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Highlights Archives

Remembering Madison's Settlement House

Sewing Saturday mornings at Neighborhood House
WHI 98348

A new online gallery describes Madison's Neighborhood House, the city's only settlement house. Established in 1916, it initially served the predominantly Italian immigrant population of the Greenbush neighborhood a few blocks south of the University of Wisconsin campus. Over several decades, the area evolved into an ethnically mixed working-class neighborhood, and the organization diversified its programs. Its records fill more than four boxes and include hundreds of photographs about the organization's activities. These provide a rich visual record not just of Neighborhood House but of a diverse ethnic community that was obliterated by "urban renewal" during the 1960s.

A Rich Ethnic Mix

For the first half century of its existence, Neighborhood House was run by Gay Braxton and Mary Lee Griggs, two women with backgrounds in social work. As the area changed over time, working-class African Americans, Jews, Irish and Germans all joined in Neighborhood House activities. From the 1920s through the 1960s, the organization sponsored a network of clubs, programs and events, overseen by Braxton and Griggs, targeted at toddlers, boys and girls, teenagers, young adults, mothers and other members of the family. They included Boy Scouts, Camp Fire Girls, sewing, gardening, bicycling and woodworking clubs, among others.

Braxton retired in 1949, but Griggs stayed on until 1966. By then the Greenbush neighborhood had all but been wiped off the map by aggressive "urban renewal." What emerges from the scrapbooks, photo albums and individual images in the Neighborhood House records is the sense not just of a settlement house but of a cohesive community.

:: Posted March 1, 2013

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