Settlements, Surveys, and Scalability

Thesis Process

The innovation that made this all possible- the social survey- was a settlement mainstay. Resident workers refined the form, methodology, analysis, and illustrative presentation of survey data and were responsible for its rise in popularity in the U.S. As the social survey tactic demonstrated its effectiveness, the didactic and advertisement value of exhibiting to the general public spurred the spread of the exhibition impulse. Organizations realized that they could go beyond Chautauqua-style lectures with the exhibition and interpretation of artwork, historic artefacts, and [infographics]. (Garland 607; Gilchrist and Jeffs, eds. 179). It is easy to trace this rise of scientific data collection and subsequent exhibition through the four World’s Fairs held between 1893 and 1904. Prominently introduced to the U.S. during the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, the size and quality of exhibitions addressing issues in “social economy” increased steadily through the 1897 Exposition Internationale in Brussels (Prina 268), the 1900 Exposition Universelle in Paris, and the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis, Missouri until they had “trebled in quantity and extensiveness… and told a most complete story.” (Francis, Universal Exposition of 1904, 333). Speculated one observers, Perhaps the advancement most marked by the exhibits at St Louis as compared with the co-ordinate displays of 1893 was in the evidences of attention now being paid by the government and the American people as well as other nations of the world to economic questions, conditions of industry and labor, civic improvement, public health, and kindred subjects. (Francis, Universal Exposition of 1904, 331)

This was true, but it was largely an effect of the accumulation of work done at a local level, often by women’s groups. Purveyors of practical philanthropy, and especially settlement residents, embedded themselves within neighborhood institutions, so early studies “were largely engaged with the meaning and methods of the people’s self-supported and self-managed collective undertakings.” (Woods and Kennedy, Settlement Horizon, 69). To make sense of a neighborhood’s “disorder,” “Graphic exhibits showing distribution of nationality, income, and institutions were prepared as a means of visualizing local problems and recording progress.” (Woods and Kennedy, Settlement Horizon, 68) Although the workers themselves became intimately familiar with the details of social issues in specific areas, they recognized that to capture public attention, they must interpret this information to the public in a sympathetic way. Thus, for example, the Philadelphia chapter of the College Settlements Association carried the work of the Consumer’s League of Pennsylvania- primarily studies of wage and work conditions- into the public eye by constructing a map of local sweatshops to be exhibited “to secure such public sentiment concerning sweated work in this community, that better regulation of a now unrestricted evil will be inevitable” at the traveling Tuberculosis Exhibition of 1906, which attracted 58,518 visitors in its Philadelphia stop alone (Consumers League 8th annual report 8-15; H.R.M. Landis, “The Tuberculosis Exhibition in Philadelphia,” Charities and the Commons v. 15 no.21 [February 24, 1906] 726-727).

The first blockbuster social exhibition is generally attributed to Lawrence Veiller, a housing reformer who had been a resident at University Settlement as early as 1893 and who volunteered with the Charity Organization Society in New York City. The Tenement House Exhibition of 1900 [which would travel to ? cities] “drew on the accumulated experience of a number of settlement houses” including that of Hull House and Boston’s South End House, and its resulting tenement commission and later municipal department were overwhelmingly staffed by workers with settlement training (Davis, Spearheads, 68; Woods and Kennedy, Settlement Horizon, 239). Veiller, who had also worked in the Buildings Department of the City of New York, aimed for more than simply arousal of public education: he believed in legislative reform such as housing codes and building restrictions (Davis, Spearheads, 68). The Exhibition worked and attracted the attention of New York Governor Theodore Roosevelt (Davis, Spearheads, 69). The involvement in the committee of Robert W. de Forest of the Metropolitan Museum of Art established a key link between social reform and the responsibilities of cultural institutions (Trask 64-65).

De Forest’s aims were closely tied to the idea of civic housekeeping as a means to city planning and social engineering rather than the health and sustainment of individual communities, but there is no question that his amplification of the methods and means of settlement social surveys was beneficial publicity. In his address at the opening of the 1911 Child Welfare Exhibit, he further cemented the New York museum establishment’s role in the pursuit of social reform by linking culture to civics: “Knowledge and appreciation of art is by no means all that our Museum teaches the child. It illuminates history. It inspires patriotism. It gives a vital living form to what would otherwise be dry book learning” (Child Welfare Exhibit, Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, 61). His involvement with the opening of the decorative arts-heavy American Wing reveals his grander agenda: he dreamt of elevating American art to the status of that of the Old World.

The Exhibit was a triumph of cooperation between New York City’s many cultural and educational institutions, and a unity of purpose between social workers, civic reformers, social researchers, and public officials; like other social exhibitions, it was “a model for bringing together experts from various fields to efficiently educate the public” (Trask 80; Trask 56). De Forest and Veiller’s ability to transcend various numerous communties, male and female, public and private, made this kind of very large scale of cooperation possible. The idea of scalability of the research-survey-exhibit model was irresistable, especially to (primarily male) academics, politicians, and municipal officials. It gave greater-than-ever impetus to the professionalization of social reform work, including standardization of method and codification of ideals of theory and practice. Carol Aronovici’s 1916 The Social Survey set out reasons, methods, and guidelines for the work (Aronivici 194-196). By 1919, Bryn Mawr’s training program for social workers included a track for work in settlement houses and neighborhood centers that trained for creation of exhibits, among other things. (Bryn Mawr).