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Little House : Records 1906-1987 (Bulk, 1922-1978)


16 file boxes, 1 half file box, 1 oversize box


These Little House records were donated to the Healey Library's Archives and Special Collections Department at the University of Massachusetts Boston by Federated Dorchester Neighborhood Houses in February 1995.


In October 1906, a group of women calling themselves the South Boston Committee founded an institution to provide educational programs (cobbling, cooking and sewing) in the neighborhood. The next spring, members of the committee leased a building at 73 A Street, which the children dubbed "Little House." The 1918 version of its constitution states that "the object of 'The Little House' is to define and interpret through its work the spirit of true democracy and genuine neighborliness, and to promote good citizenship." Little House was incorporated by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts on January 6, 1919.

Whether or not these women were inspired by the burgeoning Settlement House Movement (Jane Addams's Hull House being one of the most famous in the U.S.), by 1910 the house's workers and families were wholly engaged in the movement's ideals and activities. As demand grew, Little House offered more classes and clubs, for adults as well as children. By 1918, Little House offered many of the trademark programs of a settlement house: recreation, garden plots and summer outings for children, a kindergarten, a baby clinic, classes in a variety of skills in the home and trades. It also distributed health and other information, helped people (especially new immigrants) navigate through local and state agencies and charities, worked to procure a safe playground, and saw Americanization as an important project. In the early 1920s, LH worked with other agencies to establish a health clinic in the neighborhood.

As the word "settlement" implies, the ideal was that settlement workers live in the house. The house, however, was too little, so in 1924 or 1925 Head Worker (Mrs.) Beata Cleary and Recreation Leader (Miss) Ruth Miller moved into an apartment nearby. By the late 30s Little House was raising funds to send children to summer camp, and by 1937 there was a nursery school. In 1940, the head worker stated (to United Settlements) that Little House's main purpose was: "to do everything possible for the improvement of conditions in South Boston; to give to the people a friendly-neighbor service; and to offer cultural opportunities. The Little House aims always to be a Good Neighbor."

Long after hiring its first paid headworker in 1912, LH was heavily dependent upon volunteers. Students from local universities, many of whom were enrolled in social work programs, and neighborhood people taught classes and ran programs. As with other settlement houses, LH's workers (paid and unpaid) were predominantly women up through the mid-1940s. Little House was under the continuous leadership of women until Ruth Miller retired in 1964, after forty years at LH, seventeen as head worker.

After 1922, as professional social workers, LH workers kept statistics about the numbers of people involved in the house, and they observed members' ethnicity and race. In South Boston, Little House served people in a mile to a mile and a half radius of the house. In 1918, there were 300 members of the house. In 1937, 2,700 people took advantage of the summer programs, and 671 participated the rest of the year. In 1930, "neighbors" included Polish, Lithuanian, Irish, Italian, Jewish, American, and Albanian people. Little House workers took pride in the mix of ethnicities and, beginning in the mid-1950s, pride in cooperation between whites and African Americans (although it was not until later that many African Americans were involved in the house). The head worker often noted that bringing people "of all sorts and conditions" together facilitated understanding instead of the animosity that, she reported, usually occurred between groups.

Little House's recreational and educational programs, as well as its work in community organization continued to grow into the late 1930s. In 1942, the Boston Housing Authority ordered a number of residents near LH to move so it could build a defense workers housing project. Within a few years, more people were moving away due to "improper housing." In 1945, Little House attendance dropped 20% and the house decided to move to a part of Dorchester, another section of Boston, without recreation or other services and where many of their former members had moved. In March 1948, Little House moved to the former Channing Unitarian Church building at 275 East Cottage Street in North Dorchester.

In the mid-1940s through the early 1960s, Little House's main function may have changed slightly. There continued to be many clubs that suited all sorts of interests and age groups, and classes in arts and crafts, dramatics, etc. But recreation appears to have replaced community social work as the overriding activity. The number of athletic competitions, dances, and parties increased. There is less evidence than in previous years of public social welfare agencies relying on Little House. Teen programs emphasized personal grooming and gender protocols. In the late 1950s, Head Worker Miller urged the Board of Directors to hire a worker who would do community organization and to otherwise have LH become more involved in advocacy. Miller herself became more active in settlement organizations. Although Little House itself was not able to hire an "out" or "direct" worker, Miller helped organize the Columbia Civic Association, which began in 1960 and was concerned with issues of housing, development, senior citizens, crime and safety (for information about its successor, the Columbia-Savin Hill Civic Association, see Collection: 30).

By 1960, there were signs of social change. The girls' worker noted "shorts are shorter, bleached hair is more fantastic in its color, alcohol is spoke of as more and more a commonplace and ardor is displayed with almost a ferocity." She ruminated about delinquency and wondered what the children in the summer program would be like in 1965 or 1970: would they be "using a profanity so long familiar they think of it as basic English? Will they be drinking at fourteen? Or having babies?" Records from the 1960s are sparse, but it is likely that, as in the past, Little House responded to changes in social mores and community problems by providing educational and recreational programs for children, teens, and adults that helped people cope with changes and solve problems.

From its inception, Little House cooperated with other settlement houses, both locally and nationally, informally and formally. By 1937, it was a member of the Community Federation of Boston. In 1944, it joined the National Federation of Settlements (later National Federation of Settlements and Neighborhood Centers). By 1945 it was a Red Feather Service. Little House was also a member of United Settlements and United Community Services of Metropolitan Boston (UCS). Some of these organizations, such as UCS, served as a conduit for funds.

In 1949, Denison House, Dorchester House, and Little House, all in Dorchester, held what was perhaps the first and certainly not the last discussion about how they might share resources and provide better services. In the late 1950s, through the Dorchester Inter-Agency Council and other forums, the houses discussed common problems. In the early 1960s, the United Way and UCS proposed that the three Dorchester houses and the Columbia Point Youth Center merge. The four agencies loosely united as Federated Dorchester Neighborhood Houses (FDNH) in 1965. As a result, LH's Board of Directors was dissolved, and replaced by a House Council, appointed by FDNH's board. FDNH's board assumed legal and fiscal responsibility for the house.

Little House kept a fair amount of autonomy, however, and had its own director, staff, and programs. In the early 1970s, the house began a number of new services, several of which LH had provided in its early years. As in the past, people from the community helped develop many of these new programs. Community residents who saw a need for affordable day care that would enable parents to work initiated planning for a child care center. The Ruth Darling Day Care Center was founded in November 1972 and later moved to 37 Stoughton Street. Recognizing that the neighborhood had few doctors, and even fewer who would treat poor people, residents formed a LH Health Committee, which led to the founding of the Little House Health Center at 985 Dorchester Avenue in June 1973. At first the center was jointly sponsored by LH, FDNH, and several area hospitals. In 1979, the health center was renovated and expanded to 990 Dorchester Ave.

In the mid-1970s, Little House offered the following: the day care center, a nursery for retarded children, a Head Start program, and activities for "tiny tots"; clubs, classes, and recreation for children, teens and adults; tutoring; a lounge and special social and other activities for teens; a number of community committees focused on the house, the neighborhood, and social issues; home visits, and referral and other services for senior citizens; a drug program for youth and parents; and mental health programs including family and group therapy. For a number of years, the house also ran an alternative school for "juvenile offenders," and a cooperative babysitting program. Funding for a number of these services came from the state and federal government, for example the departments of Youth Services and Public Welfare. Leisure-time and recreational activities were funded through private sources. In the 70s, Little House had an affiliation with the Tufts New England Medical Center, the Department of Youth Services, the Inner City Drug Program, the Teen Center Alliance, and the Dorchester Inter-Agency Council. In 1981, Little House expanded its facility.

As throughout its history, Little House continues to serve its neighborhood by encouraging neighbors to be involved in its governance and activities and offering programs that meet area residents' needs.

For additional background on Little House, see the "The Little House, 1906-1981, 75th Anniversary" booklet (#VI.26), and the histories in #VI.6, VI.18, and VII.19. The Federated Dorchester Neighborhood Houses records (Collection: 79) and the Dorchester House records (Collection: 32) are also available in the archives. The records of Denison House are at the Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, Radcliffe College.

Scope and Content

The records of Little House span the years 1913-1987 and are arranged in 9 series:

    I. By-laws and annual reports, 1917-1975
    II. Board of Directors, House Council, 1919-1978
    III. Administrative, 1914-1981
    IV. Financial, 1938-1978
    V. Programs, 1913-1980
    VI. Celebrations, events, histories, publicity, 1914-1987
    VII. Photographs, 1906?-1981
    VIII. Federated Dorchester Neighborhood Houses, 1964-1985
    IX. Other settlement houses, settlement movement, 1916-1978

The records document the history of a settlement house, particularly between 1922 and 1962, and its evolution into a neighborhood center. There is evidence of Little House's funding sources, what programs it offered, its philosophy, and the composition of its staff. There is some material about Little House's interaction with government and private agencies, and associations of similar institutions. In addition to documenting one part of the settlement house movement and emergence of neighborhood centers, the records may be used to contribute to social and women's history. The records provide information about the background, struggles, concerns, and achievements of people in a section of South Boston (1918-1948) and of Dorchester (1948-1987), largely as seen through the eyes of board members and social workers, many of whom also lived in the area, and most of whom were women. There is documentation of LH workers' attitudes about ethnicity and class, and some about race and gender.

There is little in the records about the house's early years, about the 1960s, or about the early 1980s to the present. (There are photographs that may date from 1906, but the first records date from 1913.) The relationship between FDNH and Little House is not well documented. These records do not represent the complete office records of Little House.

Folder titles are based on the original headings (where they existed). When a heading was not clear, it was retained in quotation marks; occasionally comments by the processor were also added. Some series were clearly grouped and were in notebooks or folders. Other series, notably Series IV, arrived as loose papers. Most of the collection was arranged by the processor.

Series I: BY-LAWS AND ANNUAL REPORTS, 1917-1975, 38 ff., consists of an incomplete set of by-laws (1918-75) and annual reports (1917-64). There is one slide in #17.

Series II: BOARD OF DIRECTORS, HOUSE COUNCIL, 1919-1978, 26 ff., is arranged in two sections: minutes and financial reports (#1-38) and reports to the board (#39-57). There is one photograph in #49. Board of Directors minutes were removed from notebooks called "Directors' meetings, secretary's book," and files marked "Directors' meetings." Reports to the board include reports written by the head worker, girls' and boys' workers, and the treasurer. Later they include the executive director, group workers, and other staff. A statistical attendance report usually accompanied the head worker's narrative. For other statistics, see #V.12-27. For minutes from a merger planning meeting with other Dorchester settlement houses, held at the request of a board member, see #III.7.

Series III: ADMINISTRATIVE, 1914-1981, 26 ff., is comprised primarily of miscellaneous files kept by Head of Administrative Support Shirley Sullivan on behalf of the Executive Director (including Sandy Albright) in the 1970s. This series also includes lists of people who have worked for Little House, speeches that may have been given by the head worker, and reports and correspondence about a merger with other settlement houses.

Series IV: FINANCIAL, 1938-1978, 84ff., consists of records kept by the LH treasurer (1938-62), and later probably by LH staff (1970-78). The early records are arranged by form: audit reports, ledgers, individual compensation records, etc. The later records are arranged chronologically. There is also a memorial booklet about Treasurer Edward Cabot Storrow. Although the ledgers (#) and individual compensation records (#) were sometimes filed together, since they comprised distinct subseries, they were separated. In the 1970s, FDNH had financial responsibility for LH and apparently kept the overall budget tabulation (e.g., see #44-45), but LH kept day-to-day records. For some years, financial records provide the only available information about LH programs and services.

Series V: PROGRAMS, 1913-1980, 88 ff., consists of records LH staff created and maintained in the course of running LH activities and services. It is arranged in the following order, which is also roughly chronologically: Mother's Club, Women's Club, statistics, Department of Youth Services funded projects, including Project Intercept, teens (including the Teen Center Alliance and the Boston Area Self Help Education Committee), tutoring, day care, general program descriptions, cooperative babysitting, and jobs. This series consists of minutes, correspondence, proposals, statistical records, and notebooks kept by the boys' worker (#6-7), and a group worker (#28-29). There are also records from a few house committees, such as the Health Committee. Although this series is woefully incomplete, it does provide information about the founding of the day care center, the health care center, and the alternative school. Some of the proposals contain budgetary information; for additional financial data, see Series III. For additional statistical reports, see #II.39-57.

Series VI: CELEBRATIONS, EVENTS, HISTORIES, PUBLICITY, 1914-1987, 36 ff., arranged chronologically, includes programs, brochures, invitations, notes for histories, an anniversary history booklet, newsletters, clippings, a souvenir placemat, arm patches, an unmounted plaque, and records from anniversary celebrations. Scrapbooks, some created for anniversary or other celebrations, appear in Series VII; see #VII.2a, 4, 19-20, 25, 28a, 31, 36-37, 43, and 49-51. The photographs from posterboards in Series VII were also probably created for a celebration.

Series VII: PHOTOGRAPHS, 1906?-1981, 54 ff., is arranged chronologically. The photographs include black-and-white and color prints, contact sheets, negatives, and a few slides, and depict staff and council members, clubs, events, and various programs. The 1930s, 1950s, and 1970s are especially well represented. The photos came to the archives in an unorganized state: loose, in scrapbooks and photo albums, grouped in envelopes, and taped or glued to poster board. Where there was some kind of logical or discernable grouping, it order was maintained. Material from scrapbooks and photo albums, which also includes newspaper articles, programs, and letters, has been kept together in its original order. Identifiable groups, individuals, and events are noted in the inventory, and are listed in an index at the end of the finding aid. This series also includes two reels of 8mm motion picture film. For additional photos, see #I.17 and II.49.

Series VIII: FEDERATED DORCHESTER NEIGHBORHOOD HOUSES, 1964-1985, 7 ff., consists of an organization plan, personnel memos, correspondence, publicity, and other material from FDNH kept by LH that shows some of the connections among FDNH agencies and between FDNH and LH. There is an organization plan dating from 1964 in #1; for additional planning information, see #III.7. Throughout this collection, files dating after 1964 contain references to FDNH; in particular see Series IV, and #VII.32-33. Files maintained by FDNH about LH are in the FDNH records (Collection: 79).

Series IX: OTHER SETTLEMENT HOUSES, SETTLEMENT MOVEMENT, 1916-1978, 5 ff., includes flyers, pamphlets, articles, and reports that LH collected from other settlement houses, both local and elsewhere, and about the national settlement movement. A report from the United Community Services of Metropolitan Boston includes a page about LH.