Greenwich House Photographs
Language of Materials
In 1902, Mary Kingsbury Simkhovitch and others founded Greenwich House, a social settlement house in the Greenwich Village section of New York City. It was incorporated that year as the Cooperative Social Settlement Society of the City of New York. Greenwich House established social service and cultural programs for the largely immigrant population of Greenwich Village. The Greenwich House Photographs Collection contains a unique group of images pertaining to social welfare and the settlement movement over a period of more than seventy years. The images are strongest in documenting the programs of Greenwich House (particularly those involving children and fine and applied arts instruction, such as its Pottery School and Music School, and its nursery school and kindergarten programs, and summer camps), as well as its administrative and institutional activities. The Collection also documents many aspects of the lives of immigrants and working people in New York City: Greenwich House social events, for example, detail the complex interactions between different ethnic groups, as well as the dress and demeanor of working-class children in New York City. In addition, street vistas document the architectural history of New York City and offer information on community life in Greenwich Village.
Greenwich House was incorporated in 1902 as the Cooperative Social Settlement Society of the City of New York by Mary Kingsbury Simkhovitch with Felix Adler, R. Fulton Cutting, Eugene A. Philbin, Henry C. Potter, Jacob Riis, and Carl Schurz. Working out of a renovated tenement house at 26 Jones Street, Greenwich House's first challenges were to work to reduce the debilitating infant mortality rate in Greenwich Village, then the highest in New York City, and to ameliorate the oppressive social conditions that attended the neighborhood's population congestion. Its first director, Mary Simkhovitch, agitated for better living conditions, playgrounds, child labor laws, and sanitary measures, and implemented the Settlement's programmatic scheme to address the pressing needs of the community. Two classic studies published in the pre?World War I years, Mary Ovington's Half a Man and Louise Boland More's Wage Earner's Budget: A Study of Standards and Costs of Living in New York City, were products of Greenwich House's Social Investigation Committee. The Tenant's Manual, published in 1903, was the first of its kind to document tenement laws and tenants' rights.
Beyond its pioneering work in housing reform, Greenwich House set programmatic innovations in other areas. The Nursery School, founded in 1921, was the first and prototypical program of its kind in New York City. Simkhovitch, an ardent advocate of cultural programs, believed the arts to be essential human services. By l917, when Greenwich House relocated to 27 Barrow Street, it offered music, theatre and fine arts programs onsite and also established art classes in many local public schools. The Greenwich House Arts Committee was initiated with the support of Mrs. Payne Whitney, who later founded the Whitney Museum.
By the end of the First World War, Greenwich House had clearly expanded its role beyond that of a small social service dispensary. Integral to its growth and success were its residents, the young social workers and middle-class reformers who lived in the settlement house and who frequently worked with promising leaders developed from the client population. In addition to its cultural agenda and housing reform activities, it provided vital institutional support for government programs, a function that further solidified in the l930's when many programs of the Works Projects Administration were housed at the Settlement.
Settlement houses, and their leaders, were also key advocates for reform. Mary Simkhovitch was no exception, her efforts were central to the passage of the U.S. Housing Act of 1937, which provided for federal aid to build low-income housing. Greenwich House has been a Village fixture for more than one-hundred years. Among its many thousand anonymous beneficiaries are a number of now familiar people including actors Kirk Douglas and Rip Torn, both of whom performed on the Greenwich House stage early in their careers, boxer Gene Tunney, who worked out in the gym, and former New York City mayor Ed Koch, who studied at the Music School (whose faculty included, over the years, such distinguished artists as Edgar Varese and John Cage.) In addition, Eleanor Roosevelt, Amelia Earhart and John Dewey, who served as head of the Greenwich House Education Committee, were frequent visitors in the Settlement's early years.
Materials are arranged first by format (e.g., photographic prints, negatives, etc.); within format they are stored in individual folders that are arranged alphabetically by folder title. Folder titles include subjects, events, and names of persons and organizations; they also indicate the total number of images and dates of material contained within a folder. Where dates of images have definitely been identified, they are rendered on folders as individual years and/or as year or decade ranges, while images for which dates are completely unknown are designated as "undated." Where an image or images cannot be definitely dated, but enough information is available to make an educated guess, this is indicated on the folder and on the finding aid container list by enclosing the guessed date or dates within square brackets (e.g., [1910s-1950s] or [1954, 1960s]). Definitely dated materials are followed by guessed dates or the undated designation (e.g., 1964, [1940s-1970s] or 1928-1952, undated) on all folders. Within folders, images are physically arranged in date order, with undated material (including guessed dates) following dated material. Negatives that have matching prints are cross-referenced.
Organized into 4 series:
- I: Photographic Prints, 8 x 10" and smaller, 1902-1991.
- II: Slides, 1978, undated.
- III: Negatives, undated.
- IV: Oversized and Mounted Photographic Prints, circa 1890s-1960, undated.
Scope and Content Note
The Greenwich House Photographs Collection consists of ca. 4,750 black and white photographs; ca. 1,950 black and white negatives and 119 slides. It contains a unique group of images pertaining to social welfare and the settlement movement over a period of more than seventy years. The dates covered are 1902 - 1986; the bulk of the photographs were taken prior to 1970. They are strongest in documenting the programs of Greenwich House (particularly those involving children and fine and applied arts instruction, such as its Pottery School, and its Music School, and its summer camps, Camps Herbert Parsons and Wanamaker), as well as its administrative and institutional activities. They are also valuable in documenting many aspects of the lives of immigrants and working people in New York City: Greenwich House social events, for example, detail the complex interactions between different ethnic groups, and images of street vistas in New York City offer information on community life in Greenwich Village. The numerous images of children also yield information on dress and demeanor of working class children in New York City through time. The Collection may also be of interest to students of the history of photography, as it contains numerous images by noted photographers Jessie Tarbox Beals and Alfred Tennyson Beals. Images of famous Greenwich House alumni and celebrity visitors to Greenwich House are scattered throughout the collection, but are concentrated in the "Events" folders, as well as in the "Simkovich" and "Portraits, A-Z" folders. Because reproduction is restricted for a small number of the images in the Collection (due to privacy or copyright concerns), researchers should who want to publish an image (or images) from the Collection should consult archives staff to determine its copyright status.
Conditions Governing Access
Materials are open without restrictions.
Conditions Governing Use
Any rights (including copyright and related rights to publicity and privacy) held by the Greenwich House were transferred to New York University in 1986 by Anita Kurman Gulkin. Permission to publish or reproduce materials in this collection must be secured from Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Published citations should take the following form:
Identification of item, date; Collection name; Collection number; box number; folder number;
Tamiment Library/Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives
Elmer Holmes Bobst Library
70 Washington Square South
New York, NY 10012, New York University Libraries.
Immediate Source of Acquisition
Greenwich House donated a collection of their photographs to Tamiment Library in 1986. The accession number associated with this gift is 1986.002. The University Archives transferred photographs of Greenwich House to Tamiment in 1996, the accession number associated with this gift is NPA.1996.011. Additional photographs were donated to Tamiment after the initial accession, the accession numbers associated with these gifts are NPA.2000.284, NPA.2001.004, and NPA.2004.073.