlement movement sprang from the founding of the Toynbee Hall in the east end of London. Residence at Toynbee Hall enabled Oxford students to live as friends with the people in this industrial district, with the idea of helping to understand their problems at first hand, and work with them to change their own living conditions. That was 50 years ago, and the movements in the United States, and in Canada have followed in some of the fundamentals, that early beginning.

[3] I have visited the Settlements in many parts of the world, and I should like to recall an incident which occurred when I visited Settlements two years ago in London. The National Federation of Settlements, which is the combined group of Settlements in the United States, was making a study of health insurance in England. I spoke last night of the study of unemployment insurance which the National Federation made some years ago at the beginning of the depression. At the time I realized how the social insurances wove in and out of peoples’ lives so that you could hardly tell where one began and the other left off. We decided in the Settlements in the United States, to study the effects of health insurance in Great Britain from the workers’ and the doctors’ standpoint (Canada I think, probably, is in the same position, of needing perhaps to know more of health insurance, although not in your particular Province, because you are further ahead than any of the rest of us). In our country at least we are ignorant, and there are just as stupid things said about health insurance as there were about unemployment insurance several years ago. We had a young doctor make this study, feeling that in this way it would carry more conviction. Mr. Kellogg and I were in London at the beginning of the inquiry and we visited some of the Settlements in London. I spent one evening with a group of young girls who told me what they felt about health insurance. They related their experiences in detail and they were very vivid, and at the end of the evening I thanked them very warmly. “You have been very good and I appreciate very much your willingness to help us out,” and they replied in a delicious accent which I do not dare to imitate because Miss Bondfield is here and she would know if I didn’t do it well. “We didn’t mind at all; we liked it. You see we never believed that accent you got was real. We hears it in the movies and we thought they was putting it on.” “But,” they said, “where is you goom? Doesn’t every American chew goom?”

[4] Last year when we arrived in Los Angeles we were taken directly to breakfast at a settlement and during breakfast the Mexican neighbors of the settlement came to serenade us and then joined us at breakfast. Not long ago one of the most beautiful plays I have ever seen was put on in one of the Settlements in the United States given by a group of Negroes. But of all the lovely and interesting Settlement experiences I have ever had, the one this afternoon when I saw a Settlement just beginning was one of the best.

[5] Those who believe in the Settlement movement and feel it has unique things to offer to the community, must be stirred at seeing one start. The opening of your Alexandra Neighbourhood House was very exciting to me. Many Settlements have started from one little house, then added another and gone on and on to meet their needs. But this Settlement has an unusually fine start, with good equipment, with space and with airy, light rooms. I can see it soon filled with groups of girls and boys and mothers and fathers. I really cannot tell you what satisfaction it gave me to see it all and talk to your directors, and I hope I shall be invited back to Vancouver and will see the people of that community after it has become theirs. I judge from my visit that the neighbors of that Settlement are living, many of them, whole families in one room; many are unemployed, and life has pressed down hard on the people in that section of the city. I can see them, as friends and neighbors, developing through association in a way that will make the life of that community more vital, as well as bringing more satisfaction in their own personal lives. The Secretary of the National Federation in the United States, Miss Lillie Peck, will expect me to tell every single thing about this Settlement because we have been corresponding with Miss Collins and she is very much interested already. I will have to tell her about your Board and I think it’s grand. I’m judging by the fact that they asked such good questions this afternoon and seemed to have such a deep interest. I will have to tell her how many rooms there were, and all about the kitchen! No matter how civic minded a Settlement gets it never leaves behind its kitchen! You must have a kitchen for all the many parties and too, for your cooking classes. A great big beautiful streamlined Settlement has been built in Detroit this last year and they boast of seven kitchens! Always at the root of every piece of Settlement work is a friendly, neighborly, informal approach that may greet a neighbor with a cup of tea, or an invitation to a dance, or to partake of any one of the simple human things that make us laugh or enjoy together.

[6] There are several things which I feel are peculiar to the Settlement and I would like to deal with some of them tonight. In the first place the Settlement is the only general practitioner left in the field of social work, and there is to my mind a great need for this general practitioner. After all, social work along with other professions has become very specialized. We deal with dependent children, with people on relief, with delinquents, with unmarried mothers, with medical social work, with recreation for just boys or just girls, and we train ourselves especially for these different fields. I am thoroughly in accord with all this, but because of this great development of specialized fields there is more than ever a field for the general practitioner in the community picture. We settle in a community and we see the whole family; we see them in sickness and in health, and like the marriage service again for better or for worse, over a long period of time. We see them 24 hours a day, and after all, some of the most important things in peoples’ lives happen before 9 or after 5 or on the week-end. They happen late at night or any old time. We are close enough to see the people who fall through all the categories and to judge where our social planning breaks down. We it is who must always be reminding the community that life is no respecter of categories, and that a sound social program must be forever changing. Our knowledge must not stop at our doors; we must make it a part of community planning.

[7] Then a Settlement must be an experiment station. This to my mind is basic in the philosophy of the Settlement. It must always be ready to move on to new things. It must be willing to change with changing conditions, for flexibility is one of the Settlement’s greatest assets. If the people in it have imagination and creative ability they will experiment, always seeing new needs, and seeking ways of meeting them. The first step of course is to see the need close at hand and to attempt to meet it, and then see that your work is of use to other neighborhoods. If you discover something and only use it in your own community and it is applicable to other neighborhoods, you are doing only a part of the Settlement’s work. The next step is the interpretation of that need and what can be done about it to the rest of the city or much further afield. To use a simple illustration from the Henry Street Settlement. Years ago the Settlement experimented with a school nurse for the schools in the neighborhood. We paid for the first nurse and we tried it out for some time, and we came to know how much the children going to public schools needed a school nurse, because we had seen our own experiment work. The next job was so to convince the city Board of Education that a school nurse should be a part of every school’s service to its children. I will take this particular example further because it throws further light on Settlement experience and method. Your work does not always stop by any means with getting the government or some other agency to take the work over. As a matter of fact, New York City instituted school nurses, and the city as a whole rests comfortably because we have had school nurses for over 20 years. But as a matter of fact, we have not enough school nurses to do anything like an adequate job. We have approximately 3,000 children to one nurse. If the Settlement is alive to its responsibilities, it will have to fight the old battle all over again! At Henry Street today every child who comes to our clubs and classes is given a yearly physical examination. At one time out of 1,000 children examined over a certain period there were only 15 children who did not need something done for them physically! The children we examined were going to New York public schools and yet their physical defects were not being taken care of. I do not know how thorough a job your school nurses do by you and I know that school children need careful examination which should be followed through by nurses and social workers so that those things are done for them which will make them healthy citizens in the future and healthy citizens are the least expensive citizens for any community!

[8] When I left Henry Street our Survey Department was working up an exciting report of our health examinations over the last five years that we are going to take to our Mayor. Of course we are very lucky in New York right now because we have in Mayor LaGuardia someone who cares as much as any one of us about the welfare of the city’s children and he has the courage and drive to make his caring tell. But just taking a report to the Mayor isn’t all; you help mobilize the other forces in the community who feel as you do behind the fight for budget appropriations. You devise every way of making the community aware of their own neglect. I don’t mean to make anything sound easy. I only want it to sound worth doing, for that it is.

[9] Some of the first adult education classes started in Settlements, and the first playgrounds. Vocational guidance for juniors began in settlements. One of the first little theatres was in a Settlement. Your Settlement of the future here has all sorts of things to discover about the neighborhood they go into which may in turn help every other community in Vancouver.

[10] Another function of the Settlement is that it is a common meeting ground to which all elements of the community are welcome. That is not always an easy thing in days of stress and when tension runs high. To have people of every political faith, and of every religious creed, and every racial background, not only made welcome but helped to co-operate with one another through various Settlement activities is a valuable experience in the democratic process.

[11] And at times this is not easy for the people responsible for the Settlement. And it is not by any means the Settlement Board that wants most often to be exclusive; it is your neighbors themselves who often want to put each other out. I remember a young group from our playhouse who came to see me with a grievance. They were very radical and wanted to transform our dramatic work in a way the more conservative members of the group did not like. We talked it over and I said I would like to hear the other side first before we made any plans for reorganization. They said, “Oh, but Miss Hall, there isn’t any other side.” “But the other side has left a note on my desk asking to talk to me,” I said. Their answer to this was, “But that’s just the minority.” “Well,” I said, “you know the Settlement believes in letting the minority tell their side.” “Oh,” was this impatient rejoinder, “this listenin’ to minorities is just the curse of liberalism!”

[12] During my first week at Henry Street I heard there was a terrible dispute among the organized unemployed group. I thought I better go in and see what it was all about. I kept in the back of the hall hoping they would not recognize me or know that I was there. The meeting got so exciting that it took at least four people to put each speaker down. The group were largely Jewish, Italian and Irish, all pretty fluent and at fever heat. I expected a battle at any moment but finally after two hours, to my amazement, I heard the Chairman say, “It is for a shame that the first night we have our new voman vid us we have dis little disagreement.” I thought if that was a “little disagreement” I wondered what life on Henry Street as going to be like! After the fourth hour I heard them say, “Now ve vill ask Miss Hall to settle the argument!” I may add that I didn’t attempt that! The particular argument that night was on the subject of the “united front” and the group split forever on it! That night the communists put the socialists of the organization out. The next day I had a delegation from each side asking me not to let the others meet in the Settlement. And many of my more conservative neighbors would gladly keep both these factions out at times! And there you have it.

[13] Now what is ahead of us in Settlements? What is different from the past? I must speak from the American viewpoint on this. We in the United States in Settlements today face one thing that is very different from the Settlement pioneers. We face an American-born, American-educated group of people. We still have the foreign-born with us; we still have the struggle to get citizenship papers for fathers and mothers, but that is not our great problem today. Our neighbors of today have been taught to feel there should be a great future for every energetic American. We who live in the Settlements are living among a group of people brought up in the American tradition of opportunity for all but who find themselves without opportunity or jobs. Young people who cannot marry because they have no work; young people who fear to have children because they know the job is so insecure, or worse still, because they are on relief. Young people who had hoped because they went to high school or to college they would have a better chance, and they find they haven’t. It is not easy to face these people day after day as we seek for larger answers to our modern industrial problems. They are living now and each wants a personal answer to their coming of age. This is every social worker’s problem for we in social work are too close to it to be able to turn away. We know that a democracy to fulfill its purpose must bring fullness of opportunity to all its people and that today we are a long way from our goal. Meanwhile we in Settlements hope to help people to understand better their own situation and how to deal with the tools of democracy which are at hand, so that they may better serve them.

[14] If I tell of things at Henry Street, it is only because one speaks more vividly and truly from personal experience, not because other Settlements are not working along these same lines and working out even more interesting ways of doing things. I want to discuss a Civic Education group we began last year. We have been trying to find a way of making voting a reality for a long time. When Election Day comes we know something about the President, the Governor, or the Mayor, but we do not know much or anything about the men further down the line. Yet we vote for them! And it is these men who are really doing the work of government, bad or good, without our really knowing how! We knew from long experience how hard it is to get people to study just for the sake of studying so we said to the group we gathered together as a nucleus for this experiment in democratic education, “Let us take all of the people in our district who represent us and see how they vote on bills that come up before them.” We made a little map of our district and we placed on it the men who represented us in Washington, in the State Capitol, and our representatives in the City Council. We said to ourselves, “We will study the back records of these men and then what they are doing now.” Well that was not so easy, but we took the men and the chief bills that were coming up in the City Council first, and next in Albany, our state capital which is the equivalent to Victoria, and then took on Washington! We studied not only the most important bills before the city, state and national legislatures but those most affecting our neighbors. If you have done it you know what drudgery this can be. We divided into committees and interested, first, the young people in the community who had taken part in the LaGuardia elections; two young lawyers in our neighborhood joined the group and a lawyer who is a member of our Board worked with us. One of our best members was the President of our Negro Group in the neighborhood. We had delegates go from our Civic Education committee to Washington and members from our group went to Albany and they visited the legislators when at home. We have a new city charter in New York and members of our group went down also to the City Council to watch at first hand what was headline news in the early stages of the new Council. They were pretty ashamed because our representative behaved so outrageously and they thought they should have a delegation call on him “and tell him they were ashamed of him.” “Of course, tell him tactfully!” one older man added. They did have a delegation call on him and I judge they were tactful as he has been co-operating with them since then! Many of our legislators had not bothered to speak in our district when running for Election, they were so sure of it. They were elected long before November; in the Tammany clubhouse around the corner. We find the attitudes and situation changing now. Our civic education group goes to our forum, which is open to the whole neighborhood, and tells how their representatives have voted on the bills up before them. The representatives do not always like this public reporting and we find them more and more willing to discuss social legislation with us. Also, we find them sitting in the back rows of the forum! The law partner of one of our Tammany representatives has joined the Civic Education Group. The group was worried when he first applied. “Do we have to let him in?” they questioned each other, and the answer was, “I guess on our principles we are open to the community,” so in he came. It is as well, too, for part of the education in the group comes from differences of opinion, which force us all to get at facts to back up our statements and opinions which some fellow member has questioned.

[15] One group we are very much interested in this past year has evolved through dramatizing a popular discussion of current problems. Several young residents who have a dramatic as well as a sociological background have worked with a large group of young people between the ages of 19 and 25 in producing something akin to the “Living Newspaper” which originated with the Federal Theatre Project of the Work Progress Administration. What we do is very humble in comparison but it has been a source of great community interest and some real education. A large group of approximately 400 young people are drawn from in the working out of each production – some writing, some staging, some just criticizing! They are asked what problem they would most like to write a play around and for some meetings the discussion goes on, until a topic is picked for dramatic presentation. What we have come to refer to as “the living newspaper technique” is to my mind one of the most interesting contributions to drama in a decade, and one which is very well adapted to the amateur and lends itself to education of a vivid sort. By the time our young people have worked through the writing of the script, worked out the presentation of their ideas, they have had to do some pretty hard thinking and the settlement and they must have engaged in much research. They have written and acted in plays showing what they felt about the Japanese Boycott, about tenants’ union, about our Pure Food and Drug Act, about the labor movement, Credit Unions, etc. I might add, while the Civic Education group has attracted on the whole natural leaders, this group has been drawn from the pool rooms and the “corners,” from those boys and girls who don’t as a rule do much voluntary thinking!

[16] I don’t know whether you have any Credit Unions in Canada but one summer day three years ago one of our senior boys came in to ask for help in solving financial difficulties with which he had been struggling for nearly two years. He borrowed twenty-five dollars from a money-lender, had been paying five dollars weekly as interest, and in two years, although he had repaid nearly five hundred dollars in interest, had made no impression on the twenty-five dollars debt! He was so discouraged and frightened that by this time he wanted to leave town. A group of his friends talked it over with us and our Credit Union was the final result. Investigation of his case proved that it was typical of the experiences of many other people in the neighborhood. Aroused by these findings a group of the younger people decided to pool their financial resources in some way to defeat the illegal loan racket. After some months of work they were ready, fourteen strong, to join the Federal Credit Union as a member group. They now have between two and three hundred members and they manage their own affairs with amazing wisdom. More important than their financial success is the service to the community which the Credit Union has provided, in making small loans available at low interest rates, and by encouraging regular savings. To the democratically-elected board of directors has fallen the responsibility for making loans, for deciding on the validity of the borrower’s need, and the wisdom of his placing himself in debt. That the Board has been wise is shown by the sound financial standing of the organization, and it has served the community is indicated by the saying that the Credit Union is always the first to know the neighborhood’s vital statistics! In addition to marriages, new babies and funerals, loans have been made for college tuition, vacations, food, clothing and rent, to pay off money-lenders, and to meet many kinds of family emergencies. The greatest percentage of these loans have been for amounts of twenty-five dollars or more.

[17] Then we have co-operatives, but I shall not take to time to tell of those at Henry Street only mentioning one, a Consumer-Farmers’ milk co-operative which is city-wide. The long fight back of its establishment has been the source of much consumer education among our groups. I think social workers have been very slow in not taking a more active part in the consumer movement. That is one of our jobs ahead. The unions too, have been slow in realizing that if you raise the wages and at the same time raise the price of food more, you are not raising the standard of living. Some of the unions in the United States now are active in our consumers’ groups. We have done a great deal of education along these lines of our Mothers’ Clubs in the Settlement. Milk was the first consumers’ job we tackled; every baby has to have it, and it is easier to make people realize what their stake is in the price of milk than in any other commodity. I recommend it as a starter for consumers’ education. At one time I served on the State Milk Advisory Board in New York as a representative of the consumer. When I protested a price rise and said, “the babies in my neighborhood will have less milk, and the consumers will not stand the increase,” the answer was, “The consumers are not organized,” but that is not true today. Many consumers are organized in New York and it makes all the difference in the world. When the price of milk went up this spring in New York there was a real fight, because our mothers’ clubs were ready to take a stand. They planned a baby carriage parade down to Foley Square which is between our City Hall and the State Office Building, and in the heart of the city. The price of milk had gone up three times in five months and a Milk Consumers’ Protective Committee had been in touch with the farmers who were only too eager for a wider milk distribution. They heard of the plans for a baby parade and said one, “I will bring a cow and meet you at City Hall.” We have had mothers and babies go to City Hall before but we never had a cow. So the mothers and the cow met at Foley Square and every newspaper man in the City and with all the newsreels were there ahead of them! I think the milk companies were worried by the cow. It had a sign on it, “I am a union cow.”

[18] I am not going to talk any longer but may I end by congratulating you once more on your new settlement. I hope you will invite me back so that I can see it again, and I know it will be as exciting as a Settlement should be.