South Side Settlement House Philosophy

Columbus’ South Side Settlement House, which closed its doors a few years ago after a lifespan of 112 years, was one of a number of unique social service agencies that opened in imitation of Jane Addams pioneering work at Chicago’s Hull House. It played a profound shaping role in my life, and was the first place I encountered that had a distinctive philosophy that they attempted to live out in real life, an experience that deeply influenced my decision to pursue philosophy, and my approach to it as a living discipline. I here present the South Side Philosophy –or at least one of the later versions of what was always a living and changing document.


At South Side Settlement we believe in each person’s ability to shape his or her environment and the character of his or her society. We value the idea that all people should be fully involved in those problems which affect their lives. The creation of a democratic society demands an active, thinking citizenry unafraid of responsibility, actively experimenting with means to meet the changing needs of its members. At our house we seek to involve the people of our community in defining common problems and encourage maximum participation in developing solutions to those problems.

Inherent in our approach is a value system that encompasses the following concepts:

Our objective is “the improvement of the quality of human life through the creation of a community of culture and concern in a society rooted in economic and social justice.” We reject the goal of becoming an island unto ourselves and seek to involve all segments of our society in the fashioning of that community within the real world of human strengths and limitations. In that quest we are committed to lead out of our immediate neighborhood into the larger city, state, nation and world.

The richness of difference characterizes the meeting and interaction of human beings of inherently equal worth, yet marvelous diversity. We welcome differences of class, race, religion, sex, age, belief and background as sources of cross fertilization and enrichment, presenting possibilities of new human achievement through interdependence. The richness of difference implies mutual acceptance and trust, reciprocal respect but not necessarily approval or agreement. We reject both “tolerance” and “separatism” as implying superior and inferior worth whether so stated or not. Discrimination against and segregation of people on the basis of their differences are seen as destroyers of humanity and society.

Freedom and responsibility are inseparable. Freedom can be extended only through increasing acceptance of social responsibility. We oppose the tendency of many in our society to seek freedom without responsibility, to search for individual satisfaction divorced from social interaction and response. Only through social relationships and social structures can people protect the rights and extend the potential of every individual human being.

Conflict and struggle are as central to the task of creating a community of culture and concern as they are to human life itself. Conflict, the state in which there exists the opposition of alternatives, is neither negative nor an indication of a breakdown in our society. It exists. Life is the process of resolving an endless series of conflicts. People cannot choose to avoid conflict. They can only decide whether to participate in helping to determine its resolution or to leave that determination to others. Conflict cannot be resolved without struggle, the process of conflict resolution.

At South Side Settlement we consciously use conflict in order to create the conditions for learning, movement and change. Our settlement is an arena where ideas are consciously introduced across lines of difference. They are then examined, rejected, refined and yet again examined in order to unleash the potential for meaningful social change and the reduction of alienation.

An essential complement to the resolution of conflict is the act of sharing with family and friends the whole gamut of human emotion and experience. It includes loving and laughing and sometimes crying together; singing and dancing and reveling in the physical and psychological energy to continue on, even in the face of what at times appear to be insurmountable odds.

Program at South Side Settlement reflects the conscious testing of ideas. We see ourselves as a laboratory for social change and understand that experimentation can result in failure as well as success. We seek the courage to risk ourselves –to try, to fail, and yet to try again and succeed. Critical and constructive self-examination is central to our existence. We strive for excellence and reject perfectionism.

Implicit in this system of values is the recognition that our philosophy must be responsive to the times in which we live and that all facets of our program are open to challenge and change.

3 thoughts on “South Side Settlement House Philosophy

  1. I had some wonderful times at the camp and some horrific times. I am sad to see the place go, given it taught me about South Africa and apartheid, Steven Biko, worth ethic, John Henry and exposed me to different races. What I won’t miss are the counselors who yelled at children, the girl who was thrown in the show ever and shamed for poor hygiene, 10 mile hikes with no water, the bully who ripped off my shirt in public and no one stopped her and how I was shamed for having feelings for a boy.

    The South Side Settlement House game my mother a reprieve from being a single mom for many summers. It allowed me to make friends I would have never made. It also taught me to be ashamed of myself for reasons I didn’t understand. I had both white and black counselors. You would think that being black, I would have good things to say about the black counselors. They however was some of the worst abusers. Many of my experiences are etched in my brain forever. For that, I am glad that the settlement house is closed.

    1. Hi Shannon: i went to the old Settlement House on Reeb Av before it moved into a (then) new facility on Innis Av about two blocks from our house. all the neighborhood kids/latchkey kids/welfare kids (raises hand) got to play together inside which was nice in the cold winters. As for the camp: many Southenders have mixed feelings about “Triple S Camp”, myself included. i remember a girl i grew up with helped build one of the cabins in 1984, aged 16. So much questionable stuff went on at the camp like the miles long hikes without warning or hydration, use of child labor, i remember the commie songs they had us sing, they confiscated my gum because i “didn’t bring enough for everyone”, and of course the kid who hit me with a rock… my blood stained that little bridge to get to the shower/restroom area for years. The lucky ones (like my sister) got to goto Camp Wilson, still run by the YMCA. Triple S in Sugar Grove was sold about ten years ago. The old Settlement House on Reeb is still standing. It is now a Baptist church, praise Jesus. –Shawn

  2. good god this takes me back 🙁 my mother would get so high and just take off and this was our escape for years …. i loved hated this place i dont remember to much about my childhood but this place is impossible to forget , my mom had us living off reeb innis and even 6th street in the south end i attended the reeb elementary …we never had anything and never went anywhere but foster homes so when we were with her this is where i would love going i remember falling from like a bridge like thing to the bottom floor knocking the wind out of my self and also trying to teach all the girls how to dance lol i was sad when our home burned down and pretty sure someone from this place was who called CPS and told them we were living in the home after the top floor burned up i hated it that someone called i was taken out of the home but now i look back and think im lucky i never died ! a really good friend lived right across from there had a little girl and just had a baby when i heard someone shot this woman in the head and hurt the little baby … this was for sure my escape from all the sad living situations going on at the time

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