The Hawaiian settlement house movement was a smaller version of the American movement best represented by Chicago’s Hull House. Staffed by members of the middle class, these institutions sought to help immigrant families adapt to the language and customs of their new country.
The word ‘settlement’ had connotations of the frontier middle-class ‘settling’ in the inner city. Settlement houses in Hawai‘i and the US offered educational services, staged community events, build libraries and in general tried to enhance the lives of their neighborhoods.
Behind the settlement house effort was the progressive belief in the importance of social cohesion, the belief that individuals are not autonomous but part of a web of social relationships and that welfare of any single person is dependent on the welfare of society as a whole. (Castle)
“The ‘Settlement’ as developed both in England and the United States is concerned with the social and moral well-being of its community in both concrete and spiritual form.”
“But since its field is among people of many races and creeds and of widely different economic standing it cannot restrict itself by adhering to any channel of dogma or belief which represents only a portion of the community. Like any rule this one has its exceptions, but that is the general principle upon which a Settlement must work if it wishes to be a community organization.”
“The Settlement field is that of applied social science; what we might call the firing line of our social, political, and economic theory.”
“This field always represents the frontier between the great body of theory and principle and the great body of condition and fact – applying, adapting and proving or disproving the one to the other by concrete expression. That is the field and the fundamental principle adopted by the Alexander House Settlement.” (The Friend, December 1922)
The precursor of the Alexander House Settlement was a Chinese Mission located in Wailuku to which Miss Charlotte L Turner came to take charge in 1893.
After seven years of this work Miss Turner and Miss NG Malone, also formerly a mission worker on Maui, were on a vacation in the East and while visiting ‘Settlements’ in Chicago, New York and Boston conceived the idea of establishing a settlement on Maui. Both returned to Wailuku and went to work to put this idea into concrete form.
These two finally secured contributions enough to start building and also secured the land upon which to build. The land, about two acres, was deeded by the “Directors of the Wailuku Sugar Co. to the Hawaiian Board of Missions for Educational, and Christian work only,” reversion to the Sugar Company when no longer so used being a part of the deed.
In 1900 work was begun. No stone was left unturned to help along in the good work. Prison labor was given by the county. Even the Mission workers (Miss Turner and her assistants), literally “by the sweat of their brows” with hoes and other implements did a share of the work. (The Friend, December 1922)
The first building erected was known as the “Settlement Building” and was situated on the corner of Main and Market streets. It was completed and opened in 1900, its main use being for a kindergarten.
The name “Alexander House Settlement” was chosen as Miss Turner says because “It was customary to name them (settlements) after the men and women whose lives had been consecrated to the uplift of humanity, hence, the name ‘Alexander House’ after ‘William and Mary Alexander’ the influence of whose lives is still felt on Maui, and throughout the Islands and whose names we love to honor.”
The settlement house should not be confused with the former Alexander home of missionaries William and Mary Alexander farther up Main Street in Wailuku.
After the Settlement began functioning, it was found necessary to build a residence for the workers and the present residence was erected in 1901. In 1909 they added a gymnasium and swimming tank (pool) and bowling alley.
A reading room was finally opened, papers were subscribed, books were donated and finally a Library Association was formed which enlarged the library and each year raised enough money to keep the “Library” open at stated hours afternoons and evenings. From this effort has grown the Maui County Free Public Library.
In 1916 land was also acquired on which to build a tennis court; later a second court was constructed and then four more. In 1919, a new field, or rather a new organization of its field of endeavor, gave the Settlement a much larger scope.
At this time the plantations entered into an agreement whereby their welfare work was put under the general supervision of the Settlement. (The Friend, December 1922)
The Alexander Settlement served as the address of the Maui Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) recruitment office from 1934 to 1941; the CCC later changed to the “TH Employment Service, Wailuku, Maui.”
Throughout the years of its existence, Alexander House hosted concerts, parties and entertainments as fundraising events. Community outreach programs in health care and physical education were developed by Alexander House and the complex housed the Chamber of Commerce, the Red Cross, Community Chest and other public service groups.
Later, the Alexander House Settlement’s kindergarten and land was transformed into a United Service Organization (USO.) By 1950, Alexander House closed its doors and was replaced by the National Dollar Store and by American Security bank. (Later the corner bank site was redeveloped as an office building.)