• IdentificationMSBHNC70
  • TitleBethlehem Howell Neighborhood Center collection MSBHNC70
  • PublisherSpecial Collections
  • LanguageEnglish
  • RepositorySpecial Collections
  • Physical Description25.5 Linear feet
  • Date1894-1969
  • AbstractBethlehem Center and Howell House were church-related neighborhood houses serving the Pilsen area on the Near West Side. They provided religious, social services, and personal welfare assistance to an immigrant community composed predominantly of Bohemians, Poles, and Czechs. The two centers cooperated throughout their history, merging in 1961 as the Neighborhood Service Organization. The Neighborhood Service Organization, popularly known as Casa Aztlan, continues to serve the Pilsen area.
  • OriginationNeighborhood Service Organization (Chicago, Ill.).

Old Resource ID was BHNC

This collection reflects the activities performed by both the Bethlehem and Howell Neighborhood Houses and their relationships with outside government bodies, community organizations, settlement houses, religious institutions and service agencies. The bulk of the work consists of correspondences, reports, and community activity from 1935 to 1955. The BHNC collection provides hundreds of documents depicting second-generation immigrant social and community life in the Chicago's Pilsen Neighborhood. Though Bethlehem and Howell House documents remain separate, both files contain Board reports, staff correspondences, newsletters , class schedules, church rosters, donation records, settlement publicity, newspaper clippings, individual club records, letters from World War II soldiers, and numerous photographs.

The Bethlehem House is divided into three series reflecting the administrative structure, house activities, and photographs. The first series, administrative records, is divided into newsletters, board minutes, board reports, and finance. The second series, programs, is divided into camp, church, classes, clubs, and community subseries. Both administrative records and programs illustrate how Bethlehem House extended its services and concern well outside of its immediate community. Photographs depict neighborhood life in Pilsen and within Bethlehem House from the 1900s to the 1960s. The Howell House file remains significantly smaller than Bethlehem House and therefore has not been divided into series or subseries.

Materials in this collection were donated to the University of Illinois at Chicago Daley Library's Special Collections Department by the Neighborhood Service Organization on January 12, 1970. In 2004, the Bethlehem and Howell House accessions were arranged by the cataloger.

"Notice" for the Bethlehem Community Center. Written by Clifford Manshardt, October 9, 1944. Box 9, Folder 59. "Preamble" for the Bethlehem Community Center. 1937. Box 10, Folder 67. "Bohemian Settlement House By-Laws. Effective Jan. 1, 1914." Box 35, Folder 240. "Plan of Consolidation" for the Neighborhood Services Organization, 1965. Box 37, Folder 255. "Howell Neighborhood House: Its Forty Years, 1905-1945" by Gertrude Ray: also, "Miss Ray's Book of Memories and Howell House Today. 1955." Box 39, Folder 270.

After nearly 50 years of separate settlement house existence, the Bethlehem Community Center and Howell Neighborhood House merged in 1965 to form the Neighborhood Service Organization. The consolidation occurred after both houses saw their operating budgets shrink, their once predominantly Czech, Croatian, and Serbian constituencies move out of the neighborhood, and the effectiveness of their settlement organizations dwindle. When both neighborhood houses joined, their charter stated the new Service Organization's goal as: "To be a neighbor to the neighbors in such a way that families are strengthened, lives are made more meaningful and purposeful and individuals see and understand the dignity and worth that is theirs as children of God."

In 1884, Congregational Church Union members created the "Bethlehem Mission" in the predominantly Bohemian Pilsen neighborhood. Located at 1853 South Loomis Street, the settlement hosted hundreds of events in its 80 years of existence that included dances, camps, theater programs, home shows, conferences, church services, and adult education classes. Bethlehem Center initiated some of its most far-reaching programs from the 1930s to the 1950s under the direction of H.W. Waltz, Jr. and later, Clifford Manshardt. In 1944, Manshardt wrote that the center "[stood] for all that is best in this community." He continued that out of Bethlehem came "a Man who challenged the idealism of the world, and it is our hope that out of this Bethlehem will come men and women who will challenge all that is mean and degrading in our community and city." During the 1940s, the Bethlehem Community Center participated in several war-related activities and received hundreds of letters from soldiers serving in the armed forces. After the war, the settlement house held membership in the Chicago Federation of Settlements and Neighborhood Centers, the Welfare Council of Metropolitan Chicago, and the Southwest Central Community Council. By the 1950s, the increasing growth of the welfare state combined with the professionalization of social work and transformed the settlement movement. Bethlehem and Howell Houses, like other settlements, became a more structured social service provider and began working with government agencies.

The Women's Presbyterial Society established Howell Neighborhood House for Home Missions, otherwise known as the "Bohemian Settlement House" in 1905. The mission's first initiative in the "Little Pilsen" neighborhood was a kindergarten in a small building on the corner of Nineteenth Place and May Street. "To stand on the corner of Blue Island Avenue and 18th Street [in those days]," Gertrude Ray later wrote, "was to stand in the heart of a Czech city with a population second only to Prague." The house expanded rapidly and by 1914, the board of management had created, among others, Boys and Girls Clubs, a Sunday school, a library, and an English Night School. C.D.B. Howell, for whom the settlement house was later renamed in 1919, taught Sunday school and brought in other teachers from the neighborhood in these formative years. Additionally, Howell led a fund-raising drive in 1913 that raised money for construction of a larger settlement building at 1831 South Center Street (now Racine). Gertrude Ray, one of the most significant figures of the Howell Neighborhood House, served as both worker and head resident from 1910 to 1945. After retiring briefly to Florida, she returned to Howell House in 1952 to serve on its board of directors. Ray remained one of the most revered and admired members in Howell House history. Just like Bethlehem House, the Howell Neighborhood Center succumbed to the changing demographics and needs of the Pilsen neighborhood. Howell House later became the main building housing the Neighborhood Service Organization.

Bethlehem Howell Neighborhood Center collection, Special Collections and University Archives, University of Illinois at Chicago

Folders 291 ("Three Arts Photo Display") and 292 ("Art Fair Poster") were changed to folders 293 and 294 on September 27, 2013.

  • Names
    • Bethlehem Center (Chicago, Ill.). -- Archives
    • Howell House (Chicago, Ill.). -- Archives
    • Hull-House (Chicago, Ill.).
  • Subject
    • Chicago Ethnic Groups.
    • Chicago Neighborhoods.
    • Community centers.
  • Geographic Coverage
    • Illinois--Chicago--Pilsen.
    • Illinois--Chicago.