Settlement houses were a philanthropic venture designed to bridge the huge gap between the classes in society. They first came to prominence in the late nineteenth century, after decades of unregulated capitalism had led to huge and growing divisions between those in the upper classes and those in the lower classes. Settlement houses were a way of narrowing those divisions by brining people of all different classes together in one single place. It was hoped that by doing so, people who wouldn't ordinarily give each other the time of day would come together in a spirit of cooperation and mutual respect: sharing wisdom, knowledge, and expertise.
In the United States, settlement houses sprang up mainly in immigrant neighborhoods, where many people didn't speak English. Settlement houses became a kind of outreach project by the wealthy, educated classes toward the recent influx of immigrants, providing them with much-needed kindergartens, classrooms, and leisure facilities. It was hoped that, through this provision, new Americans and their families would be better able to integrate into society.