It's been 125 years since Lillian Wald, daughter of prosperous German Jewish immigrants and a nurse, opened what became the famous Henry Street Settlement on New York's Lower East Side. To celebrate, the settlement, which now consists of buildings on Henry Street and neighborhood social service centers, developed a digital and onsite exhibition. Snyder-Grenier, who curated the exhibitions, has written an impressive history of the institution, through the twentieth century and beyond. Since the 1960s, when challenges to top-down reform projects helped propel grassroots mobilizations, scholars have often dismissed the settlement movement as elites ministering to the poor. Snyder-Grenier contributes to what is now a large body of revisionist scholarship that, while acknowledging the limitations of twentieth-century middle-class reforms, also appreciates those committed to social change.

The American settlement house movement, an initiative borrowed from England, reflected middle-class reformers’ commitment to truly engage with poor people rather than simply ministering...

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