This post is contributed by Karen Cohen, Senior Program Director for University Settlement’s Early Childhood Center.
At the turn of the century, the Lower East Side was flooded with new immigrants living in poverty, nurturing a dream, and struggling to adapt to their new country. In this overcrowded urban neighborhood, University Settlement was established in 1886 to provide advice, assistance, education or a simple respite from the harsh realities of everyday life to people of all ages.
Its distinguished alumni include George and Ira Gershwin, Abraham Beame and Jacob Javits. Over the years Eleanor Roosevelt and John D. Rockefeller, along with countless others, have leant their support. With University Settlement, the American settlement house movement was born and other settlement houses soon followed, on the Lower East Side, in Chicago and across the country.
As the original settlement house in the United States, and the second in the world, University Settlement’s history is marked by firsts, many of them designed to provide the early foundation that children need. In 1887, the Settlement housed the first kindergarten in New York City, and it launched one of the original Head Start sites nationwide in 1966. Today, University Settlement’s early childhood programs at 184 Eldridge Street are considered the gold standard for quality care in New York City, and every Spring children from all over Manhattan enroll in their programs. While you’re visiting the Lower East Side, walk by the beautiful building at 184 Eldridge Street, which was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1986.