- More than Neighbors: Catholic Settlements and Day Nurseries in Chicago, 1893–1930
The work of well-known Chicago social settlements such as Hull-House has been written about extensively, but, as Deborah Skok notes in her introduction to More than Neighbors: Catholic Settlements and Day Nurseries in [End Page 640] Chicago, 1893–1930, “. . . the work of Catholic women’s settlements has until fairly recently been largely invisible” (p. 3). Although these institutions have received little attention from historians, the establishment of Catholic settlements was one way (among many) in which the Church attempted to meet the many material and spiritual needs of Catholic immigrants during the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. According to Skok, Chicago laywomen founded nine settlements and day nurseries between 1892 and 1939. More than Neighbors is the story of these settlements and the women (lay and religious) who labored in them. In the course of recounting their history, Skok also reminds readers that any examination of Catholic settlement houses should not neglect issues of class and gender.
Catholic social settlements were not always modeled on their secular counterparts. Not only were these institutions unabashedly religious; they were often smaller and had fewer residents. In addition, Catholic settlements, at least in Chicago, often began as day nurseries to provide working mothers with a safe place to leave their children. Many of these day nurseries eventually implemented programs (e.g., mothers’ clubs) that not only offered educational and social activities for working mothers but also allowed them to perform charity work designed to help poorer women.
Rather than conforming to one model, Chicago Catholic settlements followed one of three patterns. Club-model settlements were established by Catholic women’s clubs, such as the Catholic Women’s League (CWL). The CWL established a “network” of settlement houses and day nurseries throughout Chicago that not only offered material assistance to needy families but also provided jobs for women of the lower and middle classes (p. 38). Proprietary-model settlements “were run by individual women of means, who used their families’ money to bankroll” them (p. 66). Chicago’s best-known example of a proprietary settlement was the Guardian Angel Mission (later Madonna Center), founded by Agnes Amberg. Parish-model settlements, such as the De Paul Settlement Club, were founded within parishes.
Skok’s attempt to place the work and mission of these institutions within a larger discussion of class and gender is intriguing. Poor women were able to benefit from the programs offered by the settlements; middle-class women (e.g., white-collar working girls) were able to take advantage of settlement classes designed to help them develop skills employers would find valuable. Women from the upper classes were given the chance to help those in need, while honing skills that would allow them to become involved—if they chose—in city politics.
Although Skok’s work sheds important new light on Catholic social settlements, readers should keep in mind that Catholic settlements in other cities (e.g., New York) did not always follow the three models detailed in the book. Some Catholic settlement workers, for instance, created a fourth model by consciously imitating the work and programs of secular settlements [End Page 641] such as Hull-House. Nevertheless, More than Neighbors is an extensively researched and well-written book, and will be of interest to scholars working in a number of areas, including women’s history, American Catholicism, the Progressive Era, immigration, and the history of social work in the United States.