Eleanor McMain (1868–1934)
Eleanor McMain began her career as a teacher and operator of a private school in her native Baton Rouge before moving to New Orleans to train with the Episcopal Church’s Free Kindergarten Association. Through her participation with that program, she formed an association with Kingsley House, a settlement house in the Irish Channel. Settlement houses were a late-nineteenth-century development that began in London. Located in poor, urban neighborhoods, they attracted educated middle- and upper-income residents (settlers) to live in the houses and provide education and social services to the surrounding community.
By 1901 McMain was appointed head resident of Kingsley House, a position she would hold for more than thirty years. Her work included the provision of many services—free kindergarten, playgrounds, social clubs, classes, a grocery cooperative, health and hygiene services, and a low-cost day care for working mothers. While serving at Kingsley House, McMain made two trips to Chicago to study and work at Jane Addams’s Hull-House, a thriving settlement house in the Near West Side of Chicago. Following one of those trips, she founded the Southern School of Social Science and Public Service, which would eventually become the Tulane School of Social Work.
She also founded the Central Council of Social Agencies of New Orleans, a group devoted to streamlining the delivery of social services and encouraging long-term planning among its member agencies. She served as the first president of the Woman’s League of New Orleans, which brought together progressive reformers throughout the city. In 1932 a public high school for girls was named in her honor.