Category Archives: History

Before Columbus

Most people believe Christopher Columbus was the first European to reach America. They’re wrong! Here’s an article from which explains:

Nearly 500 years before the birth of Christopher Columbus, a band of European sailors left their homeland behind in search of a new world. Their high-prowed Viking ship sliced through the cobalt waters of the Atlantic Ocean as winds billowed the boat’s enormous single sail. After traversing unfamiliar waters, the Norsemen aboard the wooden ship spied a new land, dropped anchor and went ashore. Half a millennium before Columbus “discovered” America, those Viking feet may have been the first European ones to ever have touched North American soil.

Click here to read more!


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Get to Know U.S.

For those of you who are new to our program, here’s a short history of our organization. After you finish reading, take the quiz to test your comprehension!

University Settlement, 1899

Stanton Coit












A Short History of University Settlement

The settlement movement was a social movement beginning in the 1880s with the goal of helping poor people. It started in London, England, and its main object was the establishment of “settlement houses” in poor urban areas. These houses offered food, shelter, and education.

The first settlement house in the United States was University Settlement Society of New York, founded in 1886 by Stanton Coit. It is located at 184 Eldridge Street on New York’s Lower East Side. It provides many services for the mostly immigrant population of the neighborhood.

In 1886, on the Lower East Side, more than 3,000 people lived in a single square block. The tenement buildings of the area normally had four apartments on each floor; a typical apartment had one small room that might house a family of five or more.

Immigrants not only lived in bad conditions, but worked in bad conditions as well. Most of them worked in the garment industry. Working for very low wages in crowded, uncomfortable, dangerous sweatshops, they produced half of the clothing sold in the United States.

When it first began, University Settlement served as a home for immigrants who arrived in the United States. It provided courses for new immigrants on everything from politics to the English language to basketball. The University Settlement House also included a library, kindergarten, and bath house.

During his presidency, Franklin D. Roosevelt described University Settlement as “a landmark in the social history of the nation.” His wife, Eleanor Roosevelt, volunteered at University Settlement when she was a young woman. She began her work as a teacher of dance and calisthenics, a way to use physical exercise and movement to improve health after long hours of work in a confined space.

University Settlement continues to provide support services to residents of the Lower East Side, and now offers programs in 21 locations across Manhattan and Brooklyn. Programs serve New Yorkers of all ages and include child care, pre-school, housing assistance, mental health services, college and career preparation, crisis intervention, activities for seniors, arts events, English classes, after-school programs, and summer camps.

To visit the official University Settlement website, click here.

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Babe the Blue Ox

The unofficial mascot of the University Settlement Adult Literacy Program is Babe the Blue Ox. You can see some pictures of him above. He is our (unofficial) mascot because of his strength and intelligence. And we really like the color blue. You can read more about him by clicking here.

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Eleanor Roosevelt & US

Did you know that Eleanor Roosevelt taught dance with us nearly 100 years ago? Before she was the first lady or a United Nations delegate, her then-boyfriend – none other than Franklin Delano Roosevelt – picked her up at 184 Eldridge for a date.

Check out this excerpt from our history, documented in Legacy of Light:

As the Settlement came of age, it was able to draw increasing support from its own ranks, and many of its alumni have left their mark on the life of the city and the nation. Among them are former New York Mayor Abraham Beame, Senator Jacob Javits, and state Attorney General Louis Lefkowitz; the sculptor Jacob Epstein; basketball greats Barney Sedran and Nat Holman. Actors and dramatists such as Elmer Rice, Edward G. Robinson, and Walter Matthau, and composer-lyricist Irving Caesar drew inspiration in their early years from theatrical performances at the Settlement. George Gershwin played on the Settlement’s piano. Eleanor Roosevelt taught dance. Later, she would recall:

I remember, before we were married, I was working at University Settlement in New York and Franklin called for me there late one afternoon. I wasn’t ready because there was a sick child and I had to see that she was taken home. Franklin said he would go with me.

We took the child to an area not far away and Franklin went with me up the three flights to the tenement rooms in which the family lived. It was not a pleasant place and Franklin looked around in surprise and horror. It was the first time, I think, that he had ever really seen a slum and when he got back to the street he drew a deep breath of fresh air. “My God,” he whispered, “I didn’t know people lived like that!

During his presidency, Franklin D. Roosevelt would describe University Settlement as “a landmark in the social history of the nation.”

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Eyes on the Stars

February is Black History Month. To celebrate, watch the video to learn about Ronald E. McNair, the second African-American astronaut in history. The video comes from StoryCorps, a great website you can use to practice your listening skills.

After you watch the video once or twice or three times, click on the “Take the Quiz!” button below to test your understanding:


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The Gettysburg Address

On November 19, 1863, Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address, one of the most famous speeches in U.S. history. The speech was given at a ceremony to remember all of the soldiers that had been killed at the Battle of Gettysburg during the U.S. Civil War.

The speech is famous for being short and powerful. In fact, the speech was so short that the photographer at the ceremony didn’t even get a chance to take a photo of Lincoln as he was speaking – as you can see in the photo above, he only got a photo of him leaving the stage.

You can listen to and read the speech below:

The Gettysburg Address

November 19, 1863

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.





Hace ochenta y siete años, nuestros padres hicieron nacer en este continente una nueva nación concebida en la libertad y consagrada en el principio de que todas las personas son creadas iguales.

Ahora estamos empeñados en una gran guerra civil que pone a prueba si esta nación, o cualquier nación así concebida y así consagrada, puede perdurar en el tiempo. Estamos reunidos en un gran campo de batalla de esa guerra. Hemos venido a consagrar una porción de ese campo como lugar de último descanso para aquellos que dieron aquí sus vidas para que esta nación pudiera vivir. Es absolutamente correcto y apropiado que hagamos tal cosa.

Pero, en un sentido más amplio, nosotros no podemos dedicar, no podemos consagrar, no podemos santificar este terreno. Los valientes hombres, vivos y muertos, que lucharon aquí ya lo han consagrado, muy por encima de lo que nuestras pobres facultades podrían añadir o restar. El mundo apenas advertirá y no recordará por mucho tiempo lo que aquí digamos, pero nunca podrá olvidar lo que ellos hicieron aquí. Somos, más bien, nosotros, los vivos, quienes debemos consagrarnos aquí a la tarea inconclusa que los que aquí lucharon hicieron avanzar tanto y tan noblemente. Somos más bien los vivos los que debemos consagrarnos aquí a la gran tarea que aún resta ante nosotros: que de estos muertos a los que honramos tomemos una devoción incrementada a la causa por la que ellos dieron la última medida colmada de celo. Que resolvamos aquí firmemente que estos muertos no habrán dado su vida en vano. Que esta nación, Dios mediante, tendrá un nuevo nacimiento de libertad. Y que el gobierno del pueblo, por el pueblo y para el pueblo no desaparecerá de la Tierra.


Восемь десятков и семь лет назад наши отцы образовали на этом континенте новую нацию, зачатую в свободе и верящую в то, что все люди рождены равными.

Теперь мы ведем великую Гражданскую войну, подвергающую нашу нацию или любую другую нацию, таким же образом зачатую и исповедующую те же идеалы, испытанию на способность выстоять. Мы встречаемся сегодня на великом поле брани этой войны. Встречаемся, чтобы сделать его часть последним пристанищем для тех, кто отдал свою жизнь во имя того, чтобы наша нация смогла выжить. Со всех точек зрения это уместный и совершенно верный шаг.

Но в более широком смысле мы не можем посвящать, мы не можем благословлять, мы не можем почитать эту землю. Отважные люди, живые и мертвые, сражавшиеся здесь, уже совершили обряд такого посвящения, и не в наших слабых силах что-либо добавить или убавить. Мир едва ли заметит или запомнит надолго то, что мы здесь говорим, но он не сможет забыть того, что они совершили здесь. Скорее, это нам, живущим, следует посвятить себя завершению начатого ими дела, над которым трудились до нас с таким благородством те, кто сражался здесь. Скорее, это нам, живущим, следует посвятить себя великой задаче, все еще стоящей перед нами, — перенять у этих высокочтимых погибших еще большую приверженность тому делу, которому они в полной мере и до конца сохраняли верность, исполниться убежденностью, что они погибли не зря, что наша нация с Божьей помощью возродится в свободе и что власть народа волей народа и для народа не исчезнет с липа Земли.


The Jazz Man Testifies

This post is from Weekend teacher, David Moss. David is also a Jazz musician, he plays bass. Here is a photo of him at one of our class parties (David is on the left).


Check out David’s new website. You can listen to some music and read his biography. Check back for updates!


Below David tells us about Jazz music and one of his favorite musicians, Miles Davis. You can see some pictures and listen to some music Miles made throughout the years.

Jazz is the only art form invented in the United States.  Many other countries can claim to have invented more than just one form of art, but for the U.S., they can only claim Jazz as their unique invention and contribution to the art world.  There are several noteworthy musicians who were innovators of Jazz, with Charlie Parker being the main innovator who kicked it off and ignited the flame for the rest of the 20th century.  However, another musician who came from St. Louis, Missouri, and “hunted down” Charlie Parker in New York City to join his band when he was only 17 years old, was the trumpet player Miles Davis.  Miles continues to be recognized in history as the most influential and famous (most recognized) Jazz musician ever.

miles miless

Every decade, from the 1940’s up until the time of his death in 1991, Miles tried something new, and “changed with the times” along with how the state of consciousness and culture was changing.  He adapted and created music that was relevant to any present time.  In the 1940s, he would contribute to Be-Bop, in the 50s it would innovate “cool” music, which was vastly different than any other trumpet player during that time.  In the 1960s, he would go on to pioneer the way for hard hitting Hard Bop. The 1970s also saw a radical change with Miles using a lot of electronic instruments, synthesizers and pedals for trumpet.  In the 1980s, Miles led the way in the genre of Fusion, continuing to use a lot of Pop electric sounds.  The fascinating part of it all was that Miles Davis always sounded like Miles, no matter what configuration or experimentation he would embark in, one always knew that Distinct, personalized tone and sound that Miles had.
Miles Davis also helped many other musicians launch their own careers, because basically if you played with Miles Davis, then you had to always be good enough.  Miles was renown for choosing the right musicians at the right time for his bands.  He thought like an artist, knowing how to use each musician to achieve the effects he desired.
Miles Davis and Charlie Parker in the 1940s
Miles Davis in the 1980s
video of 1950’s quintet:
1960’s quintet, sorcerer  
1960’s live
1970’s “bitches brew”
miles live 1970’s
miles in the 80’s (good one!)
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