Greenwich House started in 1902 when Mary Kingsbury Simkhovitch along with Jacob Riis, Carl Schurz, Felix Adler and other social reformers came together and incorporated the Greenwich House settlement. Its mission was to improve the living conditions among the predominately immigrant population in Greenwich Village, at that time New York's most congested neighborhood.
Greenwich House's attempts to help immigrants adjust to a new world focused on agitating for social reforms, coalescing a diverse community and providing essential, quality services. The Settlement's early efforts resulted in the publication of the country's first tenants manual; establishment of the Greenwich Village Improvement Society, the city's first neighborhood association; founding of United Neighborhood Houses, the extant umbrella group for settlement houses; and, the 1916 zoning of the Village as a residential district.
From its beginning, Greenwich House committed itself to the arts as a dynamic stimulus for cultural enrichment and individual growth. The reputation of Greenwich House's arts curricula has been shaped by its mission and the past and present participation of people such as Eleanor Roosevelt, Mrs. Gertrude Payne Whitney, Daniel Chester French, John Sloan, James Fraser, Guy Pene du Bois, Jackson Pollock, Kirk Douglas, Marion Rous, Leonard Warren, Julius Rudel, Ossip Gabrilowitsch, Henry Cowell, Edgar Varese and Peter Voulkos.
| Founder, Mary Kingsbury Simkhovitch
It was the day-to-day work however that established the Settlement as a pioneer social service agency. In 1921 the House inaugurated a nursery school, in 1942 an after-school program, and in 1963, a drug free outpatient counseling center, all of which were firsts in settlement history.
The concern for an individual's dignity and family unity led to Director Mary Simkhovitch's work in the field of housing. During her term as the first Vice-Chairman of New York City's Housing Authority, she co-authored with New York Senator Robert Wagner the national housing act of 1937, which established the federal government's responsibility in providing low-income housing.
The second half of the century saw Greenwich House continue to develop a series of true community based programs: the Methadone Maintenance Treatment Program was created in 1970. In 1987, Greenwich House opened the first AIDS Mental Health program in response to the AIDS crisis and it launched the Children’s Safety Project in response to abuse of Greenwich Village neighbor Lisa Steinberg.
Today, the House remains a Village bastion. Its commitment to save, sustain and expand vital social service and arts programming in the area led to acquisition of the Caring Community senior center network in 2012, which allows the House to better meet the needs of the Village’s aging population. While the incorporation of the After-School and Summer Arts Camp program from the Children’s Aid Society filled a gap in youth arts programming.
Greenwich House has strived to contemporize the vision of Mary Kingsbury Simkhovitch by being responsive to new and growing complexities of urban life. The House has offered continuity to its neighbors, sustaining the programs that have proven to be of persistent need and value and implementing new programs to meet the urgencies in behavioral health, arts education and social services.
Historic Greenwich House Photos