"To do anything that needs doing as thoroughly as possible." Thus might the work of the Women's University Settlement be concisely summed up.
There are very few people, however, who understand the wide extent of the labours of the ladies who, working in one of London's worst areas, have, in the opinion of those who know, probably done more to promote the welfare of the poor than any other organisation.
Quietly and unostentatiously the settlement has gone to work, striving to better the lot of the invalid children of the poor, and to fit for life's struggle physically defective mites, whose lives might otherwise be one long fight against misery and want.
Then, again, the settlement affords opportunities to parents of the working classes living in Southwark, London, to give their children a good start in life, by apprenticing them to skilled trades and encouraging young people to take greater advantage of existing technical classes.
It also provides holidays and recreations for young people whose play is limited to games in crowded streets and alleys, helps them to fight against disease, and co-operates with such societies as the Charity Organisation Society, Children's Country Holiday Fund, the Invalid Children's Aid, and the public bodies - poor law, education, unemployment, public health - in order to ameliorate the conditions under which the masses live.
Indeed, the work of the Women's University Settlement scarcely has a limit, and v. get an excellent idea of the spirit which underlies the work, and the motive power which prompts the settlement to exert itself on behalf of any movement which has for its object the leading of men, women, and children to a better life, from the words of Miss M. Mcn. Sharpley, the present warden.
" Let no settlement," she said a short time ago, " think to choose its work once for all. An individual might settle down to a profession ; a settlement can never know at what moment it must turn from being something of an authority in one line to serving an apprenticeship in another, or adding a new profession to those which it already practises."
And what - and the writer has often heard the question raised - what does the Women's University Settlement really consist of ? To properly answer that question it is really necessary to review the story of the history of the settlement. In 1887 a meeting was held at Cambridge under the auspices of the Ladies' Discussion Society, at which Miss Gruner, a former student at Newnham College, and Mrs. Barnett, the wife of the warden of Toynbee Hall, spoke on the needs of London.
The audience was deeply impressed, and a": a subsequent meeting, the definite proposal was made that the women's colleges of
Cambridge and Oxford should unite to " make and maintain a settlement of educated women in a poor quarter of London."
Southwark was chosen as the field of operations, and the promptness and energy with which the initial efforts were carried out, is characteristic of the manner in which the work of the Settlement has always been performed.
A house was taken in Nelson Square, just off the Blackfriars Road, and was soon ready for occupation. Miss Gruner was appointed head worker, and it was decided that members of the settlement should be persons, whether connected with the universities or otherwise, who paid an annual subscription of not less than five shillings.
A committee was formed consisting of ladies from the Newnham, Girton, and other Colleges, the object of the association being formulated as follows : "To promote the welfare of the people of the poorer districts of London, and especially of the women and children, by devising and promoting schemes which tend to elevate them physically, intellectually, or morally, and by giving them additional opportunities for education and recreation."
There were many sympathisers with the movement, and members steadily poured in. Excellent work was done in finding out the needs of the poor in Southwark, and formulating schemes for their benefit. The great difficulty, however, was to find accommodation for the resident workers in the settlement ; for there are really two kinds of workers connected with this splendid movement - ladies who feel that they have a call for such work, and devote themselves wholly and entirely to furthering the schemes of the settlement, and others who wish to take up social work professionally, and who go to the settlement to acquire knowledge and training which may ultimately prove useful and valuable to them.
At the present time there are about seventeen ladies in the settlement, four or five of whom are training for professional work. Each pays a certain fee, the course of training extending to not less than one year. The terms for residents are £60 per annum, inclusive of board, lodging, and teaching, the latter consisting of practice under experienced workers, lectures, classes with papers, and reading for three terms. There are also what are known as temporary helpers, who stay at the settlement for short times during the holidays of regular residents, and -fill up gaps in the work, and who willingly pay twenty-five shillings a week for board and lodging, in order that they may assist in the labour.
At the same time, however, non-residents play a very important part in the work of the settlement. In fact, it is frankly stated that without them, the settlement could not accomplish a quarter of what it does now. Some come once or twice a week ; some give practically all their working hours, and rank with the permanent residents in the importance and responsibility of the work allotted to them. Collectively, there are between sixty and eighty non-residents taking part in the work, while it might be mentioned however that the total membership of the association is over 1,200.