History

Actively Helping Others Since 1876

In today’s active non-profit world, it’s difficult to imagine how innovative the founders of The Woman’s Friend Society were in 1876 when they recognized and acted on the needs of Salem’s “less fortunate” women. Beginning with the Girl’s Reading Room, the Society created a place where girls and women could meet, even if some of the initial participants did not know how to read.  It was an immediate success, attracting girls and young women who then brought their friends. It was also the first of many endeavors that were worthwhile, often ahead of their time, and made quality improvements in the life conditions of many women.

It soon became apparent that more than a meeting place was needed.  These girls and women needed jobs. The establishment of what was called the Intelligence Office and later, the Admission and Investigation Office, sounds fairly subversive to modern ears, but was, in the lingo of the day a “bureau of employment.”  And, if not subversive, it was definitely considered progressive.

In fact, “progressive” describes most of the activities of the Society, many of which were first-of-their-kind efforts that flourished and eventually became independent.

A few of the highlights include:

Resources:
Bowen, Gloria F. The History of the Woman’s Friend Society. Gloucester: The Pressroom, Inc, 2002. Print.

1876: The Woman’s Friend Society was founded.

1879: Emmerton House opened, providing housing and support for girls and women.

1880: The new Committee on Needlework sewed small necessities for invalids.

1880: The Society’s first cooking classes began.

1887: Emmerton House became the home of a “kitchen kindergarten” that proved so popular it was adopted by the Salem Public Schools in 1894.

1889: The Mack Industrial School opened, thanks to the bequest of Esther Mack, to
provide employment training  for young women.  Sewing, dressmaking, millinery and cooking were taught and by 1908 more than 500 students were enrolled. The school continued, operating out of what is now 17 Pickman Street, until the late 1920s, at which time some programs moved to what is now the Essex Agricultural and Technical High School.

1895: Our first “District Nurse” began making her rounds by bicycle.  Who could have predicted this would become the nation’s model for a visiting nurse program.  In Salem, the program expanded and moved several times.  In 1977, it was spun off as the Visiting Nurse Association, although the Society remained closely involved.

1910: The Woman’s Friend Society began teaching sewing skills to the many untrained   immigrant women arriving in Salem.

1940?s: Classes were begun for expectant mothers.

1979: The first Christmas in Salem house tour, now an annual city tradition, was
conceived as a fundraiser for the VNA.

1996: Working with the Woman’s Friend Society, the Salem Chamber of Commerce
established the Caroline Emmerton Committee  to support women who owned
their own businesses.

1999: Emmerton House became part of the new  Salem Women’s Heritage Trail developed by Bonnie Hurd Smith.

2008: Emmerton House was accepted for inclusion in the National Register of
Historic Places.

2013: Participated in the Christmas in Salem’s “Port of Call” holiday house tour,
now under the auspices of Historic Salem, Inc.