History of the Margaret Fuller Neighborhood House
Started in what was previously the home of Sarah Margaret Fuller, this house has served the community of Area IV of Cambridge since 1902. The house itself was built in 1807 and is a federalist style home. It still stands today and is a National Historic Landmark in Cambridge, MA. Located at 71 Cherry Street in the section of Cambridge that was previously part of Cambridgeport, this home has seen a lot of change in the locale around it.
With the onset of the industrial revolution Cambridge was bustling with factory activity the labor that worked in these factories lived in boarding and tenement house that existed near by in what is now Area IV of Cambridge. The division between the upper and lower class was greater than ever before. Out of this new economic situation came the Settlement House movement. The idea was to create an outpost of education and culture in the slums and attempt to reduce the mutual suspicion and ignorance between classes.
The Margaret Fuller House was started as an extension project of the local YWCA. A portion of the building at 71 Cherry Street was designated to its activities in the community 1902. The first director of the house, Carrie Megraw writes,
“We started in 1902 with three rooms poorly furnished from odds and ends not wanted elsewhere. The neighbors were rather suspicious of our good intentions; the girls were shy and different, questioning our purpose; the boys were antagonistic….”
The early work of the Margaret Fuller House had a greater emphasis on relieving real physical suffering than the activities of the YWCA. They held meetings, socials, supplied food and clothing for women, organized day and rest trips for mothers, and helped women to find employment. House calls were an important part of the house’s early work. Girls and women were visited at home and brought reading material. In 1909 it is said that a Mr. Gerry from the YMCA set up the first ESL classes in Cambridge at the Margaret Fuller House. Post depression era, the Margaret Fuller House was one of the early recipients of “Red Feather” funding, which later became the United Way of Massachusetts Bay.
During the last century it has gone through many changes in name. It gained independence from the Y, incorporated and in 1971 grew to include the Cambridge Neighborhood House, one of the oldest settlement houses in America. Throughout this time it has always maintained the basic goals of a settlement house. “To provide focus, education, recreation, and orientation for its surrounding community; to be the socializing vehicle whereby the middle class and working class could meet…” It has developed and hosted a variety of programs, everything from tutoring children, to a senior mothers club, to a meeting space for the New England Kurdish Association. Currently we hold an after school, have a food pantry and computer center and employ two people in community involvement roles, a Streetworker and a Community Liaison.
The Margaret Fuller Neighborhood House started in the early parts of the 20th century as a settlement house and adapted and grew into a neighborhood house. In the truest sense of its beginnings it still exists today to serve its community. “You must constantly try new ideas and techniques… we are in continual motion… When things go wrong, remember, tomorrow will come up with the rising sun, so don’t give up the ship.” – From “Welcome to the Marga” 1970.