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Caroline Emmerton – Early Call to Service

August 24, 2021 Published By Holly Watson

This year we are celebrating our founder’s vision of preservation and service. Join us as we explore her life that lead to her legacy here at The Gables.

A photograph of a woman with a velvet hat.Caroline Osgood Emmerton was born on Summer Street in Salem on April 21, 1866, in a house which is today The Salem Inn. Her paternal grandfather, Ephraim Emmerton, lived in a Georgian mansion next door. Her maternal grandfather, John Bertram, lived on Essex Street in an even larger mansion. Both grandfathers had been merchants involved in Salem’s maritime trade in the early 1800s. They made their fortunes sending ships to places like India, Zanzibar, California, and South America.

Emmerton’s family valued community service. Her grandfather, Captain John Bertram, gave $25,000 in 1873 to build Salem Hospital. His heirs donated his mansion on Essex Street to Salem to be the public library. Her mother, Jennie Bertram Emmerton, was well known for her charitable work with the Salem Society for Higher Education for Women and the Old Ladies’ Home. When Jennie Emmerton died in 1912, her obituary read:  “She was the richest woman in Salem, well known for her charitable disposition and ever ready to extend a helping hand to those who were desirous of helping themselves, and to those who were unable to help themselves.”

We don’t know many details about Caroline Emmerton’s early life. We suspect that she was privately educated by tutors at home. As a young woman, she was already very involved in philanthropic work in Salem. She visited Toynbee Settlement Hall in London in 1892 when she was 26 years old. Toynbee Hall was the catalyst for the international settlement movement and inspired visitors to work for change in their own communities. In 1894, at age 28, Caroline Emmerton was a board member at the Carpenter Street Home, a shelter for orphaned children, and at the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities, today’s Historic New England.

Jane Addams and Ellen Gates Starr, credited with bringing the settlement movement to America, had visited Toynbee Hall in 1888 and opened Hull House in Chicago in 1889. One year later 400 settlement houses had sprung up across America, almost half of which were located in Chicago, New York, and Boston. In 1908 Caroline Emmerton sat on a committee tasked with starting a settlement house in Salem. For the new organization, she chose as its location the Seaman’s Bethel at the bottom of Turner Street where The Gables’ seaside lawn is today. The Bethel was a church for sailors associated with the Young Men’s Bethel Society that formed in the 1820s.

The early offerings of Emmerton’s settlement house included, “sewing…and some of the other handicrafts, dancing and gymnasium work.” Emmerton expanded the programs and services of the settlement house to the point that they exceeded the capacity of the Seaman’s Bethel. When Emmerton learned that the neighboring Turner-Ingersoll Mansion was up for sale, she purchased it as the settlement’s practical and collective center.

Next week we will discuss the work of Caroline Emmerton and Joseph Chandler to preserve The House of the Seven Gables.

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This post was written by Holly Watson