In celebration of Preservation Month, local organizations, historical societies, and businesses across the nation are showing appreciation for their roots, engaging communities in important conversations surrounding place, heritage, and identity. As part of this initiative, the National Trust for Historic Preservation has launched a campaign entitled This Place Matters, which encourages people to share photos and stories of places they cherish. Given United South End Settlements’ rich 127-year history as a source of strength, resilience, and opportunity in the community, it feels only right to celebrate our origins and the generations of supporters, staff members, neighbors, and participants who laid the foundation for our work today.
Characterized by industrialization and the promise of opportunity, the late 19th century brought a stream of emancipated formerly enslaved people, immigrants, and rural laborers to the city of Boston in search of work. However, the reduced demand for manual labor combined with the lack of public assistance programs meant that many encountered poverty, bad housing, and fierce prejudice.
In the wake of chronic unemployment and inequality, the Settlement Movement emerged as a promising community-based solution. Andover House – Boston’s first settlement house established in 1892 and located at 6 Rollins Street – brought young, upper-class adults to the South End to live and work alongside residents to tackle social justice issues in the neighborhood. In the years to come, other settlement houses were established to support a range of needs, providing classes, clubs, housings, and other forms of assistance to enrich and uplift families and their children out of poverty.
Among these new organizations was the Children’s Art Centre, located on our campus at 36 Rutland Street and established in 1914 and built in 1918 with the help of the Museum of Fine Arts. Referred to as the “glass treasure house” in a 1953 article, the centre provided hundreds of local children with opportunities to create and explore freely. In 1959, decreasing resources led to the consolidation of five South End settlement houses into what we now know as United South End Settlements.
It is with an awareness of our roots and appreciation for our founders that we have identified a renewed mission and direction, pivoting our focus to comprehensive programs that support the whole family. As the South End faces new challenges tied to gentrification, economic disparity, and micro segregation, our organization must adapt to meet the needs of our neighbors and families. USES will always be grounded in its origins as a settlement house and its legacy of equality, activism, and opportunity for all.