125 Years of Empowering East Harlem 125 Years of Empowering East Harlem

Watch Our Story

Explore Our History

Select Year
  1. 1895
  2. 1904
  3. 1913
  4. 1917
  5. 1930
  6. 1932
  7. 1937
  8. 1943
  9. 1955
  10. 1957
  11. 1960
  12. 1965
  13. 1979
  14. 1982
  15. 1992
  16. 1992
  17. 1995
  18. 2000
  19. 2007
  20. 2011
  21. 2012
  22. 2014
  23. 2017
  24. 2020
  • Union Settlement is Founded

    We were created by alumni, faculty and students of Union Theological Seminary in response to the desperate conditions of immigrants struggling to make a new life in America. East Harlem was a natural site for the Settlement, as it had a growing immigrant population and lacked any type of civic center. Our first home was at 202 East 96th Street. Within months we moved to 237 East 104th Street, where our main building is to this day. Within one year of opening, we were serving 2,000 community residents.

  • More People and Programs

    Union Settlement serves more than 3,000 people each week. Programs include: Kindergarten, Library, Girls’ Clubs, Cooking Classes, Boys’ Clubs, Literary and Dramatic Club, Workingmen’s Club, Mothers’ Meetings, Helping Club, Coal Club, Music Classes, Penny Provident Bank, Sunshine Club, Sewing School, Classes in Physical Culture, Acorn Club, Young Ladies’ Union Club, Pleasure Club, Junior Athletic Club, Mandolin Club, Glee Club, playgrounds and parks.

  • Music School Founded

    The Union Settlement Music School begins its work on October 15, 1913. In the beginning, classes included strings, piano, theory and choral studies. The Director is Janet Schenck, née Daniels. She wrote, "It might interest some of those who wonder how the 'East Side' can appreciate real music to see an audience of about 300 sit through one of our student concerts and understanding perfectly the message sent them through Beethoven and Bach and Mozart." Ms. Schenck's music school would eventually grow and split off from Union Settlement forming the prestigious Manhattan School of Music, still in existence today.

  • Getting Outdoors

    Union Settlement establishes campgrounds in Palisades Interstate Park. Surrounded by lakes and woods, the camps provide important growth experiences to tens of thousands of youngsters from 1917 to the 1960s.

  • The Depression Hits East Harlem

    Jobs are created to upgrade Union Settlement’s building. Food is purchased wholesale by Union Settlement to sell cheaply. Fuel is given out at Police Stations. Union Settlement creates an Emergency Relief Fund. Seventy-five percent of the East Harlem community is on relief.

  • Family Planning Clinic Established

    Union Settlement's clinic offers pre-natal and pre-school care. Additionally, The New York Committee of the American Birth Control League opens a Birth Control Clinic at Union Settlement. The clinic is one of the first in the city and in East Harlem.

  • Grocery Cooperative Opens

    Union Settlement opens a Cooperative Grocery, in league with the Consumer Cooperative Society, and the Farmer-Consumer Milk Cooperative, which remains open until 1960. It offers wholesale groceries at "rock bottom" prices.

  • Day Care Opens

    Union Settlement opens School-Age Day Care for children of working mothers.

  • Washington Houses Center Open

    A Community Center and a Day Care Program open at Washington Houses, a large public housing project in East Harlem. Then and now, Washington Houses Community Center houses our Youth Services program.

  • Credit Union Opens

    Union Settlement Federal Credit Union opens its doors for business. The credit union, a financial cooperative, is East Harlem’s first alternative banking system. Members pool their assets and lend money to each other at low interest rates.

  • Conversion of Franklin Plaza

    Union Settlement is a joint sponsor in converting Benjamin Franklin Houses to Franklin Plaza, a middle-income cooperative located on 106th Street through 109th Street between First and Third Avenues. The goals are to bring an ethnic and economic mix into the neighborhood and provide commercial space.

  • Head Start

    Union Settlement becomes the site of one of the country’s first Head Start Programs, the federally sponsored preschool initiative launched as one of the Great Society undertakings.

  • Home Care

    Union Settlement Home Care, funded by a city government contract, provides home attendants for homebound elderly people. The program operated through 2014.

  • Mental Health Program Established

    Union Settlement assumes responsibility for both James Weldon Johnson Counseling Center, which still operates today under our Mental Health Services program, and the East Harlem Council for Senior Centers, which is now part of our Senior Services program.

  • Community Garden Opens

    Union Settlement opens the community garden El Sitio Feliz (“The Happy Place”) on East 104th Street. El Sitio Feliz is the site of free concerts and activities.

  • East Harlem HIV Care Network

    Union Settlement is selected to serve as the lead agency of the East Harlem HIV Care Network, a coalition of over 100 social and health service agencies that assists individuals with HIV and AIDS.

  • Centennial

    Union Settlement celebrates its Centennial Anniversary. The Museum of the City of New York presents an exhibition featuring photographs, publications and memorabilia from Union Settlement past and present.

  • Asthma Monitoring

    In partnership with the New York Academy of Medicine, Union Settlement develops a preschool-based pediatric asthma monitoring and intervention program that becomes the model for all child care providers in New York City.

  • Disconnected Youth and Young Fathers

    Union Settlement Youth Services launches programs for disconnected youth and young fathers; both programs serve as models for other New York City social service providers.

  • Union Settlement Way is Named

    New York City honored Union Settlement and recognized its 116 years of service to the East Harlem community by adopting legislation officially renaming East 104th Street between Second and Third Avenues “Union Settlement Way.” The new street sign was unveiled on September 27th, which Mayor Bloomberg proclaimed as “Union Settlement Day” in New York City.

  • East Harlem Community Alliance Established

    Union Settlement spearheads the creation of the East Harlem Community Alliance, a consortium of local businesses, non-profits, religious and governmental entities working together to enhance the vitality and well-being of East Harlem. The Alliance currently has over 200 members, and focuses on issues such as encouraging local purchasing, reducing local unemployment, connecting residents to needed services, and promoting East Harlem as a destination to visit, work, shop and live.

  • Union Settlement Business Development Center Established

    The Union Settlement Business Development Center is established. The center assists local small businesses, as well as entrepreneurs looking to start their own businesses. The center offers business education, technology training, access to capital and technical assistance, thereby helping local small businesses expand and thrive.

  • East Harlem Youth Opportunity Hub Established

    With the support of funding provided by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, Union Settlement launches the East Harlem Youth Opportunity Hub. The Youth Opportunity Hub is a network of more than 25 community organizations working together to support the development of youth ages 10 to 24 residing in East Harlem, and help prevent involvement in the criminal justice system. The Hub serves 500 young people every year, and provides a broad array of holistic, wraparound services that address their academic, social, personal, familial, recreational and vocational needs.

  • Celebrating 125 Years

    Union Settlement celebrates 125 years of empowering the East Harlem community. Special events are planned in and outside of the community. The 125th Anniversary Endowment Campaign is created. This endowment will ensure that Union Settlement has the resources needed to continue to provide vital education, wellness and community-building programs to the thousands of East Harlem residents who need them. With this campaign, we prepare for another 125 outstanding years of empowering East Harlem and inspiring its residents from all walks of life.

Hear From Those We Help

  • Nancy

    "I found Union Settlement and it gave me a new life."

    When Nancy came to Union Settlement’s Johnson Counseling Center, she needed help—and quickly.

    Nancy’s life had not been easy. As a child she suffered verbal abuse from her mother and became addicted to heroin at a young age. She was later arrested and incarcerated at Riker’s Island for a very long time awaiting trial.

    After her release from prison, Nancy began working with others to change the criminal justice system. She even appeared at an event in Central Park with Kerry Kennedy and Coldplay’s Chris Martin. “I am an advocate now and I am trying to help the other ‘Nancys’ out there, but I could not be where I am today without the help of Union Settlement,” she says.

    “I was in a very dark place,” says Nancy, “I had been to many other therapists to help me deal with depression and none of them helped me."
    NextRight Arrow Right Arrow Person
  • “I would not be where I am today without the help of Union Settlement."

    Oscar was one of 572 high school students we served last year through our College Readiness Program.

    Oscar and his sister were raised by their single dad who had immigrated to the United States from the Dominican Republic. “I watched him go to work in the morning, come home with his back slouched and tired, dropping onto his bed. He struggled every day with the sole purpose to give me a successful life,” says Oscar.

    Danese Forbes, his Union Settlement counselor, helped Oscar find an answer. “She helped me focus on the right colleges, she helped me with my essays and applications, and she always had my best interests at heart.

    Now a freshman at NYU and studying to be a neuroscientist, Oscar is grateful to Ms. Forbes and Union Settlement.

    “I cannot describe what an impact Union Settlement's College Readiness counselor had on my life,” says Oscar. “She inspired me with a purpose and never took ‘no’ for an answer.”
    NextRight Arrow Right Arrow Person
  • “Thanks to Union Settlement, I feel so much happier and healthier now.”

    May faced isolation and loneliness at home - a Union Settlement Senior Center nearby changed everything.

    After working for 30 years, May was told by her doctor that she had to retire. With no family, she was suddenly lonely and isolated.  Luckily, she found a Union Settlement Senior Center and her life was changed for the better. She now volunteers in the office three times a week, recruits new members, books trips for seniors, works at the reception desk and provides reassurance to homebound seniors. May says, “Whenever I see a senior sitting outside, I got to them and ask them to come inside. I love people. I love to help.”

    "I was 60 years old when my doctor told me I had to retire. I felt very alone I didn't like to just sit around all day."
    NextRight Arrow Right Arrow Person
125th Anniversary Endowment Campaign image showing photos from our history 125th Anniversary Endowment Campaign image showing photos from our history

In recognition of our 125th anniversary, we are launching our first-ever endowment campaign. If you’d like to help ensure that Union Settlement will be here for another 125 years, please join the ranks of those who have already donated.

125th Signature Events