Religion: Settlement Worker

Heat blanketed Henry Street in Manhattan’s teeming lower East Side one day last week. Grubby babes clung to their moist mothers, sitting on the front stoops of dingy tenements. Urchins played in the street, shouting, sucking at violently colored and flavored sticks of ice from the pushcarts. All at once they perceived a handsome, golden-haired woman alighting at a red-brick house, No. 265. Some of the moppets ran up to help with her luggage. They had heard that she was coming, knew that she was Miss Hall—Miss Helen Hall —the new Head Worker. She had come up from Philadelphia to run the Henry Street Settlement as successor to Lillian Wald who founded it 40 years ago. When Lillian Wald, a well-born Jewess who had been studying nursing and medicine, first visited the squalid East Side and saw a sick woman lying neglected in a stinkhole, she resolved to do something about it. With a friend she moved into the slums. Two years later, in 1895, the late Jacob Schiff was so impressed with Miss Wald’s work that he bought her No. 265, a fine house built in the days when Henry Street was fashionable. Miss Wald founded clubs, classes in arts & crafts, English, citizenship. Long before “recreation centres” were known she put swings in the back yard and invited the street children in. When nursing of the poor was confined to sloppy free dispensaries and sectarian organizations, she founded a visiting nurse service, encouraging self-respecting people to pay for it when they could. Today Henry Street has a staff of 274, with 21 centres, a theatre, play school, music school, summer camps. Miss Wald has raised some $500,000 a year for the work. Because she is so persuasive inexpounding Henry Street, people say that it costs $1,000 to sit next her at a dinner party. She has been persuasive with legislators, helping put through nearly all New York’s social reforms of the past 30 years. Miss Wald, a pacifist, has been black-listed by the D. A. R. but she counts among her friends, and the friends of Henry Street, Governor Herbert Henry Lehman (who once worked in the Settlement), Alfred Emanuel Smith (whose native Oliver Street is hard by), the late Theodore Roosevelt and Ramsay MacDonald. Last spring, ailing at 66, Miss Wald gave up her post as Head Worker, succeeded Banker Felix Moritz Warburg as president. In announcing that Helen Hall would become Head Worker, Banker Warburg said: “New York is to be congratulated.” Born some 35 years ago in Boston, Helen Hall is as professional in manner as most social workers, but more comely. During the War she did Red Cross work, established “hostess houses” in France, clubs for working girls in Alsace-Lorraine. Later she did much the same in the Philippines and China. For the past eleven years she has headed Philadelphia’s University House, a settlement resembling Henry Street. She is the National Federation of Settlements’ unemployment chairman. She has studied unemployment insurance (the Dole) in England and found it good. She would institute cash relief in place of U. S. charity commissaries. She has presented such views before Congressional committees. Henry Street folk were agog last week to behold the objets d’art which Miss Hall brought with her, from China, Mexico and elsewhere, as well as sculptures and woodcarvings of her own. Newshawks came in. To one foolish question—did she do her work with fervor or detachment? she replied: “I’m sure I don’t know. I go at it with great interest, I know that. I don’t think you can feel any detachment from your neighbors’ problems. After years of residence in a settlement your neighbors’ problems become your problems. You do your best to speak for people who aren’t always able to speak for themselves.”

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