Ellen M. Snyder-Grenier, "The House on Henry Street: The Enduring Life of a Lower East Side Settlement" (NYU Press, 2020)

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On a cold March day in 1893, 26-year-old nurse Lillian Wald rushed through the poverty-stricken streets of New York’s Lower East Side to a squalid bedroom where a young mother lay dying—abandoned by her doctor because she could not pay his fee. The misery in the room and the walk to reach it inspired Wald to establish Henry Street Settlement, which would become one of the most influential social welfare organizations in American history.

Through personal narratives, vivid images, and previously untold stories, Ellen M. Snyder-Grenier chronicles Henry Street’s sweeping history from 1893 to today in The House on Henry Street: The Enduring Life of a Lower East Side Settlement (NYU Press).

From the fights for public health and immigrants’ rights that fueled its founding, to advocating for relief during the Great Depression, all the way to tackling homelessness and AIDS in the 1980s, and into today—Henry Street has been a champion for social justice. Its powerful narrative illuminates larger stories about poverty, and who is “worthy” of help; immigration and migration, and who is welcomed; human rights, and whose voice is heard.

For over 125 years, Henry Street Settlement has survived in a changing city and nation because of its ability to change with the times; because of the ingenuity of its guiding principle—that by bridging divides of class, culture, and race we could create a more equitable world; and because of the persistence of poverty, racism, and income disparity that it has pledged to confront. This makes the story of Henry Street as relevant today as it was more than a century ago. The House on Henry Street is not just about the challenges of overcoming hardship, but about the best possibilities of urban life and the hope and ambition it takes to achieve them.

Links for companion materials such as the web exhibition, curriculum materials, and a walking tour can be found on this site: http://www.thehouseonhenrystreet.org

Ellen M. Snyder-Grenier is a national-award-winning curator and writer, and principal of REW & Co. She has directed research projects, developed physical and digital exhibitions, and written on the history of New York City—as well the urban centers of Newark and Philadelphia—with a focus on social justice. The author of an award-winning history of Brooklyn, Snyder-Grenier is a Fellow of the New York Academy of History.

Dr. Christina Gessler’s background is in American women’s history, and literature. She specializes in the diaries written by rural women in the 19th century. In seeking the extraordinary in the ordinary, Gessler writes the histories of largely unknown women, poems about small relatable moments, and takes many, many photos in nature.

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