Northwestern University Settlement (Chicago, Ill.)
The Northwestern University Settlement Association was founded in 1891 by Northwestern University president Henry Wade Rogers, his wife, Emma Winner Rogers, and Charles Zeublin, a Northwestern alumnus, class of 1887. Zeublin had returned to Chicago after having spent time at the first university settlement, Toynbee Hall, in London. He and the Rogers wanted to forge a tie between the settlement they were planning to establish in Chicago and Northwestern University. From the beginning, however, the Settlement’s link with the University was based on the support and involvement of individuals variously connected with Northwestern rather than through a formal association with the University.
The founders selected a poor, primarily immigrant neighborhood on the near northwest side of Chicago for the site of the Settlement. At the time, the area’s residents were primarily Polish and Catholic, although other groups were represented, including Russian and Polish Jews, Germans, and Scandinavians. The neighborhood remained primarily Polish until the 1950s when it became home mainly to residents of Puerto Rican origin and ancestry.
In early 1892, Northwestern University Settlement rented a six-room apartment over a feed store at 143 West Division. Another rented space, “Evanston Hall,” at 225 West Division, served as a reading room and club meeting hall. These spaces were quickly outgrown and the Settlement moved to 26 West Rice Street, and later to 252 West Chicago Avenue. In 1901 the Settlement moved into its own newly-constructed building on the northwest corner of Augusta Boulevard and Noble Street (1400 West Augusta), a building it still occupies. A playground was built on the roof of the building in 1911, and in the 1950s, the Settlement built its Allison Gymnasium on an adjoining lot. More recently a new “Evanston Hall” community center was added to the complex.
In accordance with the founding concept of the settlement movement, the Northwestern University Settlement was staffed by resident workers, most of whom volunteered their services. As many as twenty-two residents lived on the premises at one time, assisted by up to one hundred and fifty non-resident volunteer or paid workers. The number of residents declined after the Second World War, as residents who retired or left the Settlement were replaced by non-resident staff.
The Settlement is strongly identified with the personalities of two important, long-term Head Residents, Harriet E. Vittum and Michael Rachwalski. Harriet Vittum (1872-1953) joined the Settlement as a volunteer in 1904, became Head Resident in 1907, and served in this capacity until 1947. She was involved in many activities beyond the Settlement, including an unsuccessful bid for alderman in 1914, serving as chair of the Woman’s Campaign for Charles Evans Hughes in his 1916 Presidential race, forming the Roll Call of American Women (an isolationist group which later merged with America First) in 1940, and delivering numerous speeches promoting social service and political involvement.
Michael Rachwalski (1901-1987) grew up in the Settlement neighborhood, and participated in many of the Settlement’s activities. He returned from World War I military service to join the Settlement staff, serving as Director of the Men’s Department and then Assistant Head Resident. In 1943, Rachwalski married another resident, Helen Loth Blomgren (1900-1977). He succeeded Vitum as Head Resident in 1947 and held the post until his retirement in 1981. Rachwalski was the last Head Resident to reside at the Settlement. Executive Director Ron Mandershied succeeded Rachwalski in 1981.
To meet the needs of its constituency, the Settlement both undertook activities to improve the conditions of the neighborhood and worked to help residents through its clubs and classes, social events, camping programs, and relief and emergency services. The Settlement also has been affiliated with such social service agencies as the Welfare Council of Metropolitan Chicago and the Chicago and National Federations of Settlements and Neighborhood Centers.
Activities of the Settlement were organized into departments according to the group or function served, such as the Little Children’s Department, the Men’s Department and the Health Department. Staff taught classes in music, elocution, English, arts and crafts, domestic science, health and hygiene, dance, and athletics. A day nursery was established in 1897 to provide for neighborhood children with working mothers. The Settlement offered citizenship classes from its earliest years. It also offered programs subsidized by governmental agencies, such as the Works Progress Administration’s Emergency Education Program in the 1930s or the Model Cities’ Summer Youth Employment Program in the 1970s and 1980s.
The Settlement’s clubs served all ages and interest groups, and ranged from the Boy Scouts to the Teens’ Club, Fathers’ Club, and Golden Agers. The umbrella organization for the clubs was the Neighborhood Guild, organized in 1904, which included members from each Settlement club and department. In 1914 the Guild took over the publication of the Neighbor, a Settlement newsletter begun in 1899. The Settlement also served as a social center, furnishing game rooms, a library, meeting rooms and, for a short time, a bakery and coffee house, as well as sponsoring cultural and athletic events and hosting parties.
One of the longest-running programs offered by the Settlement has been its camping program. As early as 1897 the Settlement sponsored summer vacations for neighborhood children. By 1911, the Settlement Boy Scout troop had established a campsite outside the city, the House in the Wood, which was used by boys and girls until the 1920s. A second House in the Wood, located in a Cook County Forest Preserve, was replaced in 1952 when the Settlement acquired a large site on Lake Delavan in Wisconsin. Each summer groups of children and senior citizens attend this camp for a week or two at a time. Year-round programs have been offered since 1983 and in 1988 a conference center opened on the site.
Although the Settlement is not a charitable organization, its mission has always included furnishing emergency services to the residents in its neighborhood. During the Great Depression the Settlement provided both relief and employment assistance as well as vocational training workshops. The Settlement continues to distribute food baskets at Christmas, provide emergency supplies through its Food Pantry and used clothing repository, and offer emergency counseling and referrals to social service agencies. Settlement workers also made home visits, gave legal advice, and accompanied neighborhood residents to court.
The organizational structure of the Northwestern University Settlement Association has remained essentially the same over the years. The Board of Directors, originally called the Council, manages the Settlement’s funds and affairs, assisted by an advisory Executive Committee or Central Committee. These advisory boards include representatives from each of the auxiliary boards. The primary function of the auxiliary boards has been fund-raising. The oldest extant auxiliary board, the Evanston Woman’s Board, was formed in 1909. The North Shore Junior Board was organized in 1936 to help fund the camping activities at the House in the Wood.
Contributions from the Board of Directors and the auxiliary boards provided the largest source of funds for the Settlement until the 1980s when investment income became its financial mainstay. Even with the support of the boards, funding for the Settlement has always been an ongoing and time-consuming challenge. After 1934, the Settlement obtained between one-sixth and one-fourth of its funding from the Chicago Community Fund of the United Way. The Settlement continues to augment its funds with grants from local and federal governmental agencies.
In 1992, led by Executive Director Ron Manderschied and Board President Daniel Vittum, the Northwestern University Settlement Association (NUSA) celebrated its centennial anniversary of service to the West Town community. The Settlement continued to enhance the quality and scope of its operations. Through the fundraising activities of the various auxiliary boards, as well as grant funding, the Settlement was able to provide its West Town neighbors with new services and expansions to the Settlement building, including Evanston Hall and the Vittum Theater, which soon housed innovative arts programs.
A number of social services, such as the Northwestern Legal Aid Clinic, began operating through offices within the Settlement. West Town Tile, an entrepreneurial program, linked neighborhood women with jobs in the West Town Tile Center. NUSA embarked on a reduction of gang presence in the West Town/ Humboldt Park community by promoting a gang-free environment within the Settlement, and by working with the City of Chicago to transform the through street immediately outside the building into a cul-de-sac, which greatly reduced gang and drug activity.
The Settlement continually expanded its group activities and support services for all ages. Especially exciting for the Settlement was the Matadors Boxing Club, a sports club managed through the Settlement, which saw great success from 1990 to 1999. Two of the Matadors who trained through the Settlement went on to the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, Georgia; one of them, Nate Jones, earned a bronze medal. Several other boxers also competed very successfully in national competitions, bringing national recognition to Coach Tom O’Shea and the Matadors Boxing Club.
Starting in 1998, government-funded Americorps employees began to join the Settlement staff to help strengthen programs and services. Also in 1998 the Settlement initiated plans for its own public charter school, the Noble Street Charter School. After approval from the Central Office of the Chicago Public Schools, Noble Street Charter School opened its doors in 1999.
For more information on the Northwestern University Settlement Association, see The Worn Doorstep, written by Mark Wukas (Chicago: Northwestern University Settlement Association, 1991) to mark the centennial of the Settlement. See also the Neighbor, filed with the University Archives serial publications collection.
Found in 6 Collections and/or Records:
Lenora E. Clark Diary, Northwestern University Settlement Records
Northwestern University Settlement Association Financial Records
Northwestern University Settlement Association General Administrative Records
Northwestern University Settlement Association Records Case Files
Northwestern University Settlement Association Records Scrapbooks
Doris Overboe (1934-2012) Papers
The Doris Overboe Papers fill five boxes and one card-file, and document her involvement with the Northwestern University Settlement Association (NUSA) and –the bulk of the materials—her research into the life of Harriet Vittum, long-time Head Resident at the Settlement.