Seeking to provide refuge to children and families in need, the Evangelia Settlement Home opened in 1908. Established by religious reformers Ethel Dickson and Nell Symes, the home aimed to care for the least of these throughout Waco’s community for nearly a century.
Evangelia Settlement was part of a broader settlement house movement that began in Great Britain and moved to the United States. In the late nineteenth century, white, middle- and upper-class women, often motivated by their Christian faith, began to establish homes for those in low-income areas with few resources. Settlement houses popped up across the country. Jane Addams and Ellen Gates Starr established one of the most well-known settlement houses, Hull House, in Chicago, Illinois. As the movement spread across the country in the early twentieth century, an estimated eighteen settlements opened throughout Texas, including in Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, and Waco.
Inspired by a traveling evangelist who spoke in Waco, Dickson and Symes opened a small nursery on Webster Street. Initially a modest room located on Thirteenth Street, Waco’s Evangelia Settlement began as a humble effort to care for children whose mothers worked as sewing machine operators at Slayden-Kirskey Woolen Mills. Seeking to expand Evangelia’s reach as a charitable, educational, and religious institution, the founders partnered with Protestant churches in the area to garner community support and to secure funding.
By 1910, with financial aid from local churches, volunteers for Evangelia Settlement began working from a rental house. The next year, additional donations from Waco citizens enabled the opening of Evangelia’s own home, complete with a playground and five full-time staff. The State of Texas issued a charter for Evangelia Settlement Home in June 1912. Though backed by the state government, Evangelia’s board members and volunteers continued to depend on community support.
Donations and funding from those across Waco provided necessary aid for the growing settlement house. An upper floor and additional rooms were added to Evangelia in the late 1910s, and the Karem Shrine constructed a building for boys and a space for kindergarten classes in 1927. The Waco Community Chest, organized in 1924, regularly allocated money to Evangelia, and other generous donors also helped improve the building. For instance, donations from the Cooper Foundation, United Way, and the Andrew J. Dossett family facilitated the construction of a cottage for infants. Later in 1953, Evangelia operated with financial support from the United Fund of Waco and continued to improve the building on site. With each expansion, Evangelia Settlement grew in capacity and provided additional children with housing, meals, and educational and religious instruction.
In partnership with the Salvation Army and the YMCA, Evangelia joined the “Yes-For-Youth” Building Fund Campaign in 1956. The fund enabled the construction of a new building, which opened in June 1958. From 510 South Twelfth Street, Evangelia volunteers and workers continued their efforts to serve children and families throughout the community. By the late 1950s, Evangelia was authorized to care for sixty-two children and offered twenty-four-hour day care. To subsidize costs, parents paid on an individual basis, and the price of care depended on each family’s financial situation. Some children stayed for free, while others paid around five dollars a week per child. For those who placed their children in twenty-four-hour care, Evangelia sought to provide parental education so that children could eventually return home. Still, depending on the family’s circumstances, others were placed in foster homes and at times, orphanages.
Hoping to accept the growing number of interested families, Evangelia continued to expand throughout the mid-twentieth century. Despite Evangelia’s broad efforts, though, the institution remained segregated from its founding until the mid-1960s and only offered resources to white parents and children. Other organizations, including the Joyce Stamps Nursery and the Latin American Neighborhood Center provided care for Black and Latino children in the area.
By the 1970s, Evangelia offered services to over one hundred children and continued to partner with community organizations to ensure children received necessary care. Evangelia held kindergarten classes for children not yet enrolled in school, and for those who attended Waco Public Schools, Evangelia provided after-school care to assist working parents. The settlement house worked with social workers, public school teachers, nurses, doctors, and psychologists. Providing resources to children and families in need remained central to Evangelia’s efforts.
Evangelia Settlement continued to operate in Waco until the state denied their licensure in 2007. After advocacy from Buck Cole, whose family found refuge at Evangelia Settlement in the mid-twentieth century, the Texas Historical Commission placed a marker at the site in 2022. While the settlement house no longer exists in its original form, the site now accommodates EOAC Head Start, an organization that provides educational opportunities and childcare to families across McLennan and Fall Counties. Other organizations in Waco also heed the message of communal care that Evangelia promoted. The Good Neighbor House, founded in 2016, draws on the settlement house movement as its volunteers and workers aim to provide resources and enrichment for Waco’s youth. Through these organizations, Evangelia Settlement’s effort to support under resourced children and families endures.