BETHLEHEM CENTERS OF NASHVILLE (1894- )
Beginning in 1894, a group of Nashville women associated with
the Methodist Church
assisted many immigrating families, and two years later they established
the Door of Hope
Mission which offered early child-care services and a rescue mission
for girls. The
Methodists in Nashville had been immersed in the "social gospel"
since the 1870s.
In 1901, they led the way when the City Mission Board established the
fledged settlement home on Claiborne and Fillmore streets in South
Nashville. Two years
it was named Wesley Community House, and its programming was modeled after
Jane Addams' Hull House in Chicago, Illinois. Its programs for the disadvantaged
ranged from educational to recreational services. In 1913, after numerous
moves, the Wesley Community House moved into new facilities on Wharf Avenue,
where it remained until 1957. Officials of Wesley House developed the J.
C.Napier Center in 1956 to serve the African-American community.
In 1908, the Warioto Settlement House began for mill workers at the
Morgan and Hamilton Bag Company's Warioto Cotton Mill. These were white,
predominantly rural migrant workers, who lived in Kalb Hollow, in North
Nashville. Young Methodist women from the Methodist Training School of
Nashville canvassed the community and invited mill workers to the new settlement.
Warioto settlement services ranged from activities for pre-school children
to sewing and cooking groups, to mothers learning the newest techniques
of child care, diet, and the prevention of disease. From funds raised through
the Methodist Centenary Drive, the Warioto Settlement House moved to Monroe
Street in 1919. Two years later, a new building was erected and Warloto
was given the name Centenary Methodist Institute.
Another Methodist settlement was encouraged by Sallie Hill Sawyer, an African American, who in 1907
approached the Methodists at the Training School and urged them to extend
services to Nashville's indigent African Americans. A graduate of Fisk
University, Sawyer was a former school teacher and a member of Capers Memorial
Colored Methodist Church. In 1913, Estelle Haskins, of the Missionary Training
School, and Sallie Sawyer began a kindergarten, well-baby clinic, sewing
circle, and recreation programs for African Americans in the basement of
St. Andrews Presbyterian Church. In 1914, with funds from the Tennessee
Conference Woman's Missionary Society, a building for Bethlehem Center
was built at Tenth and Cedar streets for African Americans. A year later,
the center, with an interracial staff, moved to Eighth and Cedar streets.
During the First World War, Nashville's African-American women were organized
for Red Cross work on August 31, 1917, under the name of the Unit Auxillary.
The Bethlehem Center served as the headquarters for all "colored workers"
of the Red Cross.
In 1929, six years after Bethlehem Center moved to its
present location (1417 Charlotte Avenue), forty-eight acres of land were
purchased in Cheatham County and given to the center. Camp Dogwood was
built and became the First location in Middle Tennessee for African-American
youngsters to attend camp. Bethlehem Center conducted a comprehensive program
of individual and group services, including out-reach programs to residents
of Andrew Jackson and John Henry Hale public housing communities. Bethlehem
Center, like other settlements, was an early training center for college
In 1969, Bethlehem Center was admitted to the United Givers Fund (now
United Way). The following year, the organizational structure changed, and
the three settlement houses were consolidated under the name of the United Methodist Neighborhood
Centers, with Bethlehem Center serving as the administrative agency. In 19921,
the board of directors changed the name of the agency from United Neighborhood Centers to Bethlehem
Centers of Nashville.
The Tennessee Historical Commission recognized the significance of Bethlehem
Centers of Nashville to the state's social history when on February 19,
1994, it approved the placement of a historical marker commemorating the
centers' 100 years of service to the Nashville community.