Alfred T. White: Settlement Worker and Housing Reformer


Volume IX, Number 1
Fall, 1989

Jacob A. Riis claimed that his book How the Other Half Lives was as good as written two years before he wrote it, when he was given its text by Alfred T. White.  It happened in 1889 while Riis, a newspaper reporter, covered an open meeting of ministers “concerned about the losing fight the Church was waging among the masses.”  When White, a layman, stood up in the meeting and cried out, “How are these men and women to understand the love of God you speak of, when they see only the greed of men?”  Riis wanted to shout, Amen!  Since he was an observer he kept still, but that same winter he copyrighted the title of his book, whose concept, he insisted, grew out of White’s question.1

Twenty-two years before his words galvanized Riis into action, White had enlisted in the fight the churches were “waging among the masses”.  White’s work among the urban poor started when young people from the First Unitarian Church of Brooklyn launched a program for waterfront children, decades before Hull House opened in Chicago.  The early and continuous involvement of White in that project alerted him to the housing needs of immigrants.  His innovative, low-income housing, in turn, sparked the housing reform movement in this country.  That, along with his other social concerns, made him the first citizen of Brooklyn, just as Jane Addams, through her work at Hull House, became Chicago’s leading citizen.2

Addams started Hull House after visiting Toynbee Hall in London’s East End.  Opened in 1884 by Oxford men to alleviate the suffering brought on by rapid industrialization, Toynbee Hall gained the reputation of being the first settlement house in the world.  Settlements soon sprang up in the United States.  Projects conducted by educated, well-to-do young people “attempting to learn from life itself”, settlements provided programs within a slum area for those in need.  Even though Stanton Coit (after a brief stay at Toynbee Hall) opened New York’s Neighborhood Guild in 1886 three years before Hull House, his settlement did not capture the popular imagination.  More interested in promoting the Ethical Culture movement than the Neighborhood Guild, Coitmoved to England in 1888, leaving the Guild to decline until it was revived as the University Settlement in 1891.  Thanks to Jane Addams’s tenacity and her ability to attract able workers and to publicize her program, Hull House came to be known as the pioneer American settlement.3

By “instructing the ignorant and helping the poor” in the waterfront neighborhood near their Brooklyn Heights homes, First Unitarian Church young people for years had been working to save immigrant children “from a class that…fills the penitentiaries and jails”.  Starting out just after the Civil War as an afternoon Sunday school, similar to those held by scores of churches, the project almost immediately added secular activities that made it a prototype of later settlement houses.  To get subjects for their project, these nascent settlement workers walked waterfront streets urging children to come to their school. In response to their efforts, nearly a hundred children filled the attic of the Wall Street Ferry House, on Furman Street, on Sunday afternoon, December 17, 1865.4

During the sixty-two years this Brooklyn project flourished, settlement workers often recalled its first class.  With pride they retold how frantic, young, untrained teachers struggled to control the unruly street children crowding the attic room.  As early as its second year, the Furman Street Mission, as it was called, launched a secular program that included a library, a day school (for sickly children who could not regularly attend public school), a sewing school for girls, an evening school for boys, and an annual picnic held in Prospect Park.  Ministering to children, three-fourths of whom were “among the most wretchedly poor in the city”, the Mission soon established committees on charity and employment, as well as a daycare center where working mothers could leave their small children.  Until this work for immigrant children acquired its own building, the Willow Place Chapel, in 1876 (adding a second, larger building, called Columbia House, in 1906), its secular activities took place in a rented neighborhood basement and later in a rented cottage.5

Although the waterfront families who attended Sunday school at the Furman Street Mission and the Willow Place Chapel felt the religious influence of the settlement, its secular impact on the neighborhood was greater.  The experience Alfred T. White gained in this settlement work led him to grapple with urban problems so sensitively and imaginatively that he came to be called “the great heart and mastermind of Brooklyn’s better self”.  By building in Brooklyn “the most advanced tenement houses in the world”, White not only improved the quality of life in his community but also inspired builders to construct better housing for the poor in other cities.6

Alfred T. White was born in Brooklyn on May 28, 1846.  His parents, Alexander Moss White (1815-1906) and Elizabeth Hart Tredway (1819-1892), arrived in Brooklyn nearly a decade earlier, where their lives came to revolve around the First Unitarian Church.  The elder White formed a lucrative importing partnership with his brother in New York and, along with several other First Church members, became a major contributor to Brooklyn educational and philanthropic institutions, while his wife served on the Board of Managers of the  Home for Aged and Indigent Females (later called the Graham Home for Old Ladies).  The Whites’ five children taught in their church’s settlement school, and the three who married chose their partners from among their settlement co-workers.7

Young White attended Brooklyn Collegiate and Polytechnic Institute before receiving an engineering degree from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy.  Upon graduation he returned to Brooklyn, entered his family’s New York importing firm, and shared in its management until he died.  He started teaching in his church’s school for waterfront children in 1867.  Two years later his minister, Alfred P. Putnam, asked him to lead this program for immigrant children.  White accepted the challenge and superintended the settlement work until 1884.  He remained active in its support and programs for the rest of his life.  Combining the vision of a prophet and the concern of a saint with the efficiency of an engineer, White seemed ideally suited to head his church’s settlement work.  “Instinctively a democrat,” he mingled easily with waterfront children.  He took part in their dramatic productions and especially in their dramatic productions and especially delighted them with his portrayal of Andrew Jackson at the Battle of New Orleans.8

While religion inspired many who, like Stanton Coit, were involved in the social settlements, White was motivated by secular as well as sacred values.  An ardent adherent of a liberal religious tradition, he also had faith in social engineering.  He believed that people responded positively if their physical surroundings were improved.  Although religion involved White in the program for Brooklyn waterfront children, he turned to engineering to help these children achieve a better life.  White believed that the skills of his engineering profession could solve many of society’s problems.  In building better houses for the poor, engineering built better people and a better society.  Achieving social goals through engineering made sense, for White discovered that defective sewers and crowded tenements were at the root of many social problems.9

At the fiftieth anniversary of the settlement school, White modestly stated, “I got a great deal more from this school than I ever gave to it.”  In the early days, he explained, “the teachers and superintendent did a great deal of visiting.”  These visits “interested me in the housing question” and “taught me some very great lessons.”10

One of these lessons was the connection between poor housing and poor health.  During White’s first year at the settlement a teacher discovered that a student’s sister was very ill and called in Dr. William H. Thayer, who donated his services to the settlement.  He found that the little girl’s sickness resulted from an “improper state of the sewer.”  Upon complaint by the settlement staff, the city authorities corrected this “evil” and the child recovered.11

This experience and others like it focused White’s attention on the housing of the poor and its effect on their well-being.  Shocked to find that the death rate in tenement districts (25 to 30 percent among children under five) was greater than population growth, White blamed housing and resolved to build healthy tenements.  “Well it is to build hospitals for the cure of disease,” he stated, “ but better to build homes which will prevent it.”12

In 1872 White started planning low-income housing to benefit both those who lived in it and those who invested in it.  Reading of Sir Sydney H. Waterlow’s buildings and other English housing-reform ventures, White crossed the Atlantic to view them first-hand.  With his family’s investment help, he completed the Home buildings on the corner of Hicks and Baltic streets, Brooklyn, in 1877.  Using the slogan “Philanthropy and five percent,” White hoped to get other builders to follow his lead.13

White rented all the apartments in his first development the week it opened.  It consisted of twin red-brick, fireproof buildings, each 100-feet wide, 40-feet deep, and 6-stories high.  The buildings contained 5 street-level stores, topped by 40 small apartments with sunlit rooms, outside staircases, their own front doors, balconies, kitchen facilities, and toilets (a spectacular innovation for that time).  Like the White tenements that followed, the Home Buildings were architecturally unique, looking very much like “Victorian fantasy castle” on the Brooklyn horizon. In 1878 and 1879 White constructed the adjoining Tower Buildings, with approximately 170 apartments, on Hicks Street, between Warren and Baltic streets. Nearby on Warren Place, he developed a grass-filled mews with 2 rows of 2-story, 6-room brick houses, with each row ending in 4 three-story, 9-room houses.14

After completing in 1890 the Riverside Buildings, his greatest housing achievement, White noted, “I have been getting daily more faith in human nature from my work among the poor tenants.”  And Riis wrote approvingly that the proportion of day laborers and sewing women in White’s houses was “greater than in any of the London model tenements.”  White located his Riverside Buildings near the waterfront. Similar in design to his earlier projects, these 9 buildings had fireproof stairways, sunlit rooms with cross ventilation, and bedrooms that neither opened into each other nor into the living room.  Each apartment had separate storage, and bins for coal and wood.  Those living on the first three floors used clothes lines located in the yard, while those on the top three floors used lines on the roof.  Renters had to sweep the hallways and balconies and could not take in lodgers or pets.  Besides a community bathhouse, the project had a large central yard (none of the White buildings occupied more than 52 percent of its lot) with its own park, playground (the setting for an annual Maypole dance), fountain, and music pavilion (for which White provided weekend and holiday concerts).  White also built nearly three hundred 1- and 2-family houses in Brooklyn and put up a low-income housing facility and a home for 328 young working women in Manhattan.  “Mr. White never has trouble with his tenants,” Riis stated, “though he gathers in the poorest, nor do his tenements have anything of the ‘institutional character’ that occasionally attaches to ventures of this sort.”15

White’s Brooklyn apartment buildings (housing at least five hundred families besides those living in back of the street-level stores) were the most advanced tenement houses in the world.  As he had planned, his tenants’ rents ($2.10 to $2.90 a week for a 3-room apartment in 1893) earned him and his family 4.7 percent on their investment for the first decade and 5.1 percent the second decade.  White, who in his lifetime built apartments and homes for more than a thousand families, was the first American to prove that good housing rented to those of limited means could be a profitable investment.  In the words of Jacob Riis, White proved, “The model tenement pays, does not deteriorate, and keeps its tenants.”  When “after the lapse of ten years,” Riis revisited White’s Riverside Buildings, he “found them, if anything, better houses than the day they were built.  The stone steps of the stairways were worn: that was all the evidence of deterioration” he saw, despite the fact that they were “occupied, all of them, by distinctly poor tenants.”  White’s projects, Riis said, “are like a big village of contented people, who live in peace with one another because they have elbowroom.”16

Before White’s housing experiments, it was commonly believed that tenements were filthy and unwholesome because the poor immigrants living in them made them that way. “I  hold that not ten percent of the people now living in tenements would refuse to avail themselves of the best improved conditions offered, and come fully up to the use of them, properly instructed; but they cannot get them.  They are up to them now, fully, if the chances were only offered,” White insisted.   “They don’t have to come up,” he added.  “It is all a gigantic mistake on the part of the public, of which these poor people are the victims.”  More than any other person, White “showed that apartments ought to have fireproof stairs, separate toilets, and running water, and that a private bath was something more than a luxury.”  White rebated 10 percent per week to tenants who paid their rent four weeks in advance.  A fifth of his tenants took advantage of this opportunity to save over a month’s rent each year.17

Since White intended his buildings to serve as models for others to duplicate, he was pleased when builders in Manhattan, Chicago, and London adopted some of his housing innovations.  He often lectured on housing and detailed his experiments in numerous publications.  “It is time to recognize that if the intelligent and wealthy portion of the community do not provide homes for the working classes,” White preached, “the want will be continually supplied…after the old fashion. Those who are unwilling to lend their aid to the needed reform forfeit all right to make charges of selfishness against those who build what pays them best.”  But people of wealth and intellect did not follow White’s lead sufficiently to solve the housing problem.18

Philanthropy and 5 percent had no attraction for speculators who could make anywhere from 18 to 40 percent annually by unloading on small, unsuspecting investors inadequate and badly constructed multiple dwellings.  Those speculative builders, however, left society burdened by the incalculable social costs of poor, crowded housing—costs that White’s approach eliminated. White’s preaching, backed up by the outstanding success of his housing experiments, did help enact tenement-reform legislation.  By 1900 he was a leading member of the New York State Tenement House Commission. Theodore Roosevelt toured Brooklyn slums with him, visited his buildings, and sought his ideas on housing reform.19

During his long career as settlement worker and housing reformer, White never lost sight of the immigrant children he strove to help.  From the beginning he united the personal, family-by-family approach used in settlement and charity organizations with the broader environmentalist approach, which gained currency in the 1890’s.  His developments, especially his Riverside buildings, featured a total-environment concept far in advance of its time.  Like later environmentalists, White believed that attractive housing, surrounded by playgrounds and gardens, made it easier for immigrant children to go right and harder for them to go wrong.20

While he was completing his first low-rent housing units, White and his teachers planned a permanent, attractive home for their afternoon Sunday school and their weekday secular classes and activities.  They found a 100-by-150-foot lot extending from Willow Place to Columbia Street.  Backed by an $18,805 building subscription fund from First Unitarian Church members, they purchased the lot and hired Russell Sturgis, a distinguished architect who designed buildings for Yale University and who employed in his office Holland C. Anthony, a First Church parishioner connected with the settlement school. Guided by Sturgis, Anthony planned the building known as the Willow Place Chapel.  On September 6, 1875, earth was broken for the $20,000 building; and masons, carpenters, and painters still labored the day before its dedication on Easter Sunday, 1876.  The simple Gothic-style building, which seemed so grand and beautiful to neighborhood children, had a well-lit chapel with clerestory windows, exposed roof trusses, and reversible settees arranged with three aisles.  The building contained classrooms, a library, and committee and reading rooms furnished with bookcases and cupboards “sufficient for all needs” throughout the week. 21

The dedication ceremony celebrated the contributions of the church, its teachers, and its students. Pastor Putnam thanked the church members for pouring out its money “so freely”, the teachers for being so “prompt, vigilant, and devoted,” and the boys and girls who had attended the school over the past ten years “for their interest, for the steady improvement which they have made, for the joy they have received and given both.  It has, indeed, been a mutual blessing,” he insisted.  “The teachers have not only done you good, but you have done them good.”22

On May 29, 1878, with his settlement-style school functioning in its own building and with some of its children and their families housed in his nearby innovative project, White married Annie Jean Lyman.  Like her husband, Mrs. White became one of Brooklyn’s “best known charity workers.”  She was a founding teacher of the settlement school, where her two siblings also taught, and a cousin of Seth Low, who worked with White to improve the environment of immigrants living in Brooklyn and who became mayor of New York City in 1901. Throughout her life Mrs. White was closely identified with the Red Cross and with the Visiting Nurse Association, with proved a godsend to settlement families.23

Increasingly aware from his settlement work and housing experience of the needs of immigrant children, White further helped them through the Brooklyn Children’s Aid Society, of which he was an early and constant member.  For that society he established in 1876 the Sea-Side Home on Coney Island---the first of its kind in the country.  Here Brooklyn slum children received nutritious food and medical treatment, especially during July and August when the city’s infant mortality rates more than doubled.  White was also a founder of the Brooklyn Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.  In 1878, with Seth Low, he founded the Brooklyn Bureau of Charities, serving as a director for 42 years.  During the next 30 years White was either its president or secretary.24

While Alfred T. White, inspired by his church’s work for waterfront children, was in the vanguard of national movements to reform housing and to organize charity, the Willow Place Chapel, created by White’s vision, was a leader in the education of pre-school children.  Opened the same year that the settlement moved into its own building, the Willow Place Chapel Kindergarten joined the Kindergarten Association of the city in 1894.  That association’s general supervisor declared in 1908 that “no work of higher standard…is done in the City of New York.”25

Alfred T. White’s sisters, Frances and Harriet, were especially helpful to the Willow Place Chapel Kindergarten during its many decades of service.  Pratt Institute, which used it to train student teachers, also lent its support, as did the Brooklyn Women’s Club, which for many years co-sponsored it.  In its early years, the kindergarten served a penny lunch and from 1895 to 1898 maintained a summer home—some years on Long Island and others at the Jersey shore).  In this home, kindergarten children, often accompanied by their mothers and younger siblings and always supervised by a teacher, spent weeks and even months away from Brooklyn slums.  During the following decades, kindergarten children and their mothers received invitations to spend a week each summer at White’s Sea-Side Home on Coney Island.26

Older settlement children often enjoyed weeks in the country through the Fresh Air fund, which was still in its infancy.  With the cooperation of the Children’s Aid Society, the New York Evening Post started this vacation program for slum children. First Unitarian Church donors remained among the Fresh Air Fund’s most generous supporters when in 1882 it was taken over by the New York Tribune.

Responding to the 1914 report that “mothers have come begging” all winter to get their children into the kindergarten, the White sisters paid for a second teacher in order to allow the enrollment to double. These sisters also enabled kindergarten teachers “to do the larger work with…mothers” that no other kindergarten was doing.  For example Amelia Brown, a longtime kindergarten director and teacher, spent two afternoons a week visiting kindergarten homes.  She helped immigrant families adjust to their new environment by teaching them principles of homemaking, child-rearing, and healthful living.  Brown persuaded many families to use their kitchen as a combination dining and living room so they could use more rooms as bedrooms.  Having learned from Brown not to whip or abuse their children when they misbehaved, kindergarten mothers found that the most effective punishment was to keep them home from school.

Brown enhanced the self-image of immigrant parents by requesting artifacts and songs from their homelands.  Workers at the settlement discovered that respecting the cultural diversity of its constituents and encouraging pride in the lands of their birth furthered settlement objectives and did not diminish their love of America.

Frances and Harriet White sponsored a trip “in a big sightseeing automobile…to Fifth Avenue, Broadway, and Riverside Drive,” a “most wonderful event” for kindergarten mothers.  Only four of the forty-four mothers who went on this outing “had ever been in New York except the downtown office district for scrubbing.  They had only read and heard of these wonderful sights.” Paralleling the types of activities sponsored by Hull House in Chicago, the White sisters also furnished money to hire teachers for cooking, carpentry, sewing, and other classes for kindergarten mothers.  Besides learning to make items for their children and homes, these mothers used their new skills to supplement their meager incomes.27

“Last year, through learning to sew,” Brown reported in 1916, “one of my most shiftless families became neat and tidy, moved into the Riverside Buildings [one of White’s housing projects], and now is one of the better class families.”  In the same report, she told of a mother asking her to keep her sewing money until it amounted to five dollars “to pay back rent, and another until it is enough to buy a coat.  She has three children, and has only had one coat since she was married.”

Thanks to Alfred T. White, the influence of the First Unitarian Church’s settlement work went beyond its time and place.  While making living conditions better in Brooklyn, through settlement work and housing reform, White assisted improvement elsewhere by alerting future leaders to community needs.  His ally in this educational work was Professor Francis Greenwood Peabody, who was developing a course at Harvard in social ethics.  They met in 1880, when Peabody came to Brooklyn to tour White’s tenements. Through Peabody, his friend for forty years, White influenced young reformers by endowing a chair in social ethics at Harvard.  Designed to teach economists moral imperatives and philosophers economic realities, this course, which irreverent Harvard students dubbed “Drains, Drink, and Divorce”, was soon taught in other colleges.  Peabody and those who taught the courses elsewhere brought White’s progressive ideas to generations of students, who might not have a local minister to arouse and direct their reform proclivities.28

In 1893 Brooklyn’s reform Mayor Charles A. Schieren appointed White commissioner of public works.  His position was next in importance to that of mayor, and White added to the strength of an excellent administration.  He made a dreary and ugly place attractive and functional by erecting the Wallabout market (personally donating the famous clock tower that dominated the Brooklyn skyline), which lasted until the adjoining Navy Yard expanded during World War II.29

With the construction of the Willow Place Chapel, the commitment of White’s church to its settlement program deepened.  Beginning in 1884 the church hired a full-time assistant minister to supervise the religious and secular work in the Willow Place neighborhood, which White had supervised since 1869, and in 1888 the church’s new senior minister, H. Price Collier, took an active interest in settlement work.  Emphasizing recreation more than religion and self-direction by youths more than discipline imposed by adults.  Collier started a Boys’ Club at the Willow Place Chapel.  “It takes two evenings a week of one’s time,” he told a reporter, “and it requires a casing of rubber for one’s nerves not to be seriously disturbed by the subdued roar that goes on for two hours in the room.”  Along with an earlier New York club run by Yale alumni, Collier’s club was forerunner of the Boys’ Club of America.  The Brooklyn Boys’ Club was soon attracting more boys than the Manhattan Club and receiving more publicity.30

These boys “are as good as the rich,” Collier insisted, “and are entitled to and deserving of pleasures.” Their coffee, for which they paid a cent and which came with crackers, was made by Delmonico methods in a donated Delmonico coffee pot. The boys ranged in age from twelve to nineteen, and an early troublemaker soon became a doorkeeper.  A short sparring lesson from Collier, who was a superb athlete, “won him over to sympathy with the club and its founders.”  Besides sports and games, the club had a savings bank, an employment bureau, a library and a reading room, and held evening classes.

In 1891 Collier used his Boys’ Club for an experiment “in practical sociology.”  After drilling and preparing them all winter, he took twenty-five of its members to a camp on Huntington Bay, Long Island, where for ten summer days they partook of the strenuous outdoor life.  His “aim was to try the effect” on these bootblacks, newsboys, and small-shop clerks “of good food, good surroundings, good exercise, good associations, and good discipline, conditions, which are for the most part absent from the…life of such boys.”  Young men from the First Church aiding Collier with the camp agreed “without a dissenting voice that it did more palpable good than any philanthropic experiment in which they ever bore a part.”

Although Collier placed less stress on religious services, the settlement, which planned something for everyone, included a flourishing afternoon Sunday school and a short Sunday evening nondenominational religious service for waterfront families.  During its sixty-two-year existence, fourteen assistant ministers helped carry on its work, as did more than a score of full-time paid headworkers as well as hundreds of paid assistants and teachers and thousands of volunteers.  While the multitude of workers convey some notion of the scope of the church’s settlement work, contemporary records reveal how forgotten slum dwellers tried to cope with their plight.  Case histories of settlement families illustrate the nature and quality of the settlement work.31

These records show how devastating the depression following the panic of 1893 was for these waterfront families.  The following year, for instance, the settlement Employment Committee hired sixty-one out-of-work women to make garments for Brooklyn’s Industrial School and the Home for Destitute Children.  To get the settlement over this difficult time, when everyone seemed “to be always out of work”, First Unitarian Church members, especially Alfred T. White and his family, supplemented regular funds with grants.  Despite an occasional grumble “at the way the world divides its wealth,” most people in the Willow Place neighborhood tried to adjust to adjust to their straitened circumstances and appreciated the help settlement workers gave them. Neighborhood people knew that it was these workers, with their network of contacts, who found them the steady jobs that enabled them to escape poverty.32

The records illustrate that settlement programs were most helpful to the ambitious, hard-working immigrant families.  While the Bensons, a “wonderfully nice and tidy” Norwegian family of nine, were “well able to take care of themselves,” the settlement helped them get more education and better jobs and inspired them to help others.  The father, a carpenter, attended night school, was the president and backbone of the settlement’s Men’s Club, and in December 1894, with the help of his family, opened a milk and butter store in one of White’s Riverside Buildings.  Several of the Benson children enjoyed Fresh Air Fund vacations in Pennsylvania and summers at the shore with the settlement’s summer kindergarten.  Through the settlement, the oldest boy, Bernhard, was able to attend an evening bookkeeping class at Pratt Institute and his brother, Sam, who had become a plumber, got a Navy Yard job.33

As Bernhard Benson, who was “much superior to the boys of his age” in the Willow Place neighborhood, pursued a productive career, he did not forget the settlement.  In 1898 he headed a Lend a Hand Boys’ Club and later helped with a Dramatic Club, served on the Music and Choir committees, and was secretary of the Willow Place Chapel Sunday School.  By 1908 he served with Alfred T. White and others, who had been his teachers, on the settlement’s important, policy-making Chapel Committee.

Although often visiting with workers at the settlement and taking advantage of its programs,, Austrian-born Maria Ayuso, whose four children ranged from one-and-a-half- to five years of age, requested settlement workers not to visit in her home.  Having “been gently reared,” she felt her poverty intensely and remained determined that no one should witness it.  Conditions improved for her family in 1895 when her husband, Arthur Juan Ayuso, a Spanish violinmaker, got steady employment, making plaster casts for architectural designs.  Early in the new century, he began working as a master craftsman for Steinway & Sons.  In 1903 he carved a piano for the Theodore Roosevelt White House.  In 1938 his son, Severo, who had also become a master craftsman, carved a piano for the Franklin Roosevelt White House.  Even after he and his family moved to Astoria, Arthur Juan Ayuso continued as secretary of the settlement Sunday school, and he gave an address at the fortieth anniversary of the dedication of the Willow Place Chapel.34

While many immigrant families found a stabilizing anchor in the settlement, they sometimes disappointed settlement workers.  The middle-class virtues of hard work, thrift, sobriety, and cleanliness appeared to pay few dividends for those frustrated by unemployment and plagued by poverty.  Efforts to nurture self-reliance in recent arrivals and financial responsibility among the needy met with mixed results.  Of the twenty-five families receiving small loans from settlement funds in 1903, eight repaid their loans, eight made some payments, and nine were either unwilling or unable to make payments.35

Often settlement workers could only ameliorate, not solve, the problems slum families faced.  It was difficult for settlement workers to help battered wives in an age when there were no shelters to harbor them.  Mrs. Shram, who lived in a third-floor apartment on Atlantic Avenue and was married to a longshoreman who had hurt his back, told a settlement worker in June 1904 that she “wished her children were put away so they would not see” their father’s brutality.  Mrs. Quinlin, the hard-working mother of four kindergarten children, had a “beer-soaked loafer” of a husband, who “brutally beat & locked his family out on one of the coldest of nights.”  When a settlement worker visited her in March 1904, he found her extremely ill with her family crowded about her in three small, filthy rooms.  After the settlement worker sent her husband to fetch Dr. Love, who donated part of his time to the settlement, she recovered. The next summer her boys enjoyed a Fresh Air Fund vacation.36

With the scant pay she could earn, it was difficult for a lone woman to support a family in Brooklyn.  Hulda Jansen, a Swedish woman with three children, who separated from her husband “because of brutality and insanity,” found she could not get “along as she thought she would.”  First, she had to move when her landlady increased her rent without increasing her wages for cleaning the building.  By April 1904, Jansen became too ill to work and her boys were sent to the Industrial Home, while a Red Cross nurse, alerted by settlement workers, cared for her. Similarly, after the carpenter husband of Marie Bostedt died of pneumonia and she had her seventh child, she found it impossible to support all her children and sent three of them back to Norway for her parents to raise.37

Soon after 1900, White and other First Church settlement workers realized that their facilities needed to be expanded.  It was Bernard J. Newman, who started directing the Willow Place settlement work in 1902, who supervised its expansion. Newman later testified that his Brooklyn years taught him “what a man and woman can bear…under the stress and strain of life.”  To prepare Newman to help those suffering this stress and strain, White sent him to England to study that country’s approaches to urban problems.

Like White, Newman became a housing reformer after working with Brooklyn waterfront families.  After conducting three funerals for babies that died in a tenement building on Furman Street, Newman inspected the building.  Working with city officials, he found the plumbing “so defective and broken that the house had made a cesspool” in the cellar, from which fourteen loads of waste were removed.  Revolted by this experience, Newman campaigned to persuade “people to move from the death traps in which they were living.”  Fortunately, White’s low-income housing was available for some of them.38

To expand settlement facilities, Alfred T. White and his sisters pledged their generous financial support and William B. Tubby, a First Church trustee who was an architect by profession, offered to plan the building and supervise its construction free of charge.  The new settlement building, or Chapel House, as it was called before it was christened Columbia House, was dedicated on February 14, 1906.39

The new 2-story, 125-by-50 feet building on Columbia Street was connected to the Willow Place Chapel. It had a basement equipped for manual-training work; numerous club rooms; a hall for religious services, lectures, and entertainments;  a kindergarten room; and 83-by-30-foot gymnasium; a locker room with an adjoining marble shower; a library; a well-equipped kitchen; facilities for pool, billiards, and bowling;  and a lounge with card tables and reading matter.  This settlement building cost $28,634, its furnishings $1,778, and needed renovations on the Willow Place Chapel came to $1,457.  White and his sisters met approximately two-thirds of these expenses.

In one of his reports, written soon after Columbia House opened, Newman spoke of it as the center of a neighborhood with a 100-yard radius.  4,450 people from 27 nations lived in this circle stretching from the docks up the slope of Brooklyn Heights.  Sailors from the world’s great ports spent shore time in its boarding houses and helped maintain its reputation as the toughest area in the precinct.  The model buildings Alfred T. White with their reasonable rents, inner courts, and well-ventilated rooms reached out to the area’s “humblest classes” and contrasted sharply with the exorbitant rents, dark interior rooms, and foul-smelling air shafts of nearby tenements.40

Unemployment, along with inferior housing, exacerbated problems in the settlement neighborhood.  With half of its men out of work, idleness---with its debilitating effect on mind and body---was a way of life.  According to census figures, only 34 percent of the neighborhood’s adult population had jobs.  Waterfront tasks occupied the largest percentage of working men, while the greatest percentage of employed women cleaned lower Manhattan office buildings.  The latter, comprising a quarter of those working, earned between twelve and twenty dollars a month.41

Catholics made up 68 percent of the neighborhood and Protestants 27 percent.  It shocked the rational Unitarian settlement workers that many of these immigrants actually harbored “a fear of the devil.”  Although two-thirds of the Protestants claimed church connections, only a quarter of them attended church regularly.  Neighborhood Protestant families averaged less than two children under twenty-one, and, despite competing Sunday schools in the area, a third of these young people evaded religious instruction.42

During the more than four decades it had been a presence on this waterfront, the First Unitarian Church learned to adapt its program and facilities to neighborhood needs.  Under Newman the program for immigrant children and their families was pragmatic, with religious work and settlement work supplementing each other and enabling him to reach more people than either would permit alone.  Newman worked “to substitute neighborly good will for the police protection” he at first needed in order to function. His aims were “educational, recreational, alleviatory, and spiritual.”  To accomplish these aims, he worked where the need was most demanding.43

Newman’s assistant in these projects was the twenty-three-year-old Margery Whiting.  She previously worked in Manhattan with Dr. Jane E. Robbins, a well-known social worker and physician who had helped launch the settlement movement.  With the help of Whiting, who at first was paid less than the janitor, Newman supervised fifteen paid instructors, the kindergarten teacher, her assistants, and sixty-one volunteer workers---nearly half of whom were from the First Church.44

On weekdays in 1909 three-year-old Columbia House was already overflowing with children and activities.  Included in the settlement program, and increasing the numbers participating in it, was the district nurses’ office hour, supplemented by the attendance of the physician three times a week. The most heavily scheduled day was Tuesday, when fourteen activities took place.  The settlement program enrolled 2, 176 individuals, with an average of 1, 435 attending activities each week.  There were fifty-nine weekly class periods for regular activities plus a few special activities occurring only once or twice a month. Of the weekly periods, twenty-five were devoted to activities in which adults and children participated together, nineteen to boys and men, and fifteen to girls and women.  The scope and size of this program seems spectacular when one learns that few of the classes were “in response to any great yearning” and that many children in the program came from families that moved constantly.  During the fiscal year ending in the spring of 1909, a dozen settlement families moved three to four times, and in the immediate neighborhood over a hundred families moved at least once.45

Despite the large enrollment, each class had to be stimulated with planned “enticements” to counteract a general indifference.  The majority of settlement children had not been motivated to “embrace the many opportunities…presented by the Board of Education.”  Seldom did they clamor to learn.  Metta D. Bradstreet, who helped a group of nine-year-olds furnish a doll house, found “their shrill little voices…constantly raised in defense or invective.”  She compared them to a “young animal which has had to fight from birth almost, for its very existence, against the other members of the pack.”  She reported that girls in her group had little initiative and learned “slowly from their own mistakes.”

“There are cases where…eagerness is shown,” Newman noted, “but in such cases the child is an exception, or some form of entertainment is a part of the class work.”  The excitement of the Fife and Drum Corps and the lure of cooking classes, where children ate their culinary creations, invariably attracted children to the door an hour early.  Monthly evening entertainments, modeled on the “Pleasant Afternoon” programs Newman discovered in England, brought children to Columbia House at five-thirty in the afternoon.  Scheduled for eight o’clock in the evening and usually involving recitations, singing, or stereopticon slides, these popular programs regularly attracted over 300 people and occasionally as many as 700.

Settlement neighbors thronged programs designed to disseminate information on tuberculosis, a great killer of that age.  1,500 people saw an exhibition in the settlement’s club rooms and heard lectures by city doctors on how to combat this dread disease.  Mothers could attend a class on caring for sick children.  A Columbia House reading rack contained a pamphlet with up-to-date information on tuberculosis, as well as pamphlets on temperance, child-labor and tenement laws, and other topics.  Thousands took these pamphlets from the reading rack and rarely discarded them in the street.

Settlement workers established a program that could be adapted to a variety of circumstances.  When four teachers failed to establish a gymnastics drill, directed play harnessed the restless energy of younger boys.  Better-disciplined older children took physical culture and dancing and played on athletic teams.  The class for young florists was popular. Many of its eager members cultivated indoor gardens with from ten to twenty plants.  Class members also distributed flowers to the sick.

When the instructors noticed that some of the settlement children appeared to be musically inclined, they started a piano class.  Meeting twice a week, the class was so popular that it heralded the Music School, which joined the settlement in 1914.  During the Newman years, the “Penny Provident” program with 300 children depositing their pennies and other savings---several children saved between thirty and fifty dollars---was also popular, as was the library.  Other favorite programs included sewing and carpentry classes, where children could make clothes for themselves and objects for their homes.  At the settlement, there was something for everyone.  Each age group had its clubs and special holiday parties.  There was also a yearly reception for parents and an annual picnic for settlement children.

Even in its booming Newman period, the church’s settlement program neither attracted all the volunteers it needed nor reduced the number of immigrant families needing help.  Newman noted: “The change of population, sending away every year many of the ambitious families, brings in others who, with the residue remaining, make the ever present problem.” Knowing he had Alfred T. White’s buoyant spirit and strong support behind him, Newman pushed on, seeking volunteers from universities and other institutions, and especially from the First Unitarian Church.46

The paralytic polio epidemic of 1916 disrupted the work of the settlement.  This epidemic was the worst in the history of the disease, and nearly half of the 27,363 United States cases appeared in New York State.  With fear gripping the settlement neighborhood, it postponed until Thanksgiving its Fourth of July festivities---normally a jubilant celebration attracting 5,000 participants from thirty ethnic groups.  By July 5, 1916, there were eighteen polio cases in the section from Joralemon Street to Warren Street and Court Street to the river, and by September there were twenty-nine.  All the usual settlement activities, including Fresh Air Fund vacations, abruptly ceased, and a trained nurse was added to the Columbia House staff.  Although no settlement kindergarten children contracted polio, the disease paralyzed three of their younger siblings.  Two of them recovered enough to walk “imperfectly”, but the third remained “strapped to a board.”47

The community fought back.  Alfred T. White’s Riverside Buildings and the Community Playground Association hired Dr. Charles Ruger to work in the neighborhood.  White opened his Sea-Side Home as a treatment center for afflicted children.  Instigating regular inspections of the settlement neighborhood, Ruger proved a “terror to sanitary offenders,” and only four cases of polio occurred where he made his “preventative survey.”  The Vigilance Committee, formed by the settlement, saw that stairways and backyards of multiple dwellings were rubbish-free.

Following on the heels of the polio threat, World War I devastated the church’s settlement work.  Its director left Brooklyn to manage a YMCA hut near the Western Front in France.  In 1916 Katharine Vesey, a graduate of the New York School of Philanthropy and the Parish Assistants’ Department of Meadville  Theological School, became acting head of the settlement.  Like many young settlement workers, Vesey and her assistants lived among the families they were helping.  In their case, it was in Alfred T. White’s nearby Riverside Buildings.  The task they confronted was to keep settlement programs going despite wartime disruptions.  “The feeling of restlessness, uncertainty & anxiety which hangs over all of us is very keenly felt here in our neighborhood,” she wrote in the spring of 1918.  “A great many fathers and brothers are already in the service and there exists a spirit of recklessness among the boys waiting to be called with which it is hard to cope.”  Not only were neighborhood boys called to the colors, but volunteer workers left the settlement to participate in the war effort.48

Reporting in the spring of 1918, Vesey noted that during the “intensely cold” winter “our boys & girls, as well as women, spent most of their waking hours searching for fuel.”  For the coldest days, Public School 29, which was without heat, moved to Columbia House.  With neighborhood people unable to get coal or oil and “their gas & water…frozen so that it was impossible to cook,” the settlement prepared and sold at cost “such things as soup, stew & beans” and sold some coal “to those in the most dire distress.  It was very, very hard not to have enough for all, because all needed it.”  The winter hardships, Vesey concluded, brought “a great deal of illness” to the neighborhood.  “With prices so high, our children are decidedly undernourished, and our immediate & most pressing problem is the overcoming of this ill.”  But with the war continuing to rage, Vesey herself went to France to work for the Red Cross.  She left the Brooklyn settlement in the capable hands of her assistant Helen Fuller Campbell, whose work had been primarily with the settlement’s Music School.

After Vesey left in the fall of 1918, influenza struck Brooklyn.  This epidemic, which blanketed most of the Northern Hemisphere, killed more than 20 million people in a few months, and many more than that were ill.  During the epidemic, Columbia House was the district “center for emergency calls for food, nurses, doctors, and other relief.”  The First Unitarian Church hired help for those in extreme necessity, bought oranges for the sick, and took over the work of the Board of Health, furnishing broth and nurses’ aides, when the Board stopped these services in early November, declared the epidemic over when it was still ravaging waterfront homes in Brooklyn.  Death notices regularly appeared.  One on November 10 was for Mabel Hanson, a member of the Willow Place Chapel Sunday School who was to be in that year’s confirmation class.  Another on December 8 was for Katharine White Van Sinderen, the daughter of Alfred and Annie White, who shared her father’s zeal for settlement work.49

“First came the war with its almost inconceivable economic and social readjustments, taking in its wake our cops of workers and neighbors,” reported Campbell from the settlement.

 “We weathered all of this and were swinging into the winter schedule when the influenza epidemic was upon us, and for two months all activities were subservient to the work of combating this plague.  And now we are facing the tremendous responsibilities of peace and the new social order.  On the response we make to the situations arising out of this new order depends the future life of the settlements.”

Unfortunately, the response was not great.  The 1919 plea for volunteers for the church’s “unique and splendid enterprise” fell mostly on deaf ears.  The reforming tide of the Progressive Era ebbed with the war.  International affairs diverted energy from reform.  The Brooklyn project, lie settlements elsewhere, faltered in what Jane Addams called “the political and social sag” that ended the social experiments and social action of the prewar years.  Already reeling, the church’s settlement work received a crushing blow with the death of Alfred T. White.

White had been the settlement’s heart and soul, as well as its chief backer.  On January 29, 1921, after spending the morning working at their importing office at 14 Wall Street, White and his brother William took a train to Ramapo Hills to ice skate and tramp in the winter woods, where White loved to look for rare plants.  After skating across Cranberry Lake, White’s brother felt tired and decided to return to the inn, where they were staying.50

White, who was nearly seventy-five and a widower for eight months, told his brother that he planned to join him after skating across Forest and Summit lakes.  When White did not return, his brother, aided by W. Averill Harriman, whose estate was nearby, formed a search party.  About six the next morning, White’s hat was found floating near broken ice on Forest Lake.  He had gone through a thin spot forty feet from shore.

With the flag at City Hall flying at half-mast, New York City and the nation joined Brooklyn in mourning White’s death.  William Howard Taft, between his careers as president and chief justice, insisted:  “I don’t know any other one in all that six millions of New York City who would leave such a void as he does.  If there ever was a just man made perfect, he was…His poise, his quiet effectiveness, his self-suppression, his sweetness, his fellowship, his grasp of things, his sense of justice all made association with him inspiring…”51

On April 3, 1921, a memorial service took place for White at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.  One hundred thirty-eight of his prominent friends, including Taft and Herbert Hoover, organized it, and White’s fellow housing reform Robert W. de Forest presided.  Five addresses given at the service praised White for his work as a reformer and a philanthropist.  One of these addresses told how White believed that education and training were as crucial for the children of former slaves as for the children of immigrants.  “Tuskegee Institute would not have been possible,” Booker T. Washington stated, “had it not been for the encouragement and inspiration I received from Mr. White and his family.”   White was also a prime supporter of Hampton Institute, where Washington received his training.  Early in World War I White sent money to devastated towns in Belgium and later aided Herbert Hoover’s Commission for relief in that country, for which he received the Belgian Order of the Cross.  White was one of the original trustees of the Russell Sage Foundation, a charter member of Survey Associates, and a member of the first executive committee of the American National Red Cross.52

More than anyone else in his generation, Alfred T. White promoted the well-being of Brooklyn.  Even during the summer, he returned every third week from the mountains of New England to go “on duty” overseeing his church’s settlement program, his housing, and his numerous charities.  Primarily, White was a friend of Brooklyn children.  Through his settlement work, his housing, his Sea-Side Home, his charities, his gardens, and his parks, he worked with diligence and inspiration to give all Brooklyn children an unfettered start in life.  Credited with cutting Brooklyn’s infant mortality rate in half, White saved thousands of immigrant children and made it possible for many of them to lead productive, meaningful lives, touched with joy and beauty.  Even though the still-standing, innovative housing White built for waterfront children no longer houses low-income families, his legacy lives on in their descendants.53



1 Jacob A. Riis, The Making of An American, ed. Roy Lubove  (New York, 1966), 248. 

2 White was universally called “Brooklyn’s leading citizen” at time of his death.  For example, see Brooklyn Daily Eagle, January 31, 1921. 

3 Notable American Women, s.v. “Addams, Jane,” hereafter cited as NAW; Allen F. Davis, American Heroine: The Life and Legend of Jane Addams (New York, 1973);   George Staples, “Stanton Coit and the Neighborhood Guild” (Ph.D. diss, City University of New York, 1990). 

4 Report…Furman St. Mission (1867), 9 [Ida Stolterfoht], “A Sketch of the Mission School of the Church of the Saviour from December 1865 to January 1867, “Church Binder, 1864-76.  The building occupied by the First Unitarian Church, built in 1844, is named the Church of the Saviour.  Unless otherwise indicated, these and subsequent citations of manuscript sources belong to the First Unitarian Church Collection, Brooklyn Historical Society, Brooklyn, N.Y.  For a fuller account of the church’s participation in this work for immigrant children, see Olive Hoogenboom, The First Unitarian Church of Brooklyn: One Hundred Fifty Years (Brooklyn, 1987). 

5 Stolterfoht, “A Sketch of the Mission School”; Report…Furman St. Mission, 10; Alfred T. White, 1879 Mission School Rept., Willow Place Chapel, 1867-93, hereafter abbreviated WPC; Alfred T. White, “Mr. White’s History of the Mission,”  Easter Services…with an Account of…the Dedication of the Mission Chapel (Brooklyn, 1876), 37-43; Emma C. Low, “Address,” Addresses Delivered at the Fiftieth Anniversary, Willow Place Chapel and Chapel House (December 17, 1915, typescript), 3-5. Although the buildings of the Brooklyn settlement became known as the Willow Place Chapel and Columbia House, at their dedications they were called the Willow Place Mission and Chapel House. 

6 Resolutions Adopted by the Board of Directors of The Brooklyn Bureau of Charities, February 14, 1921. 

7 For information on White and his family, see DAB, s.v., “White Alfred Tredway”; John Howland Lathrop, “The Great Heart and Master Mind of Brooklyn’s Better Self: The inspiration of the Life of Alfred T. White…” Christian Register (February 17, 1921); Francis Greenwood Peabody, Reminiscences of Present-Day Saints (New York, 1927), 134-56; “Mr. White’s History of the Mission,” 37, 39;  Emma C. Low, The First Unitarian Congregational Society of Brooklyn, 15, 18;  First Unitarian Church Trustee Minutes, 1:540-541, hereafter called Trustee Minutes;  list of teachers, WPC, History & Early Organization folder;  Brooklyn Daily Eagle, October 31, 1906, January 31, 1921, November 21, 1929, Brooklyn Eagle Morgue, Brooklyn Public Library, hereafter cited as BEM. 

8 Lathrop, “The Great Heart and Master Mind of Brooklyn’s Better Self,” 157. 

9 On religion and the founders of the social settlements, see Allen F. Davis, Spearheads for Reform:  The Social Settlements and the Progressive Movement, 1890-1914 (New York, 1967), 27-29. On engineering and the solution of urban problems, see Stanley K Schultz and Clay McShane, “To Engineer the Metropolis Sewers, Sanitation, and City Planning in Late-Nineteenth-Century America.” Journal of American History, 65 (1978): 389-411. 

10 Alfred T. White, “Address,” Addresses Delivered at the Fiftieth Anniversary, 9-10. 

11 Report… Furman St. Mission, 11. 

12 Joseph B. Milgram, Alfred Tredway White (Brooklyn, 1977), 4; Alfred T. White, Improved Dwellings for the Laboring Classes (New York, 1879), 44; William Howard Taft, “A Tribute,” Memorial Meeting: Alfred T. White, 1846-1921 (Brooklyn Academy of Music, April 3, 1921).

13 Jacob A. Riis, How the Other Half Lives, ed. Sam Bass Warner, Jr. (Cambridge, 1970), 176.  After the establishment of the first model workers’ swelling company in England in 1842, planning housing for workers was so popular that even Prince Albert designed a four-family unit, which was part of the 1851 Exhibition.  Like White, who followed their lead, the aim of these builders was to prove that working-class housing with good sanitation was compatible with a fair return on capital and for workers living in good housing the moral capital and for workers living in good housing the moral benefits were almost as great as were the physical benefits.  Although these English housing ventures had an early success, by 1852 few of them yielded more than 2.75 percent and most of them charged rents too high for the workers for whom they had been built. Gareth Stedman Jones, Outcast London: A Study in the Relationship Between Classes in Victorian Society (Oxford, 1971), 183-84.    On White’s housing, see Peabody, Reminiscences, 140-141;  Milgram, White, 4-8; Brooklyn Daily Eagle, January 31, 1921; “A Pioneer in Model Housing, “ unidentified clipping, Alfred T. White folder; Jane MacLean, “The Practical Side of the Willow Place Chapel Work,” Centenary of the Unitarian Movement in Brooklyn; The Story of the Brooklyn Churches (First Unitarian Church, May 19, 1933, typescript), 7; Alfred T. White, Sun-lighted Tenements: Thirty-five Years’ Experience as an Owner (New York, 1912), 6, 9, 15. The outside staircases and adjoining balconies in White’s tenements followed the pattern used by Waterlow in his Langbourn buildings in London. White,  Improved Dwellings, 21-22. 

14 Adele Kreitzer, “Alfred Tredway White’s Improved Dwellings for the Laboring Classes” (Pace College Term Paper for History of Architecture Course, 1972, in binder “Alfred T. White, 1846-1921, “ Brooklyn Historical Society), 20. 

15 Alfred T. White, “Better Homes for Workingmen” (Prepared for the Twelfth National Conference of Charities, held at Washington, D.C., June 1885), 5; White, Sun-Lighted Tenements, 17; Jacob A. Riis, How the Other Half Lives, 186, 195. 197.  Riis’s comparison of White’s housing with that of London is corroborated in Jones, Outcast London, 184-85, 203. 

16 Jacob A. Riis, Jacob Riis Revisited: Poverty and the Slum in Another Era, ed. Francesco Cordasco (Garden City, 1968), 354; Riis, How the Other Half Lives, 197-98. 

17 Riis, How the Other Half Lives, 185-86.  Besides the 1/5 indicated in the text, 2/5 of White’s tenants sometimes paid their rent four weeks in advance at a time when rent was customarily paid only one week in advance and 2/5 never did.  The average rent arrears for all of White’s tenants was half a day. White, “Better Homes for Workingmen,” 17. 

18 Milgram, White, 7; White, Improved Dwellings, 41-42. 

19 Milgram, White, 16; Brooklyn Daily Eagle, June 21, 1914, BEM; Robert W. de Forest, “The Leader in Housing Reform,” Memorial Meeting; Lawrence Veiller, “Tenement House Reform in New York City, 1834-1900,” in Robert W. deforest and Lawrence Veiller, eds., The Tenement House Problem: Including the Report of the New York State Tenement House Commission of 1900, 2 vols. (New York, 1903), 1:97-99. For estimates of the profits derived from tenements, see Jacob A. Riis, The Battle with the Slum (Montclair, 1969), 19; Elgin R. L Gould, “Financial Aspects of Recent Tenement House Operations in New York,” and Lawrence Veiller, “The Speculative Building of Tenement Houses,” in de Forest and Veiller, eds., The Tenement House Problem, 1:358, 372; Michael Miller, “Housing Reform in New York City in the Gilded Age” (City University Seminar Paper for Emergence of Modern America, 1990), in author’s possession. 

20 Kreitzer, “Alfred Tredway White’s Improved Dwellings,” 20.  For more on the differing approaches of charity organizations and environmentalists, see Paul Boyer, Urban Masses and Moral Order in America, 1820-1920 (Cambridge, 1978), 159, 167, 175, 177, 179-80.  Unlike other environmentalists who concentrated on parks and playgrounds, White did not avoid a frontal attack on overcrowded, run-down tenements.  Ibid., 235.   Further proof of White’s environmentalist credentials are the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, which he made a reality in 1910 (contributing, with the help of his family, more than $1 million to this public garden), and Brooklyn’s Marine Park, for which he and his friend Frederic B. Pratt provided land and money.  In Memoriam, Alfred T. White (Brooklyn Botanic Garden Record, July 1921);  Milgram, White, 10-15; First Unitarian Church Calendar, June 3, 1923, hereafter cited as Church Calendar; Phoenix (Brooklyn), September 28, 1978. 

21 Anthony to “Friends,” May 18, 1876, Early WPC History folder; “Mr. White’s History of the Mission,” 41-42;  Putnam’s 1875 Rept., White’s 1875 Mission School Rept., Church Binder, 1864-76; DAB, s.v. “Sturgis, Russell”;  Mr. Schneider, “Remark,” Addresses Delivered at the Fiftieth Anniversary, 36;  Brooklyn Union, May 2, 1876. 

22 “Dedication of the Mission chapel,” Easter Service, 57.  Almost echoing Putnam’s words, Jane Addams said in 1889 that settlement work “is more for the benefit of the people who do it than for the other class…that one gets as much as she gives.”  This sentiment was also present in Jacksonian urban moral-reform movements.  NAW, s.v. “Addams, Jane”; Boyer Urban Masses, 64. 

23 Brooklyn Daily Eagle, May 24, 1920, BEM DAB, s.v. “White, Alfred Tredway”; list of teachers, Early WPC History folder. 

24 Milgram, White, 9; Peabody, Reminiscences, 142;  L. Mason Clarke, “The Neighbor,” Memorial Meeting; Alfred T. White, “A Life-Saving Quest on the Sea of Infant Mortality Statistics,” 877, Robert W. de Forest, “Alfred T. White,” Survey (March 5, 1910, February 5, 1921); “The Good Men Do,”  Brooklyn Daily Times (undated editorial, probably February 1, 1921), White folder.  White’s tactful name, Sea-Side Home, is impressive when one compares it with the names of other facilities of that era.  Among those in Brooklyn were Home for Consumptives, Home for Friendless Women and Children, Industrial Home for Destitute Children, and Faith Home for Incurables. 

25 Alfred T. White’s 1877 Rept., WPC, 1867-93;1894 Kindergarten Rept., WPC, 1892-1900; Katherine K. Frothingham’s 1908, Kindergarten Rept., WPC, 1908-15. 

26 The discussion of the kindergarten in this paragraph and those that directly follow is based on these sources: Augustus D. Smith’s 1888 Rept., Elizabeth B. Condit’s 1891 Kindergarten Rept., WPC, 1867-93; 1894 Fresh Air Work Rept., WPC 1892-1900; 1895-98 Annual Repts., Chapel Assn., 1890-1911; Joseph A. Chase’s 1902 Rept., WPC, 1901-7;   Katherine K. Frothingham’s1908 Kindergarten Rept., Newton B. Knapp’s 1914 Rept., WPC, 1908-15;  Brown’s 1916 Sewing Rept. And 1918, 1919 Kindergarten Repts., WPC, 1916-26; Royal Cortissoz, The Life of Whitelaw Reid. 2 vols. (New York, 1921), 2:85. 

27 Brown’s 1918 Kindergarten Rept., WPC, 1916-26. 

28 Peabody, Reminiscences, 136-37, 139, 141, 145-49.  White and Peabody in their concern for proper drains or sewers had come to grips with one of the chief causes of environmental pollution in the Gilded Age. See Schultz and McShane, “To Engineer the Metropolis,” 389-411.  In 1890 harvard awarded honorary degrees to Alfred T. White and Seth Low.   J.C. Levenson et al., eds., The Letters of Henry Adams, 3 vols. (Cambridge, 1982), 3:249. 

29 DAB, s.v. “White, Alfred Tredway”; Brooklyn Daily Eagle, January 31, 1921, January 7, 1925. BEM. 

30 For Collier’s work with his Boys’ Club, see New York Tribune, April 20, 1889, September 20, 1891, Maud Willard Bartlett Scrapbook 1;  Theodore L. Frothingham’s 1891 Boys’ Club Rept., WPC, 1867-94. 

31 These case histories are in four hand-written, indexed volumes, “Willow Place chapel Parish Register,” hereafter cited as WPCPR, 1889-92, 1893-94, 1902-4, 1904-12. 

32 Bernard j. Newman, “Address,”  Addresses Delivered at the Fiftieth Anniversary, 14; 1895 Employment Committee Rept., WPC, 1892-1900;  WPCPR, 19902-4, s.v. “Seeley.” 

33 For information on Bernhard Benson and is family, see Bernhard Benson, “Story of Willow Place Chapel” (separately numbered typescript included with Addresses Delivered at the Fiftieth Anniversary), 4; WPCPR, 1889-92, 1893-94, 1902-4, 1898, 1902, 1905, 1908 Annual Meetings, Chapel Assn. Book. 

34 WPCPR, 1893-94;  “Fortieth Anniversary of the Dedication of the Mission School Chapel,”  April 16, 1916, WPC History folder; Church Calendar, June 7, 1942;  Steinway Papers, FiorelloH. LaGuardia Archives, La Guardia Community College, Queens, N.Y. 

35 WPCPR, 1902-4. 

36 Ibid. 

37 Ibid.; WPCPR, 1904-12.

38 1903 Annual Meeting, Chapel Assn. Book;  Newman, “Address,” 15, 17-19;  Brooklyn Daily Eagle, October 6, 1905, BEM. 

39 For information on the building of Columbia House and its facilities, see Newman’s 1905 Rept., WPC, 1908-15;  Bernard J. Newman, The Willow Place Chapel and Its Institutional Work [c. 1906];   Willow Place Chapel Building Committee’s 1907 Rept., Church Binder, 1907-19; Trustees; Minutes 1:469-70, 526;  Church Calendar, May 5, 1916; [no date] after June 9, 1904, Chapel Assn. Book;  Newman, “Address,” 15.  Calling themselves “Three Friends,” White and his sisters gave the money anonymously.  Throughout his life, White attempted to keep his generous acts from being publicized. 

40 Newman, Willow Place Chapel; Riis, How the Other Half Lives, 195. 

41 Newman, Willow Place Chapel. 

42 Ibid.; Newman, “Address,” 20. 

43 Newman’s 1903, 1904 Repts., WPC, 1901-7; Newman, Willow Place Chapel.  Similarly in Chicago Jane Addams found that a large part of her work was simply responding to immediate community needs.  NAW, s.v. “Addams, Jane.” 

44 Whiting to Newman, June 23 1908, Jane E. Robbins to Newman, June 27, 1908, Helen m. Kelsey to Newman, June 29, 1908, WPC Staff Workers folder;  Willow Place Chapel Cash Book, 1909-18; NAW, s.v. “Robbins, Jane Elizabeth”; Bernard J. Newman, The Work of the Church of the Savior in the Willow Place Chapel (Annual Rept., 1909). 

45 Hull House, in 1893, managed a somewhat larger program than Columbia House with 2,000 people crossing its threshold each week.  NAW, s.v. “Addams, Jane.”  Work at Columbia House is detailed in the following sources:  Newman, Willow Place Chapel; Newman, Work of the Church of the Savior; 1914 Music Dept. Rept. 1908-15;  Bradstreet’s Rept. [filed with 1918], WPC, 1916-26. 

46 Newman’s observations that settlement families were constantly moving confirm Stephan Thernstrom’s conclusion that poor people were “highly transient.”   Thernstrom suggests that the lower the worker was on the socio-economic scale the more apt he was to leave town.  Newman, whose sense of who left and who remained is closer to Howard P. Chudacoff’s view that “those who failed to move were left behind, stagnant rather than stable,” contradicts Thernstrom’s observation.  In short, Newman perceives enormous spatial mobility in the settlement neighborhood but believes that those who moved about within it (unless into White’s housing) were going nowhere, while those who moved away were upwardly mobile. Stephan Thernstrom, The Other Bostonians: Poverty and Progress in the American Metropolis, 1880-1970 (Cambridge, 1973), 38-42; Howard P. Chudacoff, Mobile Americans: Residential and Social Mobility in Omaha, 1880-1920 (New York, 1972), 90-91, 159. 

47 On the polio epidemic, see Church Calendar, September 10, 1916;  Lilian V. Floyd’s September 1916 Rept., Elizabeth Frothingham’s 1917 Kindergarten Rept., Walter M. Howlett’s 1917 Rept., Assistant Headworker Lavonne B. Wilkinson’s 1917 Rept., Assistant Headworker Lavonne B. Wilkinson’s 1917 Rept., WPC, 1916-26; Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1956 ed., s.v. “Infantile Paralysis.”

48 For Vesey’s work with the settlement during World War I, see John Howland Lathrop’s 1918 Rept., Vesey’s 1918 Rept., WPC, 1916-26;  Church Calendar, September 10, 1916, March 25, 1917, January 6, 27, September 29, October 27, 1918. 

49 Church Calendar, November 10, December 8, 1918, Brooklyn Daily Eagle, December 6, 1918, BEM; Davis, Spearheads for Reform, 227.  For the influenza epidemic and the decline of the work at Columbia House, see Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1956 ed., s.v. “Influenza”; Campbell’s 1919 Rept., WPC, 1916-26;  Lathrop’s 1919 Church Rept., Church Binder, 1907-19. 

50 For an account of White’s death, see Peabody, Reminiscences, 144, 155-56; Brooklyn Daily Eagle, January 31, 1921. 

51 Taft to John Howland Lathrop, February 13, 1921, White folder. 

52 Peabody, Reminiscences, 143, 145; de Forest, “Alfred T. White”, Church Calendar, September 25, 1921;  Edward W. McCarty, “The Public Servant,” R.R. Moton, “The Friend of Education,” Memorial Meeting; “Alfred Tredway White,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, January 31, 1921, New York Times, January 31, 1921.  Through the Survey Associates, the Sage Foundation sponsored the comprehensive Pittsburgh Survey (1910-14), a model for subsequent investigations, and published a journal stimulating national movements for housing reform, workmen’s compensations, and the elimination of the twelve-hour day in the steel industry.  In the $2 million Brooklyn Red Cross drive in 1918, White and his family gave $70,000.  Brooklyn Daily Eagle, May 26, 1918, BEM. 

53 “Chamber of Commerce Mourns A.T. White,”  Brooklyn Daily Times [probably February 1, 1921], White folder;  White to  John Howland Lathrop, July 9, 1913, White Letters folder; Lathrop, “The Great Heart and Master Mind of Brooklyn’s Better Self,” 157.  Statistics for 1906-9 show the death-rate for Brooklyn children under five to be half of what it was in 1873-76. White, “A Life-Saving Quest,” 878.  Because of his housing reforms and his leadership in projects making life healthier for Brooklyn’s little ones, White was given major credit for this improvement.    The First Unitarian Church’s main settlement work ended in 1927, when it severed most of its ties with Columbia House and moved the Willow Place Chapel congregation to the Pierrepont Street Chapel, adjoining the Church of the Saviour.  After being used as a factory for three decades, the Willow Place Chapel became the Alfred T. White Community Center on December 14, 1962.  In the 1980’s, in connection with the building that was Columbia House, with which it is joined, it housed a local drama group, a music school, and a parochial pre-school.