The Hebrew numbers on the clock tower of the Jewish Community Center provide an immediate point of interest as I walk along the busy Pittsburgh street. Originally known as the Columbian School and Settlement, the Community Center was founded by the Council of Jewish Women in 1895. Like many settlement houses of the time, it included English and citizenship classes, as well as free baths and a reading room. In 1909, a new building was donated by Theresa and Henry Kaufmann in memory of their daughter, Irene (“History.”) This rectangular edifice, then known as the Irene Kaufmann Settlement, provided healthcare and educational programs to a diverse population of immigrants, including Jews and African- Americans (“Rauh Jewish Archives.”).
Settlement houses like the Irene Kaufmann Settlement provided invaluable resources to Pittsburgh’s immigrant population. The specific goals of these institutions varied, but their common goals remained similar. All settlement houses were founded to improve the quality of life of the poor and work for social reform, through providing educational, recreational, and vocational opportunities. For immigrants, especially those emigrating from Europe, language barriers often proved insurmountable. Many were refused jobs and other opportunities due to their illiteracy, keeping entire communities mired in poverty. To resolve this immense problem, organizations similar to the Irene Kaufmann Settlement taught English and civic classes, helping immigrants to improve their positions in life (“Settlement House History.”).
Another major impact the Settlement houses provided was less positive. Many immigrant families felt that their children were becoming “Americanized”, and converting to the religious beliefs held by the founders of the organizations. Because of this, specifically Jewish settlement houses, like the Irene Kaufmann Center, began to offer programs like Hebrew schools to young Jewish children, in addition to the other, more mainstream classes. Because of this, the Jewish communities in major American cities thrived for decades (“Settlement Houses.”).
1- “History.” JCC Pittsburgh RSS. Jewish Community Center, 2014. Web. 03 May 2014.
2-“Rauh Jewish Archives.” Rauh Jewish Archives. Senator John Heinz History Center, n.d. Web. 03 May 2014.
3-“Settlement House History.” – United Neighborhood Houses. United Neighborhood Houses, 2011. Web. 03 May 2014.
4- “Settlement Houses.” Settlement Houses. Jewish Virtual Library, 2008. Web. 03 May 2014.