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The Elizabeth Peabody House

In 1896, the Elizabeth Peabody House was founded and named after Elizabeth Palmer Peabody (1804-1894), an educator who believed principally in the importance of early childhood education and development. Due to urban renewal in the West End, the EPH relocated to Somerville, Massachusetts in 1956. In 1996, the EPH celebrated 100 years of providing services for children and assisting families in need and is still operational today.


The Elizabeth Peabody House was a simple brick building in Boston’s West End. While it was unassuming from the outside, inside was a community teeming with activities and life. Each floor in the building had a different dedicated purpose; it was even divided by gender, with women’s and girl’s activities on some floors, and men’s and boy’s activities on others.

Drawing of EPH Box 8 Folder 9.jpg
Front of EPH Charles st..jpg

Employees at settlement houses often lived there as well, which is where they earn their name: residents. Residency at settlement houses was a way for women to enter the professional sphere in an era with few other choices. Most residents at the Elizabeth Peabody House were women, but there are exceptions.

Summer Residents 1917.jpg

Many workers found fulfillment in their employment at the Elizabeth Peabody House, and felt the impact of their work for many years, such as Meta Gruner, who described this satisfaction in correspondence with Eva Whiting White. Settlement workers could feel positively about their work to better the community.

While many settlement workers loved what they did, many felt challenged by some of the more controversial aspects of settlement housing. Marenda Prentis was one worker who resigned from her position. The intent behind settlement house programming cannot be defined as entirely beneficial or detrimental to immigrant populations.


Part of the goal of settlement work was creating “good American citizens”, transforming communities of, largely, immigrants into fully Americanized neighborhoods. This was true for the Elizabeth Peabody house as well where the residents of the West End were either foreign born or from an immigrant family. This idea of Americanization was seen both as a responsibility of the house and as a public service for those who experienced it and society at large. It was seen as an important public work to take the “most congested immigration center in the U.S.A. with the exception of the East Side of New York City, and the stockyard area of Chicago” with  a population of 34,000 is divided among Irish, Italians, Hebrews, Russians, Poles, Ukrainians, Albanians, and many others, and offer them the “finer opportunities in American life.”

Unless otherwise noted, all materials in this exhibit are from the Eva Whiting White papers, Simmons University Archives Manuscript Collection 022.  The images and text on this web site are made available for study purposes only. They may not be reproduced in any form without prior written permission from the Simmons University Archives.  For more information, please contact the University Archives at

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