I received a free digital ARC from the publishing via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review
This book is utterly captivating and I could not put it down.
The author deftly weaves together a beautiful and sweeping narrative of how the House on Henry Street came into being after its founder, Lillian Ward, determined that there had to be a way to help the city's most vulnerable populations in need of the most care and services. It began in March of 1893, when a young girl came to Ward for help, the girl's mother was dying. She'd just given birth, but the doctor had abandoned the woman when she could not pay the fee for his services. It was this pivotal moment when twenty-six year old Lillian Ward, a nurse, decided to act. Through her determination, commitment to the poor, and generous benefactors, she was able to establish the Henry Street Settlement, an organization that still exists to this very day. Along the way we see how the settlement responded during times of crisis - the outbreak of the AIDS epidemic, the rise of violence, drug use, and homelessness in the 70s and 80s, and providing relief during the Great Depression. We also see how the Settlement fought on behalf of those the many they served, including immigrants and the working poor who had very little support.
The book is incredibly well-researched and truly a love letter to this place that has stood the test of time, constantly advocating for those who could not do so for themselves. I knew nothing about these settlement homes prior to reading this, and even have to admit that when I first requested the book I misread the title, substituting tenement for settlement. I am not sure why my brain did that, but it did. So, I was surprised by the content, but yet still engrossed immediately in the story. The idea of creating these settlement homes began in the 1890s and through that decade and the next Progressive-minded folks pushed to create these homes that would become so vital for the neighborhoods surrounding them. The author makes many references to Jane Addams and her founding of Hull House in Chicago, another topic I plan to explore further.
The book is divided into three sections that cover various important points in the life of the settlement. It is difficult to even choose a favorite portion of the book, though I suppose I am a little partial to the early days as Wald and her staff worked tirelessly on behalf of those they served. It is almost baffling to me that something like this could have been founded and thrived in the very late 1800s/early 1900s, yet we cant seem to organize quite on this level or with this ease of access today. This specific settlement house still does, but I mean on this level in other cities. As a teacher I routinely see how fractured so many services are and how many different organizations provide a myriad of services to our students in need. But what the Henry Street house did so perfectly from the start was to manage these services from one main organization. Since then certain services have been turned over to other agencies, but the majority remain with the place where they began. At the time of its funding, Wald and her team focused on four areas in which they could best serve the community: nursing, civic work, social work, and country work. There were arts programs including classes in art mediums like pottery, dance classes, and a theatre that has operated nearly the entire time the settlement has been in existence. The facilities offered (or still offer today) an on-site residence, daycare, access to health care, food, and clothing (including sewing lessons still offered today).
There's still so much more, but I don't know that I can actually do this book justice.