A Neighbor Among Neighbors
A New Book Commemorates 150 Years of Chicago’s Erie Neighborhood House — Serving Immigrants, Neighbors, and Championing Social Justice
MIPJ: Media, Information, International Relations and Humanitarian Affairs will be releasing a comprehensive history of Erie Neighborhood House (ENH) on October 15, 2020. Written by Maureen Hellwig, Ph.D. (University of Illinois at Chicago), a former volunteer and employee of ENH, the book is a commemoration of its 150th year of service to five generations of immigrants as “a home with no borders.”
According to Gary Johnson, CEO of the Chicago History Museum, “This masterful work tells how enduring values have allowed a settlement house to be an open door and a community voice to a succession of immigrant groups for 150 years — and counting. What is particularly valuable and unusual is that the analysis is equally insightful for every period, including the present.”
While many think of Jane Addams and Hull House when thinking of the Settlement House movement, Hellwig wanted to emphasize the role of Erie House, given its own history.
“While the origins of Erie Neighborhood House pre-date the founding of Hull House, there is no doubt their work as a settlement house was greatly influenced by Jane Addams and the movement she catalyzed,” said Hellwig — herself a lifelong Chicagoan and the great-great-granddaughter of Irish and German immigrants. More than that, she said, “[It] has not been just a passive witness to the growth and development of Chicago and those who would come to call it — and the United States — home.
“In the book, I work to portray an intertwining of the development of Chicago as a city of immigrants and this organization that welcomed and served immigrants, from both Europe and Latin America. Also, while Erie began as a church-based program, it was undoubtedly influenced to evolve into a settlement house, when Jane Addams was crafting Hull House less than 3 miles away. Erie’s Florence Towne and Jane Addams were contemporaries. Furthermore, the success of an organization is embedded in a context. History and geography are both a part of that context. Thus, Chicago is a character in Erie’s story.”
Hellwig continues: “When neighbors were tired and hungry, Erie House fed them, but not just with food — with knowledge. Through education, Erie House empowered their neighbors to become citizens who take that privilege seriously. Numerous volunteers from Presbyterian churches throughout Chicagoland, motivated by the social gospel, came to Erie House to give and were constantly amazed at how much they received because a settlement house fosters reciprocity. Dutch, Norwegian, German, Polish, Italian, African American, Puerto Rican, or Mexican — you were welcome at Erie House. From pre-schooler to elder, you had a second home there.”
According to MIPJ, and its reasoning for publishing A Neighbor Among Neighbors:
“Amidst current controversies in the United States about immigration, including what can often be a xenophobic emphasis on national stressors and scarcity-consciousness, it seems an important reminder that our economic successes and national hegemony have wholly depended upon those who came from elsewhere and despite all odds have served their communities as proud Americans. Except for First Nations, we are all immigrants here, and A Neighbor Among Neighbors, as a history of this particular organization, exemplifies the sense of community that can be built when we understand that we all are better for supporting one another toward mutual understanding, well-being, and success.”
According to Hellwig, “I was probably in a unique position to understand the important contributions of this organization, having spent 50 of its 150 years working with Erie House as a volunteer, board member and/or employee since I moved to the Erie House neighborhood, West Town, right after I graduated from college in 1968. So, I could write from the perspective of a participant-observer for a good portion of Erie’s history. And each of my roles, as volunteer, board member, and employee, gave me a slightly different and certainly richer, perspective. Based on these perspectives, I felt the Erie story deserved a book.
“There are not many organizations, especially in the non-profit sector, who reach a 150-year milestone. I also did not believe enough credit has been given to settlement houses in general. While Erie House may have the longest history, most settlement houses in the US and elsewhere are over 100 years old. Erie House was born in the 19th century, and still doing impactful work in the 21st. That seems a story worth telling.”
A Neighbor Among Neighbors by Maureen Hellwig is now available from MIPJ (http://www.mipj.org) for pre-order; on October 15, 2020 it will be available via print and digital from Amazon and other online outlets internationally. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for further information or to contact the author.