With a fortune inherited from her grandfather, maritime trader John Bertram, Emmerton carried on her family’s tradition of endowing and supporting charitable good works, including the Bertram Home for Aged Men, the Salem public library, the Seaman’s Widow and Orphan Society, the Family Service Association, the Salem Fraternity Boys Club, and the city’s Public Welfare Society, as well as the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities (now Historic New England), of which she was a founding member. In 1907, she joined with a group of women to explore forming a settlement house in Salem and to do “experimental work.” By the following year, these women had begun to offer classes in sewing and other crafts and activities in an old Seaman’s Bethel next to the historic Turner-Ingersoll Mansion, which was also known as the house that Nathaniel Hawthorne had written about in his novel The House of the Seven Gables. In 1908, she bought the Turner-Ingersoll house, and in 1910 the organization opened in its hybrid form.
Like many American settlement house founders and workers, Emmerton saw exposure to historic environments and stories as a way for new immigrants to absorb democratic values and practices. “If, as is generally conceded, the settlements do the best Americanization work,” she wrote, “should not this settlement excel whose home is the ancient House of Seven Gables, the foundations of which were laid by the first immigrants who came here long ago, strangers in a strange land?” Over time, Emmerton continued to expand and reorganize the compound, eventually moving four additional colonial-era buildings to the site and working with the colonial revival architect Joseph Everett Chandler to restore them.
- “Mrs. Emmerton Died Early Today,” Salem Evening News, Aug. 15, 1912
- Register of Historic Places nomination[permanent dead link], 2005
- National Register of Historic Places nomination Archived November 22, 2009, at the Wayback Machine., 2005, p. 28
- Stevenson, Edward M. 1979. The History of the House of Seven Gables and Summary of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Novel. Southborough, MA: Yankee Colour Corp