Our facility, built in 1807, is a national Historic Landmark. Once the home of the noted feminist and journalist Sarah Margaret Fuller, it was reinvented in 1902 as a Settlement House, providing information and services to help immigrants assimilate into American culture. Today our house on Cherry Street provides critical resources and a broad range of programs each year for more than 14,000 people of all ages—from infants to elders.
We have a busy food pantry; after school and summer programs for children; outreach to young adults at risk; programs for seniors; community organizing; a drop-in technology center, free computer classes and more. We also host community-wide events and a broad variety of workshops.
The Margaret Fuller House has been the heart of the Port/Area 4 for over 112 years. Generations of families have depended on the House as a gathering place and a broad support system.
Our neighborhood was originally called Cambridgeport or the Old Port. These names reference the geography many years ago when water levels were so high that boats could use the area as an actual port from the ocean. One of the densest neighborhoods of Cambridge, Area 4 or “The Port” is a vibrant residential community with over 7,000 diverse residents.
The Port has a rich history of science and invention, American Revolutionary involvement, factories, human rights advocates, writers, and artists. The West Boston (now Longfellow) Bridge opened in 1793, and offered the first direct route from Cambridge to Boston. Cambridgeport grew up along the roads leading to the bridge. Pleasant residential neighborhoods spread out from Massachusetts Avenue, while Central Square became the City of Cambridge’s true downtown. After 1850, industrialization of the area spread rapidly: soap-making, printing, confectionery, rubber, piano, and paper box-making factories filled the neighborhood.
In the mid to late 1800s, people from Ireland, then Eastern Europe and the South immigrated to Cambridgeport. Immigrants followed them from the West Indies and Central and South America during the 20th century. Immigrants walked to and worked in neighborhood businesses and factories. The Margaret Fuller House became a refuge for young women working 12-hour days.
Today the Port/Area 4 still houses many new immigrants to Cambridge–from Haiti, Barbados, Trinidad, Puerto Rico, Somalia, Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Pakistan, Portugal and other countries. Many come to the Margaret Fuller House and find a welcoming place to visit with friends and neighbors, to learn English, to get food or take computer classes or find help with finding a job.
Our neighborhood is also changing dramatically with increasing gentrification as Kendall Square and MIT develop an exciting hub of innovation. However, we cannot forget the folks who have lived in the Port for many years or the new immigrants who have just arrived. An important vision of the Margaret Fuller House is to insure that thousands of neighbors have a welcoming place to share for another century.
Sarah Margaret Fuller was born in our National Historic Landmark facility at 71 Cherry St. in Cambridge in 1810. She was an extraordinary author, editor, journalist, literary critic, educator, Transcendentalist, and women’s rights advocate.
Today many consider Margaret Fuller one of the guiding lights of the first-wave of feminism. She helped educate the women of her day by leading a series of Conversations in which women were empowered to read, think and discuss important issues of the day. She inspired generations to come through her ground-breaking writings, especially her landmark book Woman in the Nineteenth Century.
Among her accomplishments:
In her relatively brief life, from her birth in 1810 to a Unitarian family in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to her death in a shipwreck in 1850, Margaret Fuller accomplished a staggering list of firsts and milestones. Her visionary ideas—on the need for social and personal transformation, rationalism and mysticism, intellectual freedom and religious pluralism, and democracy and human rights outside our borders—continue to resonate in the 21st century.
Upon her untimely death, Ralph Waldo Emerson expressed that “Her conversations were the most entertaining in America…” and that “I have lost in her my audience.” Margaret Fuller was a brilliant, passionate, unconventional woman in the highly conventional Boston of the early 19th century.
The mission of the Margaret Fuller House is to strengthen and empower youth, families, and community residents. We work to address the economic, social and political inequities that shape the lives and futures of Port residents.
Built in 1807 as the childhood home of Sarah Margaret Fuller, a noted author, feminist, and Transcendentalist, our house on Cherry Street was reinvented in 1902 as one of the first Settlement Houses in the United States.
At the time, it was the height of the industrial revolution in Cambridge. Factories were staffed mostly by recent immigrants, and their living conditions, in boarding and tenement houses, were dire. In keeping with the spirit of the Settlement House movement, Margaret Fuller Neighborhood House (MFNH) was designed as an outpost of education and culture for these workers, and to ease class tensions.
Young women working 12 hour days came to the house for lunch. Volunteers and staff held meetings and socials; supplied food and clothing for women; organized day and rest trips for mothers; and helped women to find employment. Some of Cambridge’s first ESL classes took place at the MFNH, and the city’s first “Baby clinic” began there.
In the 1930’s, boys learned wood-working at the MFNH while mothers and young girls practiced sewing and cooking. There were drama classes and community productions. In the 40’s, the house hosted a boxing ring, and in the 50’s and 60’s, teens from all over Cambridge came to Friday evening sock hops. In the early 70’s, the Black Panthers had a radio station on the third floor and sponsored Saturday morning father and son breakfasts in the basement.
The Margaret Fuller House was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1984. Throughout its history, 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…”
Stop by our home on Cherry Street any weekday for a welcome to the neighborhood, or a welcome home.