Our History

Founded as a traditional settlement house in Philadelphia in 1908, Settlement Music School has a rich and long-standing history of evolving to meet the creative needs of the communities we serve.

Settlement Music School was founded in 1908 by Jeanette Selig Frank and Blanche Wolf Kohn as the music program of the College Settlement in the Southwark section of Philadelphia.
Our Founding

Settlement Music School was founded in 1908 by Jeanette Selig Frank and Blanche Wolf Kohn as the music program of the College Settlement in the Southwark section of Philadelphia. The College Settlement was a typical turn-of-the-century settlement house offering a variety of services to the newly arrived immigrants in the community. In 1917, Mary Louise Curtis Bok made a $150,000 gift to the School to support music education. The music program grew rapidly, from volunteers offering piano lessons for a nickel to a full program of instruction in all musical instruments taught by professionals, including several members of the Philadelphia Orchestra.

Historic photo of choir rehearsal at Settlement
1910s – 1920s
Establishing a Focus

By 1914, Settlement was incorporated as an independent community school of the arts. The current Mary Louise Curtis Branch building was built to house Settlement in 1917. Although founded primarily for the benefit of school-aged children, Settlement developed a conservatory division offering pre-professional training that was of sufficient stature to serve as the nucleus of the Curtis Institute of Music, established in 1924.

Historic photo of Settlement's Germantown Branch
1940s – 1960s
Branching Out

In the 1940s and ‘50s, Settlement experimented with various remote satellite and branch locations, and by 1960 had established the Germantown and Northeast (later the Kardon-Northeast) branches.

Arts therapy student practices the drums
1970s – 1980s
Expanding Our Reach

In the 1970s, Settlement undertook an ambitious program of education and therapy in music and dance for children and adults with disabilities, and in the mid-1980s incorporated the Kardon Institute of the Arts for People with Disabilities as a separate but allied institution. In 1985, the Kardon Institute formed its own independent 501(c)3 organization. In the late ‘80s Settlement merged with the Jenkintown Music School to create a fourth branch and founded a fifth branch in West Philadelphia (now the Wynnefield Branch).

Rock band at Settlement
Building Relationships

In January 1997, Settlement began a collaborative relationship with the Camden School of Musical Arts in East Camden whereby Settlement provided the Camden School with management and technical assistance.

Exterior of Settlement's Camden Branch
2000s – Today
Where We Are Now

In the Fall of 2010, Settlement began building a new branch in Willow Grove, and in January, 2011, the Willow Grove Branch replaced the leased facility in Jenkintown. In 2014, the Kardon Institute closed and its programs—and many of its therapists—transitioned to Settlement. In July 2014, Settlement officially launched the Kardon Center for Arts Therapy, offering music, art, and dance/movement therapy services to individuals with various special needs at each of Settlement’s community branches and at other locations throughout the communities we serve. In 2015, Settlement forged a partnership with Creative Arts Morgan Village Academy (CAMVA) and officially moved the Camden Branch to CAMVA’s building on Morgan Boulevard. Due to the rapid growth of community partnerships in Camden, Camden’s on-site teaching branch transitioned in 2020 into a virtual partnership offering. At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, Settlement Music Online was launched and continues to rapidly grow its following across the country.

A settlement 100 spotlight

The Settlement 100

Get to know 100 eclectic, diverse, and unexpected individuals whose
experiences at Settlement Music School helped shape their lives.

Learn More