In 1888, while on a European tour, Jane Addams and Ellen Starr visited Toynbee Hall in London. Established in the memory of the social reformer, Arnold Toynbee, it was a place where students from Oxford University and Cambridge University were invited to spend their holidays at Toynbee Hall so they could work among, and improve the lives of the poor.
Inspired by the success of the project, when Jane Addams and Ellen Starr returned to the United States in 1889, they founded the social settlement, Hull House, in Chicago. They were soon joined by other social reformers such as Edith Abbott, Grace Abbott, Mary McDowell, Florence Kelley, Alzina Stevens, Julia Lathrop, Alice Hamilton and Sophonisba Breckinridge.
The Hull House settlement received a considerable amount of publicity and soon spread to other cities in the United States. This included Andover House in Boston in 1891 and the Henry Street Settlement in New York, established by Lillian Wald in 1893. Madeline Breckinridge was another important figure in this movement and in 1900 founded the Proctor Settlement in Kentucky.
In 1891 there were six settlements, by 1897 there were 74, and in 1900 there were over a hundred in the United States. In 1911 leaders of the social settlement movement founded the National Federation of Settlements.