200 Years of Social Justice Gave Us Mission Girls

The Mission and Vision of Mission Girls takes us back two hundred years, to the beginning of the Settlement House movement in England.

British social activists believed that university students and the wealthy should settle in poverty stricken neighborhoods to bring about cross-cultural understanding and resolve the class tensions of an industrialized, urban society by providing services, working for social reform and improving the daily quality of life.

Later the poor and uneducated class were encouraged to be part of the Settlement House movement, their efforts led to the foundation of the first House in 1884, named Toynbee Hall in London’s East End.

Inspired by the example of Toynbee Hall, where he had spent three months, Stanton Coit (1857-1944) Leader of the Ethical Movement in England, established the first American Settlement House in New York City’s Lower East Side.

“The Neighborhood Guild” —later renamed University Settlement— was founded in 1886, occupying a six-story Edwardian Building. It caterered to boys during its beginning stages, and later served entire families.

The Settlement House staff resided in the same building in which programs and activities occurred. They served the poor, immigrants, women and children, and regarded people who used their services as neighbors, not clients. The staff tried to ensure that a variety of offerings were available day to day to serve as many neighborhood residents as possible. The Houses offered childcare; referrals to families in need of medical care; activity and craft areas for school-age children; language classes in the evenings and specialized trainings and classes on social science and social reform.

In America Settlement Houses were run by wealthy, educated women who, due to social stigma of the times, were not allowed to work in their areas of expertise.

In the late 1800’s, sisters Rae and Eva Wolfson, from a Jewish- German immigrant family, organized “Managers” to establish a Girls Club on 7th and Folsom streets, the first Settlement House in Northern California. These so-called “managers” were women from leading and prominent San Francisco families.

In 1906 the earthquake fires destroyed the building, mobilizing efforts to build the Capp Street Center, which in 1911 became the new home for the Girls Club of San Francisco (1900- 1942).

The club provided services to girls and their mothers, mostly poor immigrants or recent California transplants, who attended cultural activities, cooking, music, art and life skills classes, as well as recreational and social events through the Girls Club.

In 1942, the Community Chest (present day United Way) recommended that the Girls Club provide services to boys as well as to families, establishing the Girls Club as one of Mission Community Center’s programs. By 1958 a study commissioned by the Community Chest encouraged the merging of three neighborhood centers: Precita Valley Community Center; 24th Street Family Center; and Mission Community Center, creating the present-day Mission Neighborhood Centers.

Located in the heart of the Mission District is the program Mission Girls, the newest version of the Girls Club now serving girls ages 8-25 through various prevention and intervention programs and after school activities.

“We were at that site for 19 years, the property was purchased by Mission Neighborhood Centers for affordable senior housing for those Ellis-Acted.”

Their mission in this new era is to empower young women to achieve academically and to become agents of change in their community. They offer program facilitation and case-management practices framed around violence prevention and diversion; restorative justice and harm reduction.

You may ask yourself why they moved from their site at 3007 24th Street, and what does the future hold for them? “We were at that site for 19 years, the property was purchased by Mission Neighborhood Centers for affordable senior housing for those Ellis-Acted,” said Gloria Dominguez, Site Coordinator for Mission Girls Services.

The program is currently being housed at Precita Valley Neighborhood Centers during this transition period. Starting in April, the old police station at 1240 Valencia Street will be their new, semi-permanent home for the next 5-10 years.

Dominguez is currently working on identifying a permanent home for the program with the help of foundation donors. Her other goals going forward are to build a strong foundation at the new site and continue to reach out to those most in need of services to deliver more quality care and programming for continued growth.

Community agencies, leaders and advocates have made themselves present throughout the years, let us not lose sight of them!

Watch an interview with Gloria Dominguez >