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Bethlehem House, Nashville

Children taking cod liver oil at the Bethlehem House, 1941.

Bethlehem House is an example of early interracial cooperation among southern women. It opened in October 1913 at the corner of Tenth and Cedar Streets as a joint effort of the Methodist Training School, Fisk University, and the Woman's Missionary Council of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South. In 1907 Sallie Hill Sawyer, a Fisk graduate and the first house mother of the Bethlehem House, asked Estelle Haskins, deaconess of the Methodist Training School and eventually the first Bethlehem House supervisor, to include Nashville's neglected African Americans in the settlement work of the city's Methodist women. The resulting Bethlehem House settlement work, receiving its principal support from the Woman's Missionary Council, was governed by an interracial board of representatives from its supporting institutions and other Nashville citizens. The interracial staff included volunteers, social workers, teachers, and students from Fisk University and George Peabody College for Teachers. Participants in the Bethlehem House programs took part in a variety of activities including kindergarten, the Knights of King Arthur boys' club, cooking and sewing classes, Camp Fire Girls, and mothers' clubs. In 1915 Bethlehem House moved to improved facilities at Eighth and Cedar Streets; in 1923 it moved to its current location at Fourteenth Street and Charlotte Avenue.

In 1970 Bethlehem House merged with two other Methodist settlement houses to form the United Methodist Neighborhood Centers, with the renamed Bethlehem Center serving as the administrative agency. In 1992 another name change designated the three settlement houses as the Bethlehem Centers of Nashville. Today, the Bethlehem Center, financed primarily through the Board of Global Ministries of the United Methodist Church and the United Way, provides social services, job opportunities, child care, and youth and family recreation programs to the Nashville community.

Published » December 25, 2009 | Last Updated » January 01, 2010