The Window Shop, Inc., 1939-1987

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The Window Shop (WS) opened in a second floor room of 37 Church Street, Cambridge, Mass., on May 2, 1939, taking its name from the room's large window. Created by a small group of women wanting to help the many refugees fleeing Europe, the WS began as a market where refugees could sell their products. It grew from a small consignment operation into a profitable dress and gift shop, which for a time helped support the many employees of its restaurant and bakery. Throughout its almost half-century of existence, the WS experienced many difficulties and challenges, but, with the commitment, hard work and economic resources of supporters inside and outside the organization, was able to survive and fulfill its objective "to relieve and assist the poor and needy, including refugees from other countries."

Among the many board members instrumental in the early development and survival of the WS were Elizabeth (Cope) Aub, Marion Bever, Walter Bieringer, Alice (DeNormandie) Cope, Frances Fremont-Smith, Bessie (Mrs. Howard Mumford) Jones, Margaret Earhart Smith, Elsa (Brändström) Ulich, Frank Vorenberg, and Sally (Mrs. Wolfe) Wolfinsohn.

The early refugees were well educated but had little practical experience. Many were professionals or scholars, unable to obtain work in their own areas of expertise without extensive retraining. The WS created jobs and provided training for hundreds of individuals as salesclerks, dressmakers, bakers, cooks, dishwashers, waitresses, etc. The shop moved to 102 Mt. Auburn Street in November 1939, and opened a tea room and pastry shop (sometimes called the coffeehouse and bakeshop). Within a year, it began serving lunch. Generous donations from individuals, and from the New England Christian Committee for Refugees (NECCR), helped keep the organization afloat during its first year.

Incorporated in March 1941, the shop was described by board member Alice Cope in a letter to president Margaret Earhart Smith in May:

We organisation to aid refugees by giving them a central place through which to market their goods and by training them in various skills in order that they may go out into the community to support themselves....We believe that idealism can be combined with efficiency. We believe that this project for refugees is a perfect place through which to show the community at large that Jews and non-Jews can work harmoniously together.

In order to carry out our purpose we maintain the Window Shop, divided into the Gift Shop where we sell clothing, china, gifts, etc. made by refugees; and the Food Shop where meals are served and where Viennese cakes, cookies, and breads are sold.

Proceeds were used to pay salaries of employees, most of whom were refugees. In 1942, the restaurant added dinner hours, serving only European dishes. During the early 1940s, the WS became one of the first businesses in Cambridge to hire African Americans, many of whom had migrated from the South. Throughout its existence, there were philosophical differences among its supporters about the relationship of profits to charitable assistance, temporary aid versus permanent employment, and whether the WS had outlived its usefulness. Elizabeth Aub (president, 1954-1964), for instance, believed that the primary purpose was to provide employment, not to maximize profits at employees' expense. Some employees eventually moved on to other jobs; some stayed at the WS their entire working lives.

Jobs and hours were tailored to the individual's needs, not the shop's. The board, striving to be a progressive employer, was concerned with working conditions and wages and provided benefits not required by law. At times, as many as seventy people were working in some capacity for the WS. The shop was fortunate to have dedicated board members, a loyal clientele, and two talented managers: Mary Mohrer, who oversaw the dress and gift shop, and Alice Perutz Broch, manager of the kitchen and bakery. The WS also provided scholarships to children of employees, and emergency assistance funds.

To further aid the refugees' acculturation and adjustment to America, board member Frances Fremont-Smith organized Friendship House in January 1942. Part of each week the restaurant was converted into a club room where refugees could attend lectures, have refreshments, sing, use a lending library, and get information about concerts and other events. Envisioned as a place where refugees and Americans would socialize, Friendship House closed after a year, out of funds, unable to attract many Americans, and as the refugees' need for such a place decreased. The WS also cooperated with the NECCR, which operated refugee guest houses in Medford and Cambridge (see #268).

Lack of space was a recurring problem. The WS moved for the last time in March 1947, to the Cock Horse Inn at 56 Brattle Street. The historic inn had been built in 1811 for Torrey Hancock, owner of the smithy next door made famous in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's "The Village Blacksmith." At times, the restaurant served 8,000 customers a day in relatively small quarters.

The restaurant experienced declining income during the late 1960s, and though it tried reorganizing with a new manager (1970), and replacing the restaurant with a Viennese cafe (1971), by 1972 the board reluctantly decided to liquidate the business and sell the property to the Cambridge Center for Adult Education (CCAE). The CCAE has continued to operate the bakery/cafe as The Blacksmith House, and retained some WS employees.

Early on, financial assistance was provided to refugees and their families for education, retraining, housing, furnishings, medical care, etc. In 1943 the shop started an assistance fund with proceeds from the sale of donated linens by a Bavarian craftsman. These funds were eventually augmented with private donations. In 1948, the fund was renamed for Elsa Brändström Ulich, called the "Swedish Angel of Siberia" for her World War I work, and president of the WS from 1942 until her death. The same year, the WS began an annual appeal for donations to the fund.

By 1964, applicants for scholarship aid had increased, while those seeking emergency assistance funds had decreased. In addition to outright grants and interest-free loans, the WS provided counseling and referral to other social agencies or scholarships. The scholarship fund was the only one in the Boston area for foreign students, WS aid often preventing a student from dropping out.

Changing world conditions led to changes in the refugee population of Cambridge. The refugees and displaced persons from Europe following World War II were joined by refugees from Hungary (1956), Cuba (1962), Ethiopia, Iran, Vietnam, the Soviet Union, and elsewhere. Many sought supplementary scholarships. Most recipients were young college students, but many were older, with children or parents to support. They needed language skills, education to pass professional qualifying exams, or retraining. After closing the shop and restaurant in 1972, the board renamed the fund The Window Shop, Inc. Scholarship Fund (WSSF) and continued providing tuition grants and loans to "new Americans."

By 1987, the board decided that the WS had outlived its usefulness, and that its work could be carried on by other institutions in the Boston area. The WS dissolved, leaving its Fund name and some assets to Northeastern University for the benefit of refugee students. Some funds were to be distributed to former employees, some were earmarked for processing these records, and some for preparation of a history. The bulk of the assets went to The Boston Foundation for programs to assist refugees and foreign-born residents.

The following is a brief chronological summary.

  • 1939:: May 2: WS opens in 2nd floor room of 37 Church Street (Cambridge, Mass.) to sell products made by refugees; Mary Mohrer first employee November: moves to 102 Mt. Auburn Street; opens tea room and pastry shop
  • 1940:: January 8: opens restaurant to serve lunch
  • 1941:: March 13: incorporates as charitable organization, with Margaret Earhart Smith as first president (1941-1942) April: appoints first executive committee May: changes composition of executive committee Summer: remodels 102 Mt. Auburn
  • 1942:: January 24: Friendship House opens in lunchroom during evenings January: begins serving dinners March 9: establishes Committee on Personnel Practices Fall: Elsa Brändström Ulich (EBU) becomes president (1942-1948) Appoints Mary Mohrer manager of gift shop, and Alice Broch manager of kitchen
  • 1943:: Establishes scholarship fund with proceeds from sale of handblocked linens donated by Mrs. Arthur Koch Provides "accident and sickness" insurance for all employees Spring: closes Friendship House
  • 1944:: March: authorizes appointment of Assistance Committee and establishment of Assistance Fund to award grants for scholarship or other assistance
  • 1946:: Purchases and extensively remodels Cock Horse Inn, 56 Brattle Street
  • 1947:: March: opens new quarters in Cock Horse
  • 1948:: Renames Assistance Fund after EBU following her death Elects Alice Cope president (1948-1954)
  • 1949:: June 11: celebrates 10th anniversary with fashion show
  • 1950:: April: purchases and renovates adjoining 5 Story Street property
  • 1954:: Elects Elizabeth Aub president (1954-1964) Implements employee pension plan
  • 1955:: Gains wine license
  • 1956:: Renovates and remodels 56 Brattle to expand kitchen
  • 1959:: Enlarges courtyard, covers portion of it
  • 1960:: Installs radar alarm system
  • 1964:: May: elects Dorothy Dahl president (1964-1968) Alice Broch retires as manager of restaurant
  • 1964 - 1967: : Hires architects and studies feasibility of various expansion plans
  • 1967:: Establishes Margaret Earhart Smith Scholarship at Radcliffe College
  • 1968:: Elects Marion Bever president (1968-1972)
  • 1971:: October: closes restaurant, reopens as Viennese cafe with limited menu
  • 1972:: Closes gift shop and cafe Sells property to Cambridge Center for Adult Education (CCAE) Elects Richard Kahan president (1972-1974)
  • 1974:: Elects Anne Harken president (1974-1979)
  • 1977:: August: death of Elizabeth Aub
  • 1978:: August: consents to demolition by CCAE of former premises, other than Blacksmith House
  • 1979:: Again elects Dorothy Dahl president (1979-1987)1987 April: dissolves, leaving money to Northeastern University, Radcliffe College, and Boston Foundation

From the guide to the Records, 1939-1992, (Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
creatorOf Records, 1939-1992 Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Aub, Elizabeth Cope person
associatedWith Bever, Marion person
associatedWith Bieringer, Walter person
associatedWith Brändström, Elsa, 1888-1948 person
associatedWith Broch, Alice Perutz person
associatedWith Brooks, Susan person
associatedWith Brown, Dorothy Kirchwey, 1888-1981 person
associatedWith Bunting, Mary Ingraham, 1910- person
associatedWith Cabot, Thomas Dudley, 1897- person
associatedWith Cambridge Center for Adult Education corporateBody
associatedWith Cannon, Bernice person
associatedWith Cope, Alice DeNormandie person
associatedWith Dahl, Dorothy person
associatedWith Emerson, William, 1873-1957 person
associatedWith Fainsod, Elizabeth person
associatedWith Fisher, Dorothy Canfield, 1879-1958 person
associatedWith Fremont-Smith, Frances person
associatedWith Friendship House (Cambridge, Mass.) corporateBody
associatedWith Harken, Anne person
associatedWith Hoover, John Edgar, 1895-1972 person
associatedWith Jones, Bessie Zaban person
associatedWith Kennedy, John F. (John Fitzgerald), 1917-1963 person
associatedWith Kepes, Gyorgy, 1906- person
associatedWith Kroto, H J person
associatedWith Lyons, Louis Martin, 1897- person
associatedWith MacLeish, Archibald, 1892- person
associatedWith Macomber, George person
associatedWith Mohrer, Mary person
associatedWith Mongan, Agnes person
associatedWith New England Christian Committee for Refugees corporateBody
associatedWith O'Neill, Tip person
associatedWith Rabb, Irving W person
associatedWith Roosevelt, Eleanor, 1884-1962 person
associatedWith Saltonstall, Leverett, 1892- person
associatedWith Sanborn, Agnes Goldman, 1887-1984 person
associatedWith Schlesinger, Elizabeth Bancroft, 1886-1977 person
associatedWith Singer, Gertrude person
associatedWith Smith, Clement A. (Clement Andrew), 1901- person
associatedWith Smith, Margaret Earhart, 1902-1960 person
associatedWith Taft, Arthur N? person
associatedWith Tillich, Paul, 1886-1965 person
associatedWith Vorenberg, Frank person
associatedWith Wolfinsohn, Sally person
associatedWith Wyzanski, Gisela Warburg person
Place Name Admin Code Country
Cambridge (Mass.)
United States

Corporate Body

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Ark ID: w68j1rbs

SNAC ID: 14343702