Neighborhood House

  Eras

  1916 - 1929early Neighborhood House

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  1929 - 19491946 Neighborhood House dance

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  1949 - 1966Madison Neighborhood Centers

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  1966 - 19901990 band

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  1991 - 2015Dan Foley

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      2016 - ?Neighborhood House

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 Introduction to the Stories of Neighborhood House

Not many things last 100 years.  Especially things that are alive.  And Neighborhood House is alive.  This is the story of Neighborhood House from its very earliest days up to its 100th year.  It is a story of perseverance, not just of the people who founded Neighborhood House 100 years ago but also of the communities that have surrounded it, whether the community has come from the surrounding blocks or the surrounding city. 

Neighborhood House itself is too easily overlooked.  Often described as the "oldest" community center and "one of the smallest," it occupies a nondescript building quickly constructed as a plan C when funding and time ran out in the mid-1960s.  It is too easy to ignore from the outside.  But inside--inside is a different story.

Neighborhood House is ultimately a story of people and, within that story, it is very much a story of diversity.  Founded in the best traditions of the settlement house movement that crossed the Atlantic Ocean from London, England in the early days of the 20th century, Neighborhood House was, and is, Madison's welcoming gateway for those who have traveled from distant lands looking for a home.  Whether those distant lands are Europe, Africa, or the global south, Neighborhood House has been the safe space, the welcoming space.  It is also the welcoming gateway for those who have only traveled a few blocks--alienated youth, racial and ethnic minorities, and others for whom Madison is not as welcoming a place as it could be.

These 100 years have not been easy from a financial standpoint--not from the very first day when Neighborhood House operated out of a small space, scraping for funding.  Or through a great depression, scraping for funding.  Or through a world war, scraping for funding.  Or through economic downturn after economic downturn, and into the 2008 economic collapse, scraping for funding. 

These 100 years have not been easy from a social cultural standpoint, as Neighborhood House had to negotiate the changing humanity around it--from a neighborhood of Italian, Jewish, and African American residents in its early days to the diaspora of Southeast Asian and African immigrants and many others who came later, and lived further from, Neighborhood House itself.  Neighborhood House had to deal with the changing reality of its neighborhood being torn apart and redeveloped for reasons that are neither easily understood nor easily justified.

These 100 years are not, as you might imagine, easy to capture in print.  We have done our best. But this history will always be incomplete. We will never know all the stories, understand all the experiences, or meet all the characters that make up Neighborhood House. But the beauty of the World Wide Web is that, just like Neighbohood House, what we put here is also alive. We can change it, grow it, deepen it. We invite you to help us.

Please tell us your stories of Neighborhood House, and help us deepen the stories on this site.

You can send them to Randy Stoecker at rstoecker@wisc.edu