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B-27; M-141

Denison House. Records of Denison House, 1890-1984: A Finding Aid

Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America


Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University
Cambridge, Mass.
August 1995

© 1995 President and Fellows of Harvard College

Descriptive Summary

Call No.: B-27; M-141
Repository: Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute
Creator: Denison House
Title: Records of Denison House, 1890-1984
Quantity: 2.96 linear feet (2 cartons, 1 folio box) plus 1 folio folder, 2 folio+ boxes, 4 folio+ folders, 3 oversize folders, 124 slides, 10 photograph folders, 5 folio photograph folders
Abstract: Minutes, reports, photographs, etc., of Denison House in Boston, Massachusetts, the third college settlement in the United States.

Processing Information:

Reprocessed: August 1995
By: Bert Hartry

Acquisition Information:

Accession numbers: 738, 1403 75-241, 80-M149, 80-M175, 95-M48
The records of Denison House in Boston, Massachusetts, were given to the Schlesinger Library by the Denison House Board of Trustees in 1964, by John Rupp in 1968, by John Ryskamp in 1975, by Park Dougherty in 1980, and by Federated Dorchester Neighborhood Houses, Inc., via University of Massachusetts, Boston, in 1995. The microfilming of the collection was funded by the Friends of the Schlesinger Library.


Access. Originals are closed; use microfilm M-141.

Use Restrictions:

Copyright. Copyright in the papers created by Denison House is held by the President and Fellows of Harvard College for the Schlesinger Library. Extensive quotations may be made only with the prior written permission of the Executive Director of the Federated Dorchester Neighborhood Houses. Copyright in other papers in the collection may be held by their authors, or the authors' heirs or assigns.
Copying. Papers may be copied in accordance with the library's usual procedures.

Preferred citation for publication:

Denison House Records, 1890-1984; item description, dates. B-27, folder #. Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.


Denison House, the third college settlement in the United States, was founded in 1892 by a small group of college-educated women who were "distressed" and "made restless" by "a sense of privileges unshared," and who looked forward to "a time when there should be no barriers between workers of any kind and the so-called 'leisure class.'" Their ideal was not philanthropy but democracy, which they defined as "a free flowing life between group and group."
Residents and members of the Executive Committee, Emily Greene Balch (a Wellesley College professor who later won the Nobel Peace Prize), Helen Cheever, and Vida Scudder, and other residents and day workers of Denison House in 1892 and 1893 kept a communal diary in which they recorded their daily conversations with each other, the parish priest, and with the people they referred to as their neighbors. Throughout the early years a strong connection with Wellesley College continued. In 1893 Helena Dudley became the headworker, and for the next fifteen years a more business-like day book was kept of the expanding activities. The settlement, originally located at 93 Tyler Street in the Old South Cove area of Boston, grew rapidly and four neighboring buildings were purchased.
Under the leadership (1893-1912) of Helena Dudley, and of subsequent headworkers, Denison House provided the neighborhood with various activities and facilities: sports for girls and boys; numerous clubs; classes in basketweaving, English literature, home nursing, dancing, Dante, and Shakespeare; and a library, a gymnasium, and a clinic. In addition, during periods of strife and emergency, Denison House joined with other settlements in providing relief programs, such as a milk station and coal distribution.
Located in a neighborhood of many nationalities, principally Italians, Syrians, and Greeks, the settlement worked closely with its immigrant neighbors. Most notable was the Circolo Italo-Americano, which, under the direction of Vida Scudder, held a festival each May and an exhibition of Italian arts and crafts each December. During the summer there were day excursions, a vacation school, and Camp Denison. Members of the Social Science Club, 1893-1900, discussed socialism and the history and ethics of trade unions. The Federal Labor Union, Local 5915, held monthly meetings at the settlement.
For nearly two years, starting in October 1926, Amelia Earhart was a social worker and resident at Denison House. She worked with children and adults as a teacher and home visitor, and devoted her weekends to flying, once dropping leaflets over Boston to advertise a Denison House benefit. In 1928, before the transatlantic flight that made her famous, "...Earhart carefully cleared her plans with headworker Marion Perkins (also swearing her to secrecy) ... and assured Perkins, 'I'll be back for summer school.'" (Susan Ware, Still Missing: Amelia Earhart and the Search for Modern Feminism. New York: W.W. Norton, 1993, page 42)
In 1941, as a result of neighborhood studies by Denison House and the Boston Council of Social Agencies, the decision was made to move Denison House to the Dorchester-Roxbury area. The move took place in 1942. For six years the office and the various programs were not centralized under one roof but made use of several local buildings. In 1949 Denison House moved into permanent quarters in the renovated Howard Avenue School. In 1965 Denison House and three other settlements merged to form Federated Dorchester Neighborhood Houses. Each house retained its own director and program staff, with Federated Dorchester Neighborhood Houses responsible for program coordination, fund raising, and fiscal management. In 1975, after a fire destroyed the Howard Avenue building, Denison House moved to Codman Square, Uphams Corner, where it still operates today as part of Federated Dorchester Neighborhood Houses.


The collection is arranged in three series:


These records document the settlement movement in the United States, the history and philosophy of Denison House, the women who started it, the people who worked there and those who took advantage of its services, its administration, and particularly its many neighborhood and summer programs.
Series I, History (#1-14), consists of the reminiscences of Vida Scudder, a paper on the "purposes" of Denison House, a radio talk (1945) by Edward Hudson (headworker), a 1980 slide show, and seven disassembled scrapbooks, containing mostly clippings.
Series II, Administration (#15-56o), includes five sections in the following order: Board of Directors and Executive Committee minutes and reports, annual meeting documents, miscellaneous committee reports, some financial records, and material issued by related social and government agencies. Each section is arranged in chronological order.
Series III, Program (#57-115), documents Denison House activities and services. It consists of reports: by the College Settlement Association, by the headworker, by resident workers, and committee members, re: daily activities, attendance, and facilities; a disassembled Circolo Italo-Americano scrapbook; two disassembled albums, as well as reports, and photographs, about summer programs, other activities, and buildings; six disassembled scrapbooks of mostly printed material (reports, pamphlets, tickets, office forms, newsletters, clippings, etc.), and some carbon copies of correspondence and reports; and two disassembled photograph albums. Each segment is arranged chronologically.
Documents such as Board of Directors minutes, reports by individuals and committees, meeting notices, etc. were preserved by Denison House both by category and pasted in scrapbooks with other items, more or less chronologically. Researchers are advised to pay close attention to the descriptions in the inventory.
The photographs in this collection were numbered previously. In order to retain as many of the existing numbers as possible, the processor tried to maintain the existing order of the photographs within file units. These numbers appear next to or on the reverse side of photographs and are for the use of Schlesinger Library staff. Additional information about these photographs can be found in a database at the Schlesinger Library.
This collection was reprocessed in order to integrate four new accessions and to prepare it for microfilming. Most clippings were disposed of after filming.
As noted above, some scrapbooks, volumes, and binders were disassembled (page order was maintained) and all were placed in folders for preservation purposes; all have new file unit numbers. Because these records have been heavily used and frequently cited, the processor has compiled the following lists matching up the previous file unit numbers with the current numbers. The lists includes similar information for the photographs previously filed in #41-41e.


PHOTOGRAPHS from #41-41e

Additional catalog entries

The following catalog entries represent persons, organizations, and topics documented in this collection. An entry for each appears in the Harvard On Line Library Information System (HOLLIS) and other automated bibliographic databases. THIS IS NOT AN INDEX.
Addams, Jane, 1860-1935
Adult education--Massachusetts--Boston
Amateur theater
Annual reports
Asian Americans--Sports--Massachusetts--Boston
Athletic clubs--Massachusetts--Boston
Balch, Emily Greene, 1867-1961
Boston Council of Social Agencies
Boston (Mass.)--Social conditions
Cheever, Helen
College Settlement Association
Community centers--Massachusetts--Boston
Dougherty, Park
Dudley, Helena Stuart, 1858-1932
Earhart, Amelia, 1897-1937
Ethnic neighborhoods--Massachusetts--Boston
Federated Dorchester Neighborhood Houses, Inc.
Handicraft--Study and teaching--Massachusetts--Boston
Home economics--Study and teaching--Massachusetts--Boston
Hudson, Edward W.
Italian Americans--Massachusetts--Boston--Societies, etc.
Labor unions--United States
Massachusetts Association of Women Workers
Prince, Lucinda Wyman, 1862-1935
Scudder, Vida Dutton, 1861-1954
Social settlements--Massachusetts--Boston
Social work with immigrants--Massachusetts--Boston
Social workers--Massachusetts--Boston
Sports for women--Massachusetts--Boston.
Taylor, Graham, 1851-1938
Teenagers--Massachusetts--Boston--Societies and clubs
Vocational education--Massachusetts--Boston
Wellesley College--Faculty
Women athletes--Massachusetts--Boston
Women social workers--Massachusetts--Boston
Women labor union members--Massachusetts--Boston
Women volunteers in social service--Massachusetts--Boston


All dates and other information added by the processor are in square brackets.
The pages of scrapbooks, and some other items, were numbered to aid the microfilmer, the proofreader, and researchers. Blank pages were not numbered by the processor.
Pages numbered by Denison House and then left blank were filmed.
Some of the material, particularly in the scrapbooks, was difficult to film, due to such problems as faint pencil notations, faded ink captions, creased and brittle newsprint, and multiple-paged, folded, and overlapping items.
It was impossible to film the last page of some multiple-paged items (pamphlets, brochures), because they were glued to scrapbook pages.
The microfilmers used large arrows to indicate: where they refilmed items to ensure legibility, when multiple-paged, overlapping, or folded items were opened and refilmed.
When filming pages with overlapping material the filmer sometimes masked out all items except the one being filmed.
Due to brittle newsprint and scrapbook pages many clippings are incomplete and some original page numbers have broken off.
Photograph albums: due to brittle album pages some captions are missing; some photographs are also missing.
Dried adhesive caused items to fall off pages; loose papers were found between pages and at the end of scrapbooks. These items were filmed where found.
The film was proofread by the Schlesinger Library and corrections made where necessary. These corrections may disrupt the sequence of frame numbers.
Copies of this microfilm (M-141) may be borrowed on interlibrary loan from the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University, 10 Garden Street, Cambridge, MA 02138.
  • B-27, folder numbers: 1-9, M-141, reel number 1
  • B-27, folder numbers: 10-21, M-141, reel number 2
  • B-27, folder numbers: 22-56o, M-141, reel number 3
  • B-27, folder numbers: 57-76, M-141, reel number 4
  • B-27, folder numbers: 77-100, M-141, reel number 5
  • B-27, folder numbers: 101f+-115, M-141, reel number 6