Woman's Friend Society - Salem, Massachusetts

Images Courtesy of Salem State University Archives and Special Collections
The Woman’s Friend Society stems from a town meeting proposal made in 1875 by Kate Tannatt Woods, a Salem schoolteacher and representative of the Moral Education Society of Boston, who recognized the importance of promoting the “moral elevation of women.” Woods was backed by Salem’s Marshal, William M. Hill, who also called for a meeting at Salem’s Town Hall in order to raise money to help purify the area. Both were appalled by the lawlessness and lack of etiquette displayed by young women throughout Salem.

On March 22, 1876, the Moral Education Society of Salem was officially formed, a few months later changing its name to Woman’s Friend Society. The group was designed to combat what Woods viewed as the community’s withdrawal from Puritan values, noted by the amount of crime and vulgarity in Downtown Salem at the time. The organization created a Girls Reading Room in the Mayne’s Block building on Essex Street (Across from Derby Square). This room was used as a meeting place, where local displaced youth could learn to read and have access to wholesome books.

Looking to expand the Society’s outreach, they began searching for a home to shelter homeless women and girls. The wife of Joseph Hodges offered her property at the corner of Essex Street and Daniels Street in Salem for three months, rent free. It came to be called “The Daniels Street Home” (Present day, The Daniels House Bed and Breakfast)

In 1876, the Bureau of Employment (Later the Intelligence Office) was added to the Society’s programs. It served to connect woman with stable jobs in the area.

In 1878, outgrowing their current operations, the Society placed an appeal in the local newspaper, requesting a home for their organization that would also serve as a shelter for women. Their appeal was answered by John Bertram, who despite being on his death bed was still practicing his well-known philanthropy. He offered to them half of a house he owned located at 12 Elm Street (Hawthorne Boulevard) for a period of five years. If within those five years, the Society was able to maintain the home and continue their community efforts, the home would be gifted to them. The Society moved in on May 9, 1879 and the building was named the “Working Women’s Bureau.” The success of the Intelligence Office prompted the creation of a Committee on Registry to oversee it. That same year, Mrs. George D. Putnam, an early member and leader of the Society, was officially named President.

In 1880, the Committee on Needle-Work was created. They taught sewing lessons and handed out supplies, enabling woman to sell garments and linens out of their homes, while caring for their children. The following year, Mission to the Sick began, which brought care to those who were bound to their homes by illness. This program would later evolve into the Visiting Nurse Association of Salem.

In 1884, Jennie Bertram Emmerton, gifted the house at 12 Elm Street to the Woman’s Friend Society on behalf of her deceased father, John Bertram. The Society began raising money to purchase the other half of the house but was initially met with resistance by the owners who asked for an unattainable sum. That same year, Esther C. Mack bequeathed money to create an industrial school for woman to learn sewing and cooking skills. In 1906 the Mack Industrial School opened at 17 Pickman Street where it operated until 1920. In 1908 the school recorded having over 500 students. In 1910 these classes were opened to immigrant woman arriving in Salem.

The Woman’s Friend Society continued its community outreach into the 20th century, adding classes for expectant mothers in the 1940’s. In 1977, the Visiting Nurse Association branched off of the Society’s district nurse program but the two organizations continue to work together. In 1971, the Woman’s Friend Society offered the first Christmas in Salem house tour as a fundraiser for the VNA. This event remains an annual tradition in Salem and is now operated by Historic Salem, Inc. In 2008 the Emmerton House was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

*This article was written by Jen Ratliff for use by Salem State University Archives and Special Collections.


Walter George Whitman

Courtesy of  Science Education 
(Volume 37, Issue 1 - February 1953)

On May 4, 1874, Walter George Whitman was born in Norway, Maine to George Washington Whitman and Eliza Jane Davis Whitman. Following his graduation from Norway High School, he attended Tufts College, where in 1898; he received an A.B. degree (artium baccalaureus) and began teaching at Goddard Seminary in Barre, Vermont and later at high schools in Gloucester and Springfield, Massachusetts. In 1906, he received a M.A. degree at Columbia University, while teaching at New York City’s Ethical Culture School. On August 20, 1912, he married Grace Bates. Together, the couple had three children, George B. Whitman, who became the eccentric owner of the bookstore, Shakespeare and Company in Paris, France, Mary C. Whitman and H. Carlton Whitman. Whitman continued to teach at a number of universities and secondary schools. His longest tenure was at State Normal School, Salem Massachusetts, where he taught Practical Science and served as Head of the Science Department. 

While teaching, he also established and served on boards of numerous science-based organizations, becoming the founder of General Science Quarterly in 1916. In 1925, Whitman took a yearlong sabbatical from Salem Normal School and along with his family, moved to China, where he taught physics at Nanking University. While living in China, Whitman chose to live among the Chinese instead of the homes provided for Americans. While there, Whitman took a number of photographs and lantern slides, chronicling the everyday life of the Chinese people. While in Asia, Whitman traveled to multiple countries including Japan, India and Egypt, also making stops in Europe. Keeping records and taking souvenirs of his trips. During the 1920’s and 1930’s, Whitman authored and co-authored a number of science textbooks that included lesson plans and exams. These textbooks were widely used across the country and abroad, they remained relevant for many decades.

Walter George Whitman died in his Orlando, Florida home at age 78 on November 2, 1952, following a heart attack. He is largely recognized as a pioneer and leading force in general science and science education in the first half of the 20th century. 

View Salem State University Archives' collection of postcards belonging to
Walter George Whitman 

*This article was written by Jen Ratliff for use by Salem State University Archives and Special Collections.

Sonia Schreiber Weitz

Images courtesy of Salem State University Archives & Special Collections

Sonia Schreiber Weitz was born on August 27, 1928 in Kraków, Poland. Sonia, her older sister, Blanca and their parents, Adela Finder Schreiber and Janek (Jacob/Jakub) Schreiber lived in the Jewish section of Kraków, where Janek owned a small leather goods shop.

In 1941, the Schreiber family was relocated to the Kraków ghetto by German forces and Adela was taken to Belzec death camp, where she was killed. In 1943, Sonia and Blanca were removed from the ghetto and sent to Plaszów slave labor camp. Their father and Blanca’s husband, Norbert Borell were sent to Mauthausen concentration camp, where their father was killed. 

In December 1944, Blanca and Sonia were moved to Auschwitz, where they were forced on a death march to Bergen-Belsen and later taken by cattle car to Venus-Berg. The sisters were again moved, this time to Mauthausen, where they were liberated in May 1945. Sonia and Blanca survived five concentration camps and out of an extended family of eighty-four, they were the only survivors of the Holocaust.

Following liberation, Sonia and Blanca were reunited with Norbert. The three lived in Displaced Persons camps until 1948, when they immigrated to America, settling in Peabody, Massachusetts with the assistance of Norbert’s uncle, Harry White. Sonia became a United States citizen a year later. On September 7, 1950, Sonia married Dr. Mark Weitz,. The couple had three children, Don and twins, Sandy and Andi. 

After raising her children, Sonia focused on writing and activism. In 1981, she co-founded the Holocaust Center Boston North with Harriet Tarnor Wack and later created the Holocaust Legacy Partner, which recorded and preserved the testimony of Holocaust survivors. In 1986 in an attempt to mend Boston’s Catholic-Jewish relations, she accompanied Cardinal Bernard Law on a trip to Auschwitz and her childhood home in Krakow.

Sonia’s aptitude for writing stemmed from her time in concentration and Displaced Persons camps, where she mentally penned many of the poems that appear in I Promised I Would Tell, (available free onlinewhich was published in 1993.  Following the release of her book, she began offering lectures at area schools and touring the country, sharing her story. I Promise I Would Tell,  was later adapted into a play, which was performed at high schools and colleges across Massachusetts. In 2002, Sonia was appointed by President George W. Bush to the United States Holocaust Memorial Council for the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Over the next seven years, Sonia received many awards, including recognition by Massachusetts governor, Deval Patrick.

Sonia Weitz died of cancer on June 23, 2010. She was 81.

*This article was written by Jen Ratliff for use by Salem State University Archives and Special Collections.
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