The Northside Neighborhood House

By Rebecca A. Hunt

Northside women organized the North Side Women’s Club (NSWC) in 1895. Its members were affluent women living in the Highlands as well as women who had moved from the area. From the beginning, the club included activist women who had a broad sense of what their role in the community should be. 

The goal was to provide members with education on a broad range of subjects. The club’s mandate also included aiding those in need. The Progressive movement, inspired by the idea of Social Gospel, had strong social and political influences on these women. They believed in putting their actions where their values were. A lecture on Jan. 9, 1900, presented profiles of prominent Socialists including Detroit Mayor Hazen Pingree, Progressive leader and economist Richard Ely, and Denver’s own Rev. Myron Reed.

The members gave money and time to the Home for Dependent and Neglected Children, the Girl’s Industrial School, the Crittendon Home, the Old Ladies’ Home, the city and county jails, the county hospital and the newsboys’ union. In 1903, they provided towels for Judge Lindsey’s public shower for working boys in the basement of the Denver Courthouse. 

NSWC’s most significant project was setting up the North Side Neighborhood House (NSNH). 

Winona Osborn and the Northside Hesperian Club led the project with the help of Father Joseph Carrigan of St. Patrick’s church and local Protestant minister James Speer. The NSNH opened its doors in October of 1904 at its first home, a small house at 3324 Navajo St. By 1906 it had relocated to the Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish Hall at 3517 Navajo St. Additional moves took the neighborhood house to 3544 Kalamath St., 3603 Lipan St. and 3410 Pecos St. 

Map 16: Northside Neighborhood House sites in 1904 and 1915. Map by Rebecca Hunt

Mrs. Wright, the superintendent, managed the facility with donated furnishings and supplies. In 1906, club member Sarah Irish was appointed as the NSNH resident worker. 

Throughout 1899 and 1900, the kitchen-garden committee of the NSWC offered Saturday classes. Topics included selecting wood to build cookstove fires; table setting; bed making; sweeping; washing; ironing; kitchen care; lamp and cellar care; marketing; child care; and dealing with emergencies. They hoped to teach the immigrant mothers how to create “model homes,” “where the mothers of our present pupils may be helped to make their own homes a more attractive, more satisfying place.” 

At its height, the neighborhood house included a gymnasium for the boys, a recreation room, a reading room, a library, girls’ and boys’ clubs, and a mother’s club. It also offered classes on domestic sciences, sewing and English. 

Children at the opening of the Neighborhood House. Unknown source, Rebecca Hunt collection

Volunteer teachers held English classes at night, set up for the men in the Italian community who, they believed, had the greatest contact with the outside world. Many older Italian women did not venture too far out of the community so, the reformers felt, had less need to learn a new language. A typical class included street addresses, singing “America” and “The Star Spangled Banner,” and usually a civics lesson. The men who took classes included gardeners, truck drivers and laborers.

House supervisors tried to appeal to the community so they bought a Victrola, stocked with Italian operas and modern dance music. According to an article in the Denver Post, while older visitors liked traditional music, the younger set liked “the latest rag.” One story told of young Mary Musso, who was continually late for dinner because she wanted to stay and listen to the music. She was caught between the world of her family and that of the broader culture that the settlement house represented. The Post also reported that the local boys liked the house’s boxing classes because they helped them deal with prejudice from non-immigrant kids. As they told A. P. Drucker, “it taught them to beat the American kids who teased them and beat them up.” 

The house also had success stories. Tony Ampiro attended classes at North Side because his family hoped to keep him out of trouble. He had appeared in Judge Lindsey’s juvenile court and was not doing well in school. When the house leaders discovered that he had artistic talent, they arranged for outside art lessons. By age 15 he became a noted book cover designer and stayed out of trouble after that. 

Frequently between 1905 to 1915, the NSWC looked outside for financial help. In 1905, they went to the Associated Charities of Denver requesting assistance. Although the North Side Neighborhood House ran as an independent agency, eventually when they ran out of money, the Denver Neighborhood House Association merged with them. In 1909, the Neighborhood Association established a trade school at North Side with the blessings of the North Side Women’s Club. 

Dr. Rebecca A. Hunt has been a resident of North Denver since 1993. She worked in museums and then taught museum studies and Colorado, Denver, women’s and immigration history at the University of Colorado Denver until she retired in 2020.

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