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THE SOCIAL SETTLEMENT AS A PRACTICAL
If we follow man's psychological evolution, we see that at each stage he has developed a science which was the expression of that stage, an attempt to solve the problems that arose in his path towards a higher plane of life. "Mathematics, precisely because it deals deductively with logical abstractions from nature, is the earliest developed. . So when the mediæval world passed over into the modern epoch, the awakening of the human intellect to the real world led it first to the accurate, logical distinctions of mathematics, in their applications to astronomy and physics. . . As the interest in the heavens depended upon their supposed influence over human destiny, so the study of the stars centered upon their relation to our earth, and physical geography and geology are born. Through geology the possibilities of a scientific study of the history of life are realized, and biology is born." At this point, after it is established that man is only a single manifestation of the great stream of organic life and that he is joined to all other forms both present and past through the laws of descent, the scientific spirit is carried over with one splendid impulse to the
study of humanity, and the humanistic sciences come into existence. Since this movement was first manifested in the field of institutional history, it naturally resulted that the regenerating force was very soon felt by the science of political economy. “Furthermore, the field of social history has seen the development of a new science,-sociology, which, rapidly differentiated from the more special political sciences, has assumed the place of the larger study of society."
This last science, the science of sociology, is distinctly a product of the nineteenth century. It is our attempt to solve the problems that confront us. It responds to a need which has arisen, among other things, out of our modern life and our democratic form of government,—the need of a thorough understanding of the social forces at work among us. Our government is in a certain sense a vast human experiment. History has demonstrated to us the weaknesses of despotisms and of oligarchies. We have seen the causes of the decline of the republics of Athens and of Rome. And at the present day it lies with us to make a democratic form of government a permanent possibility and a success. We, profiting by the examples of the past, have avoided most of its mistakes. But those early mistakes are not all that we have to guard against, for new conditions have since arisen. Success in guarding against those mistakes might be called a negative cause of our future prosperity, but there is a positive side which is at present imperative.
The future success of a purely democratic government such as ours will depend, I believe, largely upon our acquiring a broad understanding of the needs of the country,-an understanding such that each class will not only respect the rights of other classes, but will appreciate their problems from a broader point of view ; for understanding each other and sympathizing with each other's difficulties will afford the best mutual help in obtaining the truest solution. This understanding can not be attained while the man of culture and the trained thinker shuts himself up in his study in a luxurious home on upper Fifth Avenue, and the laborer does not leave the Bowery. They can not truly know each other and can not truly know each other's needs. And not knowing, they will not work in harmony or for mutual benefit either at the polls or away from them. This understanding can come only from personal contact. And for
this purpose a common meeting ground for the day laborer and the thinker is necessary.
But besides this understanding of the country's need, the country demands of every individual citizen that he attain his highest possibilities, morally, mentally, and physically. For the moral standards of the majority of citizens will set the moral tone of the government. It was said of Athens at the time of her greatest prosperity that every citizen was fitted to govern her. Can we say that every American citizen is fit to govern even his own city ? Athers was governed by a Pericles. Our cities are governed by a Tweed or a Croker. By means of individual development we must raise the standard of the nation as a whole. At present the members of the so-called "upper classes” are given the opportunities to attain their highest possibilities; and it is imperative that similar opportunities, though of a different nature, be given to the “other half.”
Three of the problems, then, that arise in our path are: How shall we obtain a knowledge of the social forces working among us ? how shall we find a common meeting ground for worker and thinker? how shall every citizen be given the opportunity of attaining his highest possibilities ? It is to fulfil these practical sociological needs that the modern social settlement has been evolved.
The social settlement furnishes an opportunity for the student to observe, study, and learn to know the conditions of life in other classes than the one in which he himself was reared. At the same time he is frequently able to test by actual experiment the value of the theories thus formed. So a broad and true understanding of the large social forces may be attained, and the path of least resistance taken, when a tendency is discovered which is believed to be in the direction of advance. The settlement likewise is a common meeting ground for men and women from very different spheres of life, but all interested in one another, and all, consciously or unconsciously, interested in the same problems of life. As yet, since the realization of the need of social fellowship is still in its infancy, the “settlement worker" is not a true inhabitant of the neighborhood, but an outsider coming in to “Work” for its benefit. This somewhat unnatural position is, I believe, only a transitional stage, a paving of the way toward a more natural condition of affairs,-a condition in which the broad man of sociological interests will not be an outsider living in a building which is to a certain extent an institution, but will make his home in the neighborhood, leading his own life normally and naturally, yet because of his social and political interests especially anxious to become in his district a power for and a leader toward what he believes to be right. Then the settlement building will be the place not only where the people come in contact with the influences brought to them from without, which will undoubtedly always be beneficial; but where they will gather because of common interests and receive from within influences equally beneficial. Furthermore, the settlement is of great service in helping the people of its district, young and old, to help themselves develop their nobler sides, spiritually, æsthetically, morally, mentally, physically, and socially. There are a tremendous number of facts that I might cite in support of this statement, but I must content myself with a
A couple of years ago the Rivington Street Settlement started what might be called a circulating picture gallery. A tolerably large collection was made of good photographs of the world's best paintings, mostly old masters. These could be obtained in the same way that books are to be had at a circulating library, and might be taken home and hung on the wall. At the expiration of the week the picture must be returned in order to keep it iu circulation, but another could be taken out in its place. The people responded with remarkable zeal to this chance, within their means, of beautifying their homes. For they too feel the need of beauty in their surroundings and do all they can to get it. This circulating gallery, then, is one of the many ways in which the settlement has helped the people to satisfy their æsthetic craving. Let us now see how, among other things, it has helped them to satisfy their craving for a higher social life.
In the report of the College Settlements Association is the following: “Every club of young men on the East Side, to maintain its standing among other clubs and to have a good time as well, must give a large ball. Until the University Settlement opened its hall, there was not one in the neighborhood to which there was not a bar attached ; that is, immediately adjoining, if not in the dancing room itself. It is the custom of
the proprietors to reduce the rent according to the amount of liquor sold. If the bar is very profitable, a club can often secure the hall free a second time. We have always been unwilling to take the responsibility of or countenance an entertainment in a hall where so much liquor would probably be sold with the usual results.” When the University Settlement hall was not available, the difficulty arose anew. And “the way it was solved in one case shows how the settlement might make its influence felt in a larger circle than that of its immediate following. One club of young men succeeded in inducing the proprietor of one of the halls to close his bar for one evening, that is, to sell ‘soft drinks' only... We hope that this one evening may prove the entering wedge in the destruction of a system which is the source of much evil. . . His social life is, to be sure, only one phase of man's activities, but it is an important one. It has the power to make him superior to days of toil and drudgery, if it brings him inspiration and pleasure at their close. While we must wait patiently for many forces to make the conditions of the working day less hard, we can see to it that the leisure hours are so filled as to broaden the mental and spiritual horizon of the toiler.”
And so when we consider that the first college settlement was opened in 1889, and that to-day, only twelve years later, there are, besides this settlement in New York, one in Philadelphia and one in Boston, a University Settlement and three or four smaller ones in New York, and innumerable settlements all through the country, we can not help but feel that their influence and their significance are growing in intensity from day to day. This influence, I have endeavored to show, will be to “broaden the mental and spiritual horizon of the toiler” provide a common meeting ground for the man of thought and culture and the manual laborer ; and to furnish the opportunity of obtaining a more comprehensive knowledge of the social tendencies of the age, in order that by the aid of this knowledge sociology may furnish a true solution of some of the most pressing problems that have arisen in man's path toward a more perfect life and civilization.
AMY ESTHER STEIN.