Our history begins in the South End of Boston. So much of the city is built on land where there once was no land—before the late 1800s, the South End was nothing but tidal marsh. There was a need for the city to expand and so, with hard work and cleverness, the city was expanded. There, the first incarnation of the Franklin Square House was built.
Like the city resolving its need for expansion, Reverend George Perin recognized a need and resolved it. Single, working women in Boston labored for long hours for low wages, at jobs with no future, and could only afford to live in the seediest housing in the most dangerous neighborhoods. These women needed safe, affordable, and decent housing, a place they could proudly call home. Perin was not wealthy, but he was determined and resourceful. He tirelessly raised funds and bought the Franklin Square House, once a world-class hotel, and in 1902 recommitted it to meet the needs of those women.
Perin spent his life providing these “women adrift” with shelter, food, a safe place to socialize, training, and companionship. He continually found funds to keep the House running—often just in the nick of time, and sometimes at the expense of his health. He personally ran the house, living on the upper floor with his family, and oversaw a major new addition. Perin referred to this special home as “The House that Love Built.” Not only his, but the love the women brought to it and the love from the people of Boston, who so often committed money and encouragement to the House.
By the time of Rev. Perin’s death in 1921, the Franklin Square House had become the largest such residence for single women in the world—and a Boston institution. For nearly a half-century more, thriving under the leadership of men such as President Clarence “Pop” Houston and President William Furlong, thousands of women found a home at the Franklin Square House.
When, after World War II, it became more common for women to enter the workforce, and the circumstances for working women improved, the Franklin Square House needed to redefine itself. In 1970 the House was sold to the city of Boston and a high-rise, with 147 apartments, became the new Franklin Square House, providing affordable housing, shelter for battered women, and day care.
The Franklin Square House Foundation is built on the inspiration of the original House and of its successor. After over a hundred years of caring for more than 300,000 women, the Foundation, by making grants to organizations that share our vision, will continue to support Boston’s women in need, for another hundred years—and more.
[If you’re interested in our history and in the history of a Boston institution, please ask us for a copy of Beth Hinchliffe’s history of the Franklin Square House.]