SDFP exclusive series The History of Neighborhood House: From 1918 to the occupation in 1972
By Maria E. Garcia
Jane Addams was born in 1860 to a prosperous Northern Illinois family. As a young child she had tuberculosis of the spine. This health problem would affect her the rest of her life. Her father was a founding member of the Republican Party. Her dream of becoming a doctor died after her first year of medical school due to health problems and a nervous breakdown. So why would this woman who wanted to be a doctor and came from a rather wealthy family have any role or influence in San Diego, California? Why would she have any roots in a settlement house in the middle of a Mexican Barrio?
In 1887 she read a magazine article about a settlement house. It became her dream to establish one. She and her close friend Ellen Gates opened Hull House in Chicago. Many women who came from wealthy families and were in the college in the 1920’s developed a similar interest and involvement. College had made them progressive in their thinking. They had a sincere interest in social issues as well as a desire to help immigrants and the less fortunate.
This social philosophy took root in San Diego among various educated, wealthy women who included Helen Marston. Miss Marston initially held many of the common stereotypes about Mexicans as being lazy and unmotivated. Her viewpoint underwent a change after working at Neighborhood House, where she observed the strength of the family values and the hard work of the Mexican families who lived in the area.
As I read the description for Hull House, I recognized that Neighborhood House was modeled after it. One could even say it was a mirror of Hull House. The services provided at Hull House were high school classes for adults, kindergarten classes, clubs for older children, and a public kitchen as well as cultural events. Every one of these activities was established at Neighborhood House. The big difference is that newspaper articles refer to Neighborhood House as the only settlement house on the border and as working with a Mexican population.
It can be said that Anita Jones, who had trained under Jane Addams and was a social worker at Neighborhood House, simply had copied the services found at Hull house. I believe it is much more than that. Miss Addams had led many social movements and as a social worker had interned at Hull House. This was the birth of social workers as well as of a belief system that as a social worker they had to relate to the situations they found in an urban setting.
Miss Jones had lived in Mexico for five years and therefore was fluent in Spanish. This was a tremendous asset in her work at Neighborhood House, as well as her work at Rusk House in Houston, Texas. Having worked with the Mexican population in Houston, Texas and again when she worked with Jane Addams, she was familiar with Mexican culture as well as the daily challenges facing the population.
This is also the time period in which the revolution in Mexico had brought many Mexicans north and there was a high demand for labor after World War I as well. Some of these demands were met by Mexicans who lived in the community where these jobs could be found.
Where immigrants are found, there is also very poor housing. This was the case in Chicago and it was the case in the Logan Heights community. Miss Jones appealed to the city, state and federal governments in her quest for better housing. She was an advocate for the people of the Logan Heights community. Part of her tenure at Neighborhood House was during the Great Depression. There was nothing great about trying to survive and feed a family in those days.
Many of the programs Miss Jones championed were to make the daily lives of the community a little better. Many of the news articles refer to her as a “problem solver.” One article focused on her lending picks and shovels for a grave-digging to bury a baby. I see it as an example of Neighborhood House meeting the needs of the community. The heart of Logan Heights pumped blood to the many arteries that flowed to the needs of the community–education, food, housing and medical services.
Miss Jane Addams comes to visit Neighborhood House. Remembering that Anita Jones had trained under Ms. Addams, one can only imagine the preparation that went into this visit. I refer to her visit as “la visita de la suegra” (the visit of the mother-in-law). You would want to have everything perfect enough to have your mother-in-law visit. The flurry of activities in preparation for her visit included painting, cleaning ceiling to floor, yard work and planning the entertainment at her various speeches and receptions.
I can only imagine how Miss Addams was described to the community. Miss Addams was the first American woman to be awarded a Nobel Peace Prize, she was a leader in the women’s suffrage movement and to say this visit was important to Miss Jones would be an understatement. The community was very proud to give back to Neighborhood House and because of the affection that they felt for Miss Jones, welcomed the opportunity to make her “look good”.
The luncheon was held at Neighborhood House with performances and the auditorium was decorated with art work and displays of clothes made in the sewing class. Performers included people that took piano, guitar and mandolin lessons at Neighborhood House. In a March 26, 1931 article the San Diego Sun said that the singing mothers of Neighborhood House sang “[i]n the Chinas-Poblanas costumes which they are seen wearing above …”. The women made their own traditional outfits in the sewing class.
After the luncheon Miss Addams spoke at the old Russ auditorium (San Diego High School). Her lecture was free and the topic was “Social Work in America and England.” After her lecture she was welcomed at a reception hosted by Women’s International League where tea was served by Helen and Mary Marston. To put it very simply this was A BIG DEAL! Both the society women and the women from the Barrio strived to make this visit successful. By all accounts this goal was achieved.