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.

Eleanor McMain

between 1928 and 1934; oil on canvas

by Nell Pomeroy O’Brien

courtesy of Kingsley House

Kingsley House scrapbook

between 1930 and 1939

courtesy of the Kingsley House Records, Louisiana Research Collection, Tulane University

Elevation of the New Orleans Day Nursery

ca. 1920; blueprint

courtesy of the Kingsley House Records, Louisiana Research Collection, Tulane University

Times-Picayune Loving Cup

1920; sterling silver

courtesy of Kingsley House


Since 1901 the Times-Picayune Loving Cup has been awarded annually to a New Orleanian who has made a significant contribution to the quality of life of his or her fellow citizens. In addition to Eleanor McMain, three other women featured in this exhibition received the award: Sophie B. Wright (1903), Jean Gordon (1921), and Martha Gilmore Robinson (1960).