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Green, Shannon L.

"Sing and You'll Be Good": Music at Hull-House and other Social Settlement Houses

Ph.D. University of Wisconsin-Madison, expected 1997
(slgreen@students.wisc.edu)

My dissertation will document the history of musical activities at Settlement Houses in the United States, with special focus on The Hull-House Music School 1892-1940. Located in urban tenement neighborhoods, the social workers who operated Settlement Houses wanted to help ease the burden of the impoverished life for neighborhood residents by offering affordable educational, social, and musical activities.

Many Settlements and Settlement music programs were founded and operated by women, in part because they provided a safe and socially acceptable outlet for women to work in public. Eleanor Smith was Director of the first American Settlement music program at Jane Addams' Hull-House in 1892. Hull-House's program subsequently played an important role in the Midwest by teaching a new generation of performers, teachers, and audience members.

Steeped in the "middle-class values" of their upbringing, Settlement workers identified "good" music as the key to improving the lives of the neighborhood inhabitants. In addition, many Settlement musicians believed that music would cure behavioral problems in children and counter the deleterious effects of the local neighborhoods. One example is that of a Hull-House Music School teacher who directed a boys' choir aimed at preventing juvenile delinquency; her motto was "sing and you'll be good." Settlement workers fervently believed that music had the unique power to enhance the lives of those around them and to transform them into citizens less inclined to commit crimes and more likely to become hard workers.

The importance of Settlement music programs in the development of American music cannot be overestimated. As forerunners of public school programs, these musical activities fostered interest among a population normally excluded from music, and brought the enjoyment of music into the mainstream of American life.