Named in honor of their friend and colleague Arnold Toynbee, the establishment of Toynbee Hall to bring about social improvement in an impoverished area of London was the start of the Settlement Movement. It was the inspiration of Barnetts, a Christian minister and his wife, who believed in philanthropy and the power of education to effect social change. The Barnetts not only dedicated themselves to work for the betterment of the lives of the poor and underprivileged in their parish, they also came up with the idea of bringing those of higher social class and greater educational opportunity, students from Oxford and Cambridge University to live and work together with them.
The success of the Barnetts' idea is evidenced through the work done by those who were involved in Toynbee Hall. Success is also evident in the variety of programs and cultural activities available through Toynbee Hall, which have greatly contributed to improving the quality of life of local residents. Not only was the original settlement house successful, early visitors were inspired to found their own settlements on their return home.
Such a person was Jane Addams, a pioneer in social work and civil rights, who together with Ellen Gates Starr founded Hull House after they visited Toynbee Hall. This institution, and others founded in New York City by other visitors to Toynbee Hall, not only pioneered settlement houses in the United States but also helped bring about many changes crucial to the improvement of society.
The Barnetts not only preached that the poor deserved better, they believed in serving others, and practiced what they preached, living for the sake of others. Additionally, they provided a way that the more fortunate in society could experience living for others less fortunate than themselves. Such an effort is a step toward the establishment of a true human society, one in which human beings have sufficient individual maturity to be able to regard others as belonging to the same family, serving and helping others to achieve their potential rather than just focusing on achieving one's own personal goals. The work of the Settlement Movement has thus been a valuable contribution to the advancement of a better world for all.
As great as the contribution of those working in the Settlement Movement has been, it could not change the hearts and minds of self-centered people from exploiting or ignoring the suffering of those weaker and less fortunate than themselves. Their educational programs could not go beyond external training; their social reforms changed the laws governing social behavior but not the minds of those who acted selfishly. True and complete solutions to social evils can only come from internal, spiritual change which will allow people to live as one human family.
The settlement movement was thus part of the preparation for the coming of true human societies on the earth, following the consummation of human history in the Last Days. The advent of such change depends on the internal transformation of human nature to match the external form that the movement sought to provide.