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The Philadelphia Society for the Employment and Instruction of the Poor founded the House of Industry here in 1846 to provide training, shelter, and welfare programs for impoverished citizens of the city, including immigrants. It predated many of the settlement houses which would arise in the United States in the coming decades. The House of Industry sought to aid the city's people in moving out of poverty and into the social mainstream with job training, English-language courses, and the necessities for life. In the twentieth century, the House of Industry underwent several changes and mergers with other settlement houses and similar organizations. United Communities Southeast Philadelphia, a successor of these groups, continues this anti-poverty and community-building work today.

Engraving of the House of Industry, ca. 1850s. Castner Scrapbook Collection, Free Library of Philadelphia (public domain)

Black-and-white engraving of building facade and side from the street, surrounded by trees and with several people walking in front of the building.

House of Industry, ca. 1870. Image courtesy of the Philadelphia Free Library, via Explore PA History (public domain)

Front of House of Industry, photographed from street. The second floor windows have shutters, and fourth-floor dormers are visible between chimneys.

Class tensions were high in 1840s Philadelphia; backlash against the influx of European immigrants erupted into anti-immigrant violence in 1844. The Society for the Employment and Instruction of the Poor, an organization managed by both men and women, founded the House of Industry in response to the needs of the poorest residents of the city, particularly immigrants. It was a separate organization from the house of industry operated by the Female Society of Philadelphia for the Relief and Employment of the Poor, founded several decades earlier.

Initially, the main populations of immigrants served by the house were English-speaking people from the British Isles, and the organization trained them to make shoes, rugs, clothing, baskets, and brushes. It also provided housing, predating the settlement house movement which would emerge in the United States several decades later. As immigration from southern Europe, particularly Italy, became more common, the organization shifted to offer English language classes as well. The organization's efforts sought to alleviate poverty, but also to assimilate immigrants into mainstream American culture.

In 1921, the House of Industry formed the Philadelphia Welfare Federation with several other settlement houses. Twenty-five years later, in 1946, the organizations formally merged into the United Neighbors Association. This new organization underwent further changes in the 1960s; United Communities Southeast Philadelphia is the successor of the House of Industry and other similar organizations.

The architect of the original House of Industry building was Thomas U. Walter. The illustration of the building in the mid-nineteenth century appears different from later photographs of the building, so there may have been renovations or even multiple structures on this site. The building is no longer standing.

Explore PA History. House of Industry Historical Marker, Explore PA History: Historical Markers. Accessed April 16th 2021.

Historical Society of Pennsylvania. The Friendly Society, one of Philadelphia's first charitable organizations, was founded in what year?, Question of the Week. June 5th 2011. Accessed April 16th 2021.

Philadelphia Society for the Employment and Instruction of the Poor. Report of the Philadelphia Society for the Employment and Instruction of the Poor for the seasons of 1847-1848. Philadelphia, PA. Merrihew and Thompson, 1848. Internet Archive. Accessed April 16th 2021.

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