Caroline Osgood Emmerton was born into a family of philanthropists and benefactors headed by her grandfather, Captain John Bertram, whose contributions to Salem organizations and individuals is legendary. The Bertram home on Essex Street today houses the Salem Public Library. It was donated to the City of Salem for that purpose in 1888 by Caroline’s grandmother (Mary Bertram), Caroline's mother (Jennie Emmerton), and Jennie’s sisters. Caroline followed the family tradition of public service throughout her long life. By the age of twenty-eight, she was serving on the Charter Street Home board of directors (now North Shore Medical Center/Salem Hospital).
In 1907, as Salem welcomed a growing number of immigrants from Europe and French Canada, Caroline spearheaded the drive to open a settlement house in the city to provide much-needed community services. The following year, she purchased the John Turner House with the idea of turning it into a museum. She would use the proceeds from tours to fund her settlement house, and to provide employment for young female college graduates. She called her museum The House of the Seven Gables after the story made famous by the author Nathaniel Hawthorne.
In 1911, Caroline purchased the Hooper-Hathaway House and moved it to The Gables property. In 1924, she did the same with the Retire Beckett House—single-handedly preserving three significant historic properties in Salem. In 1958, following Caroline's example, the managers of The Gables moved the birthplace of Nathaniel Hawthorne to the property.
Caroline was a pacifist who opposed the United States' involvement in World War I, serving as chairman of the Public Welfare Society. In the 1920s and 1930s, Caroline's attention turned to the Salem Fraternity (now, the Boys & Girls Club) and she became the first woman to serve on its board. She remembered each one of her charities in her will, and in December of 1999 the Salem Evening News named Caroline Emmerton its "Person of the Century."
Today, in 2016, The Gables has year-long programs, events, and publications planned to honor Caroline Emmerton during the 150th anniversary of her birth.
Caroline Osgood Emmerton
Born: 1866, Salem
North Church (Unitarian)
Homes: 370 Essex Street (today,
Salem Public Library) and
328 Essex Street
Died: 1942, Salem
Buried: Harmony Grove