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Recreation Rooms and Settlement collection

Call Number



1905-1991, inclusive
; 1953-1991, bulk


Recreation Rooms and Settlement (New York, N.Y.) (Role: Author)


1.67 Linear Feet in four manuscript boxes.

Language of Materials

English .


The Recreation Rooms and Settlement collection documents the work of the settlement, originally established to provide educational and recreational opportunities for Jewish immigrant women, from its early years on the Lower East Side of Manhattan through its recent activity in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Canarsie. While material in the collection spans the period 1905 to 1991, the bulk of the records are from the period 1953 to 1991. The collection includes board of directors minutes and appended administrative reports, bylaws, annual reports, program files, executive director correspondence, flyers, news clippings, photographs, fundraising records, budgets, histories, and brochures.

Historical Note

During the late 1800s, the United States experienced a dramatic increase in immigration, as millions of people entered the country seeking new opportunities and economic advancement. Among these immigrants were tens of thousands of European Jews, many of whom settled on Manhattan's Lower East Side. The dense concentration of this new population exacerbated many urban problems that had long faced the city: poor housing, inadequate health care, lack of educational opportunities, crime, and unemployment all became more pronounced.

Earlier in the 19th century, numerous Jewish philanthropic and social service organizations had been established in New York to address the needs and problems of the city's Jewish population. Institutions such as The Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, United Hebrew Charities, and the Young Men's Hebrew Association offered Jewish immigrants financial assistance, job-training, language instruction, acculturation programs, athletic facilities, and other services. But the dramatic growth of the Jewish population at the end of the century presented these social welfare institutions and their supporters with many new challenges.

It was just such an increase in the social problems attending urban growth that had led reformers and philanthropists in England to establish Toynbee Hall, the first settlement house. The settlement model, originally distinguished by a commitment on the part of its educated upper and middle-class workers to "settle" in working class communities to understand their problems firsthand, was imported to the United States in 1886. American settlement houses were in the vanguard of efforts to educate and provide social services for impoverished residents in their neighborhoods through programs such as kindergartens, day care, hot lunches, health clinics, visiting nurses, camps, playgrounds, and arts education. In addition, the settlements were deeply involved in Progressive-era reform movements advocating improvements in housing, public health, and sanitation.

While most settlement houses were ostensibly secular institutions whose services were available to all neighbors regardless of creed, many did bear close affiliation with particular religious denominations and some included religious education among their programs. Some Protestant churches, for example, sponsored settlements that combined missionary work with the traditional range of settlement programs. Philanthropists and reformers in New York's Jewish community were impressed by aspects of the settlement model and worked to establish their own settlements. Typically these institutions were open to all their neighbors, but maintained a specific commitment to meet the social and educational needs of the Jewish population.

It was in this context that the council of Jewish Women rented rooms at 79 Orchard Street on Manhattan's Lower East Side during May 1899 (although a few documents suggest May 1898 as the founding date) to provide educational and recreational opportunities for Jewish immigrant women. Encouraged by Felix Adler, leader of the Ethical Culture society who helped to establish several settlement houses, the Council soon incorporated "Recreation Rooms and Settlement" with Mrs. Cyrus Sulzberger as its first board president. Other early board members included Mrs. Aaron Kohn, Mrs. Isidor Straus, Mrs. Daniel Guggenheim and Mrs. Jacob H. Schiff. Some of these women or their husbands were prominent on the boards of other settlements such as Educational Alliance and Henry Street Settlement.

The first "Head Worker" of Recreation Rooms and Settlement, Miss Cyd Betteiheim, and her successor Dr. Bertha F. Lubitz, oversaw typical settlement activities such as sewing, cooking and art classes, a circulating library, and mother's meetings. In 1905 the settlement moved to 186-188 Chrystie Street. By this time it had expanded its programs to include an evening "Boy's Brigade" as well as lectures, open debates, and a literary society. The following year the settlement conducted an "Exhibition for the Prevention of Tuberculosis" visited by 6,500 people.

Recreation Rooms and Settlement's first connection to Brooklyn is reported in the Annual Report for 1914 to 1915. Head Worker Gertrude Mautner wrote that "One entire girls' club has left us to become the working group of a small settlement in Brooklyn. A majority of the members of this Club have moved to Brooklyn, and into a neighborhood where they felt that they might bring the influence that had been brought to them in our settlement." (Preliminary research has not shown whether this incipient settlement was ever in fact established.) By that same year, the settlement had expanded its programs to include a visiting nurse service, and Camp Wildwood based at Central Valley, N.Y. on property donated by the Straus family. Additional camping facilities -- Camp Recro and Camp Mikan -- were opened several years later on the grounds of the Palisades Interstate Park.

In 1930, New York City condemned the buildings at 186-188 Chrystie to make room for the proposed Roosevelt Park, and the settlement moved to the former quarters of College Settlement at 84-86 First Street. In this neighborhood the settlement began to work with Italians as well as its traditional Jewish constituency. A 1940 Annual Report also cites the membership of "a single Negro child … and several Albanian Mohammedan families." Programs then included W.P.A. job placement, surplus food ticket distribution, and a health clinic.

During the 1940s and l950s, the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) built many public housing projects for low and middle income tenants. An innovative feature of these projects was the inclusion of space for community centers and recreational facilities. At several of its sites NYCHA invited established social service agencies and settlement houses to operate programs in these facilities. Recreation Rooms and Settlement was among them, and in 1950 began its work at the Lillian Wald Houses on Avenue D in Manhattan. Initial activities included a senior citizen center and youth recreation, and would grow to include drug counseling, after school programs, day care, and adult education.

In 1955, NYCHA invited the settlement into its Breukelen Houses site in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Canarsie. At this location the settlement developed a community center, day care, arts and theater programs, and eventually ran a Head Start program. The continuing challenge of working with new populations in the housing projects brought the board to affirm in February 1956 that the settlement "provides the opportunity for all races, colors and creeds represented in the membership of the [Breukelen Houses] project to get acquainted with one another and work together for the good of the community." In 1955 the settlement also moved out of its First Street location (which it rented and later sold to another settlement, Christodora House) and consolidated all programs at its NYCHA sites. During the 1960s, programs would include collaboration with Mobilization for Youth and other government-sponsored anti-poverty programs. The work at the upstate camps continued through this period as well, offering children living in the housing projects an opportunity to get out of the city for several weeks each summer.

From its inception, Recreation Rooms and Settlement had enjoyed the financial support of Jewish philanthropic organizations, a relationship eventually formalized through membership in The Federation of Jewish Philanthropies (FJP). It was also a longstanding member of United Neighborhood Houses (UNH), an umbrella group of New York City settlement houses. During the late 1980s and early 1990s, however, disputes between Recreation Rooms and Settlement administration and FJP and UNH respectively caused the settlement to lose its membership in these organizations. In the course of these disputes, Recreation Rooms and Settlement relinquished control of its Lillian Wald Houses site (which was subsequently operated by another settlement house and FJP member, Educational Alliance). With this change, and having closed its upstate camps for financial reasons during the 1980s, all of the settlement's work was then consolidated in the Canarsie area. In 1994 this included day care, Head Start, senior services, and an affiliated kindergarten and pre-school program at the Starrett City residential complex.

Important figures in the settlement's history include head workers and executive directors Mildred Gutwillig, Bertram Cohen, Rose Miller, and Rahil Goulding. Appointed head worker of the settlement in 1921, Gutwillig held that position (and its later equivalent executive director) until 1953. She then supervised the camp operations and remained active on the board of directors for many years. An obituary lists her among the founding members of United Neighborhood Houses. Bertram Cohen was executive director from 1953 until 1955, and several buildings and recreational areas at Camp Recro and Camp Wildwood were named in his honor. Rose Miller was executive director from 1955 until 1968. Miller had previously served as head worker at Grand Street Settlement and was involved in community organizations such as the Lower Eastside Neighborhoods Association (LENA). She was succeeded by Rahil Goulding in 1968. Goulding had long experience at the settlement, having worked for many years as director of its Breukelen site. She remained as the agency's executive director at the time this collection was processed in 1994.

Scope and Content Note

The Recreation Rooms and Settlement collection documents the work of the settlement from its early years on the Lower East Side of Manhattan through its recent activity in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Canarsie. While material in the collection spans from 1905 to 1991, the bulk of the records span from 1953 to 1991. Items include minutes of the board of directors and appended administrative reports, bylaws, annual reports, program files, executive director correspondence, flyers, news clippings, photographs, fundraising records, budgets, histories, and brochures. The collection is divided into seven series:

Missing Title

  1. Administration
  2. Executive Director papers
  3. Program sites and activities
  4. Alphabetical subjects
  5. Affiliated organizations
  6. Press clippings
  7. Photographs and 16mm film

These records most heavily document the programs and activities of the settlement in its Lillian Wald Houses and Breukelen Houses sites. The most comprehensive picture of the settlement's day to day activities is provided by the minutes of the board of directors, which often include appended program reports and statistics. The commitment of the settlement to its adopted community in Canarsie is well documented in program files from that site. A subject file on the planning of the Flatlands Industrial Park highlights the role of executive director Rose Miller in public discussion of economic development in the Canarsie area. Records of the "Canarsie Chronicle" Neighborhood History Project from the early 1980s demonstrate a commitment to the preservation of community identity in the neighborhood. The settlement's connection to the Jewish social service tradition is evidenced by correspondence with the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies, particularly that of executive director Rahil Goulding. During the 1980s this correspondence includes Goulding's "Trends and Developments" reports, which provide excellent summaries of all areas of the settlement's work in this period.

There are few records of Rahil Goulding's predecessors as executive director in the collection. In fact, documentation from the settlement's founding through the early 1950s is generally thin -- there are just a few annual reports and other items from these years.


Conditions Governing Access

Open to researchers without restriction.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright held by the Brooklyn Historical Society. Permission to publish or reproduce must be secured from the repository.

Preferred Citation

Identification of item, date (if known); Recreation Rooms and Settlement collection, ARC.088, Brooklyn Historical Society.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Rahil Goulding, Executive Director of Recreation Rooms and Settlement, 1994.

Other Finding Aids

An earlier version of this finding aid, containing more information, is available in paper form at the Othmer Library. Please consult library staff for more information.

Collection processed by

James Moske

About this Guide

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on 2023-08-21 11:20:54 +0000.
Using Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language: Finding aid written in English

Processing Information Note

The collection was processed during November and December of 1994 by James Moske and Holly MacCammon of the LaGuardia and Wagner Archives New York City Settlement House Records Survey Project, which was funded by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission. The finding aid was written by James Moske.

The collection combines the accessions 1994.014 and V1995.001.


Brooklyn Historical Society
Center for Brooklyn History
128 Pierrepont Street
Brooklyn, NY 11201