Our History

A Haven on the Lower East Side

At the turn of the century, the Lower East Side was flooded with new immigrants living in poverty, nurturing a dream, and struggling to adapt to their new country.

University Settlement Society of New York HistoryInto this overcrowded urban neighborhood came a group of reformers — people like Stanton Coit, Charles B. Stover and Carl Schurz — who settled in the community, became intimately acquainted with its problems, and recognized a need for change.

They didn't believe the answer to the immigrant's poverty was a hand out or paternalistic charity.  Instead, in 1886, the three men established University Settlement — a physical, psychological and spiritual haven where people of all ages, from all countries and every walk of life could seek advice, assistance, education or a simple respite from the harsh realities of everyday life. With University Settlement, the American settlement house movement was born and other settlement houses soon followed, on the Lower East Side, in Chicago and across the country.

University Settlement Society of New York HistoryA History of Firsts

As the original settlement house in the United States, University Settlement's history is marked by firsts — the first public bath, the first kindergarten in New York, the first round of Head Start. Its distinguished alumni include individuals such as George and Ira Gershwin, Abraham Beame, and Jacob Javits.  Over the years, Eleanor Roosevelt, John D. Rockefeller and countless others have lent their support.

Today, a paid, professional staff of more than 500 joins with dedicated volunteers to uphold the founders' original mission to meet the ever-changing needs of our community. Thanks to their tireless efforts, University Settlement continues to be a pioneer in the field of social services.

Our 21st Century Initiatives

In the 21st century, University Settlement has undertaken two sweeping initiatives with citywide reach and national implications. In 2000, the Settlement forged a groundbreaking relationship with The Door, one of the country's premier youth agencies, providing 12 to 24-year-olds with comprehensive, confidential, and cutting-edge services. The Door is now a vibrant, independent subsidiary to the Settlement, and the relationship between the two organizations stands as a model for non-profit mergers and acquisitions.

University Settlement Society of New York History

University Settlement also partnered with the YMCA in the creation of the Houston Street Center— a new community center built as part of the Cooper Square Development Project, just a few blocks from our Eldridge Street headquarters. Opened in the spring of 2006, the Houston Street Center offers community members access to classrooms, offices and meeting rooms, a competition-sized swimming pool, a full court gym, a dance studio and more.

University Settlement will continue to grow, evolve and introduce exciting changes in the coming years. It will never, however, waver from its commitment to address the ever-changing needs of new immigrant and economically diverse families.


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