Settlement Houses in the early 20th century

I know I have said many times that politics is not what my blog is about. And it still isn’t. However, my blog is about encouragement, inspiration, heartwarming stories, and about things and people that inspire ME. In the long ago days of the early part of the 20th century, people set up settlement houses. These were places that good and loving people set up so as to help new (albeit legal) immigrants assimilate into the culture. They were taught life skills, the language, and how to navigate their new cities and adapt to their new culture. These were typically highly successful grass roots ways to help people become assimilated into their new culture.

One of these settlement houses was The Margaret Barry Settlement House in Minneapolis, MN. That settlement house was started by a force of nature. She was my great-grandmother. It is with gratitude and pride that I acknowledge her contribution to new (again, albeit legal) immigrants in Minneapolis. These new settlers were encouraged to get educated and learn the language as fast as possible. The new settlers understood their survival and future success depended upon it. They embraced that expectation. They did not resent it. The Irish people who came here from Ireland knew the only way they could get ahead was to learn the language, the ways, and get an education. Margaret Barry certainly helped Irish immigrants. She helped Italian immigrants, too (and other immigrants, too). They had a more difficult time adapting to the language than the Irish immigrants—but she and her fellow volunteers dedicated themselves to helping all of the immigrants.

It has occurred to me that that wave of European immigrants became very successful in their new land because of their assimilation into their new country. They knew they had to “fit in”. They did fit in and yet hung onto some of their traditions. But education and language were huge footholds for them. My great-grandmother was a wonderful woman—-and I am proud to be part of her extensive family tree. My regret? She died before I was born—-but oh my, what a legacy she established.

Someday I hope to go back to Minneapolis and see the building that used to be her settlement house. It leaves me breathless to consider what she did…..my grandmas and great grandmas were liberated WAY before it was the popular thing to be…..women of character….women of joyful commitment…..

I just wanted to think about that….it’s no wonder I am a perennial optimist. I come from a very long line of them 🙂

About Kate Kresse

I love to write, I love to talk, I love to uplift people when I can. I am a woman in love with life. I am a wife, mom, tutor, writer, and I am a perennial optimist. (OK not every single minute but you get the point! :-)
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10 Responses to Settlement Houses in the early 20th century

  1. And no wonder you want to share about it! 🙂 This is amazing and fun to know about you. When you go there, I KNOW you will introduce yourself as a great-granddaugher, too. 🙂

  2. diggingher says:

    Kate,
    This is an amazing story, you should be proud! How do you think we do today in assimilating immigrants into the country? Better or worse than a century ago? Do you think that attitude of the immigrants has changed?

    • Kate Kresse says:

      From my limited experience living in the southwest now, i would say that assimilation has changed. It seems to me that groups that have immigrated here from Mexico, Central America and South America do not tend to view assimilation the same way European and Asian immigrants have viewed it. I am thinking that may be because they can still drive back to their home countries. As a result, they do not necessarily feel the same urgent need to assimilate. As a matter of fact, assimilation seems to be a trigger word for many, and many say they do not plan to assimilate. Instead, they want the culture here to adapt and change for them. This is a far different view of assimilation than the Europeans had. I do not know which is the more successful path. It is too soon to say. However, lack of knowing the language in your new country, and lack of emphasis on education cannot be in their best interest. Understand that I say that from the viewpoint of an ancestor of European immigrants who insisted on assimilation. I do not know how we as a country can assimilate the immigrants that insist upon not assimilating. In that respect it is a worse situation than a century ago. Regarding legal vs illegal immigration, i do not know how the numbers stack up compared to a century ago.

      Analogy wise i would compare it thusly: a century ago we had a melting pot; people came together and became asphalt. Now they come together like a bunch of river rocks or boulders. We can spread them out and they will surely look pretty. But they cannot form together as a serviceable road if none of them change an iota. They just make a bumpy rocky road. Anything that tries to go from here to there over said bumpy rocky road will get its axles blown out. It seems to me that that is often the situation today. I am not sure if there is a solution. Certainly people need to hang onto their traditions and their cultures to a certain extent. The question becomes what sort of commonality we can all live with and will that commonality encourage progress or just create conflicts and roadblocks….

  3. Pingback: Immigration now vs in 1911: How It looks to me…. | Believe Anyway

  4. aRVee says:

    This is one great post and I like the “The Margaret Barry Settlement House” – must be a very interesting place. Reading through your post I must agree, you really are a perennial optimist.

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