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Salem Woman's Friend Society Records

Identifier: M.14

Scope and Contents

The Woman’s Friend Society collection contains extensive records dating from the earliest inception of the organization. Records include: incorporation documents, meeting minutes, payroll, membership cards and expense journals. The collection also houses numerous newspaper clippings chronicling the Society’s expansion over more than a century. These newspaper clippings contain information such as Society events, early histories of the Society, and the accomplishments of its members. An item of interest is an article on member, Ina Lathrop, who discusses her time as a Nazi Youth member in Berlin prior to World War II. Other items of interest are articles referencing Jennie Bertam Emmerton’s will following her death. The Emmerton and Bertram family are also mentioned in the Committee on Needlework Log, which lists them as ordering clothing and linen items. In addition to the Society’s financial documents are personal ephemera used in the Emmerton House, including a collection of sheet music and piano books from the 1880s through 1960. Also included is a hymn book from 1872. The collection also includes material about the house itself such as blueprints, notable architecture records, notes on furniture that was gifted and guides from mid-20th century house tours. This collection would be beneficial to a variety of scholars. The extensive records delve deep into the protestant philanthropic movement of the 19th-century and the fight against a lapse in puritanical values, especially amongst women. Coupled with this are notes on education available to woman during the late 19th and early 20th-centuries such as sewing, cooking, and laundry classes, making the collection a rich source for research in women’s studies. Also included are copious notes on many of The Bureau’s renters, most of whom were immigrants from Ireland or Nova Scotia or local woman fleeing domestic abuse. This information would be ideal for those researching Salem’s immigrant and servant population. It also includes information on many of Salem’s affluent women, for whom many of The Bureau’s boarders worked as housekeepers. Another field of study relating to women is the inception of the Visiting Nurse Association in Salem, which began as a segment of the Woman’s Friend Society.


  • 1876-2017

Biographical / Historical

The Woman’s Friend Society stems from a town meeting proposal made in 1875 by Kate Tannatt Woods, a Salem schoolteacher and representative of the Moral Education Society of Boston, who recognized the importance of promoting the “moral elevation of women.” Woods was backed by Salem’s Marshall, William M. Hill, who also called for a meeting at Salem’s Town Hall in order to raise money to help “purify” the area. Both were appalled by the lawlessness and lack of etiquette displayed by young woman throughout Salem. On March 22, 1876, the Moral Education Society of Salem was officially formed; It changed its name a to the Woman’s Friend Society. The group was designed to combat what Woods viewed as the community’s withdrawal from Puritan values, notably the amount of crime and vulgarity in Downtown Salem at the time. The organization created a Girl’s Reading Room in the Mayne’s Block building at 200 ½ Essex Street. This room was used as a meeting place, where local displaced youth could learn to read and have access to wholesome books. Looking to expand the Society’s outreach, they began searching for a home to shelter homeless women and girls. The wife of Joseph Hodges offered her property at the corner of Essex Street and Daniels Street in Salem for three months rent free. It came to be called “The Daniels Street Home” (it is now the Daniels House Bed and Breakfast)

In 1876, the Bureau of Employment (Later the Intelligence Office) was added to the Society’s programs. It served to connect woman with stable jobs in the area. In 1878, outgrowing their current operations, the Society placed an appeal in the local newspaper, requesting a home for their organization that would also serve as a shelter for women. Their appeal was answered by John Bertram, who despite being on his death bed was still practicing his philanthropy. He offered to them half of a house he owned located at 12 Elm Street (Hawthorne Boulevard) for a period of five years. If within those five years, the Society was able to maintain the home and continue their community efforts, the home would be gifted to them. The Society moved in on May 9, 1879 and the building was named the “Working Women’s Bureau.” The success of the Intelligence Office prompted the creation of a Committee on Registry to oversee it. That same year, Mrs. George D. Putnam, an early member and leader of the Society, was officially named President.

In 1880, the Committee on Needlework was created. They taught sewing lessons and handed out supplies, enabling woman to sell garments and linens out of their homes while caring for their children. The following year the Mission to the Sick began, which brought care to those who were bound to their homes by illness. This program would later evolve into the Visiting Nurse Association of Salem.

In 1884, Jennie Bertram Emmerton gave the house at 12 Elm Street to the Woman’s Friend Society on behalf of her deceased father, John Bertram. The Society began raising money to purchase the other half of the house but were initially met with resistance by the owners who asked for an unattainable sum.

That same year, Esther C. Mack bequeathed money to the Society to create an industrial school for woman to learn sewing and cooking skills. In 1906, the Mack Industrial School opened at 17 Pickman Street where it operated until 1920. In 1908, the school recorded having over 500 students. In 1910, these classes were opened to immigrant woman arriving in Salem.

The Woman’s Friend Society continued its community outreach into the 20th-century, adding classes for expectant mothers in the 1940s. In 1977, the Visiting Nurse Association branched off of the Society’s district nurse program but the two organizations continue to work together. In 1979, the Woman’s Friend Society offered the first Christmas in Salem house tour as a fundraiser for the VNA. This event remains an annual tradition in Salem and is now operated by Historic Salem, Inc. In 2008, the Emmerton House (John Fenno House) was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.


9 Cubic Feet

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Repository Details

Part of the Salem State University Archives and Special Collections Repository

University Archivist
352 Lafayette St.
Salem MA 01970 United States