Address on Neighborhood Improvement, June 25, 1904 (Extract)

REEL 46_1293.jpg

For the first time, the National Conference this year had a section on neighborhood improvement, with Miss Jane Addams of Hull House as chairman. The two sessions given over to this section were among the stirring gatherings of the Portland meeting, and so well chosen was the program presented under Miss Addams's chairmanship that the significance of this new departure on the part of the national body was given sturdy emphasis and dignity.

"The old-fashioned charity, which we are fast forgetting," said Miss Addams, "concerned itself with the individual – got hold of a boy, for instance, educated him and built him up and moved him, ultimately, over onto the boulevard.

"Next the individual was treated as a member of a family. Miss Richmond tells of a Baltimore family which was treated for years by a society without even coming in contact with the head of the family because he was a man.

"Now we are coming to consider not individuals and families merely, but whole neighborhoods, districts which are below the level of right living. It has been found that promising boys go to pieces despite scholarships and the like because their environment remains bad; so, too, with families, who have not the moral strength to overcome the conditions which sometimes surround them. So to those agencies which deal with families have been added others which deal with neighborhoods that certain stigmas, temptations, reputations be removed. These at first felt that they were going into a new country and called themselves 'settlements,' a word obnoxious to American ears. What has been discovered has been interesting people, with resources for moral growth and civic abilities which have proved tremendous aids from within even those neighborhoods which have been called depressed.

"If one tries to give an important historic survey of neighborhood improvement, he must go back into the history of charities. My first glimpse of it was when Octavia Hill took me to an old burying place in which the children of the neighborhood had finally been permitted to play. One would have supposed, from the effort it cost, that the whole strength of the British Empire was devoted to preservation of that graveyard as such. It was a beginning, the taking of these not as family children but as neighborhood children. Take a neighborhood such as the Tyrolese village of Oberammergau, which has made the preservation of the traditions of its play the central aspiration of the community, or take a city neighborhood, a group of simple people – uncultured people, if you please – give them a line of interest and you will be amazed at the ability and powers they develop of themselves. The papers which are to be presented at this section will attempt to bring out what has been done by way of such activities. When the school becomes a center not merely for the child but for any member of the family, have he hunger of mind, a hunger outside his routine of life, we shall look back upon our report, as small as of those who had not yet the faith to see clearly."

Mrs. Simkhovitch's address on the enlarged uses of the public schools was published in part in last week's issue of CHARITIES. Miss Wald told of the work at Clinton Hall, on the East Side, New York, and William E. Benson of [Kowaliga], Ala., a town where "you cannot pick out the negro quarter."