Established in 1871; The first manifestation of the Cambridge Center for Adult Education (CCAE) was the Cambridge Social Union, established in 1871. The mission of the organization was to promote culture and brotherhood after the carnage and destruction of the Civil War. In 1876 they moved to Brattle Street and began construction of the Brattle Hall, which was completed in 1890. The Cambridge Social Union boasted of a piano, lending library, and reading room, and soon expanded to include literacy classes taught by HarvardCollege students.

The group moved again in 1889 when the Social Union purchased William Brattle’s house, now 42 Brattle Street. From here, the group withstood the financial troubles of the First World War and the Great Depression, until a feasibility study in 1937 revealed that the organization was in trouble. The following year, in conjunction with the Boston Center for Adult Education, the Cambridge Social Union reinvented itself as the CambridgeCenter for Adult Education. They offered evening courses to local residents and in 1941 became an independently-run organization. In 1948 Brattle Hall was sold as the group chose to focus solely on their education endeavors.

The CCAE went on to purchase additional historic properties to complement the famed William Brattle House. The Blacksmith House property at 56 Brattle Street, which included the house of the village blacksmith, Dexter Pratt, who had inspired Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem “The Village Blacksmith” in 1841, had become available after the closure of the Window Shop and was purchased in 1972. The CCAE maintained The Window Shop’s bakery until the last of its employees reached retirement.

Today, the CCAE remains a non-profit, self-supporting institution offering a wide variety of classes for adults. From “Chinese Calligraphy and Bamboo Painting” and “Cooking with Fresh Local Ingredients” to “Glassblowing” and “Buying and Selling on eBay” there is definitely something for everyone. Prices are affordable and camaraderie is as important as the lessons taught in the classroom. Classes are always enrolling and courses are constantly being added to their listings. The CCAE is a true gem of Harvard Squareand a great opportunity for everyone to try something new and expand their horizons.

As prepared by:
Gavin W. Kleespies, Executive Director Cambridge Historical Society.
Katie MacDonald, Intern Cambridge Historical Society.