Mary Green Ayer Gale was one of the wealthiest women in Manchester, but after the death of her daughter Susan in 1855 and her husband Dr. Amos G. Gale in 1861, she was able to find little joy in life. Through her grief and loneliness she developed a deep sympathy for the suffering of others. She lived a quiet life, wisely investing her funds, and leaving the principal untouched. She provided in her will for an endowment that would be used for the creation of a home for aged women. When she died in 1876 at age 66, she was buried in the family mausoleum in the Valley Cemetery.
Mary Gale's legacy amounted to around $45,000. This endowment was increased with additional bequests from the wills of two brothers, David S. Leach and Simeon D. Leach. David had been a business partner of Mary's father, Richard H. Ayer, both in the brick making business in Hooksett and in other enterprises. He left $50,000 for the future institution when he died in 1878. His brother Simeon Leach owned a large farm in Litchfield and was also a prosperous brick maker. He died in 1887, leaving a legacy of $200,000 for the project. The combined endowment made possible the creation of the Gale Home for Aged and Destitute Women. This opened in 1893 in a house near the Ash Street School, and it originally accommodated 10 women.
According to the terms of Mary Gale's will, the Home's residents had to be of "American descent." This reflects that Mary Gale was not immune to the prejudices of her era in regards to immigrants. Also, it was established that they must have lived in Manchester for at least 10 years and "…must be of good character, and in such condition of health as to be able to care for themselves, and without sufficient means of support, or friends able and liable to maintain them." An applicant had to be at least 60 years old, but exceptions could be granted by a vote of the trustees. Once accepted, the new resident had to pay a $200 entry fee and pass muster during a six-month probation period. After this was over, the woman would be provided with full care for life.
The "inmates" of the Home, as they were called, were expected to follow strict regulations. The rule book stated "The women who are able will be required to take care of their own rooms and to assist those who are unable to do the same. They will be expected to sew, knit, assist in domestic duties, and generally render all the services they can for the benefit of the Home, and the comfort of those who are more helpless than themselves." And, "They must endeavor by a quite, gentle, and lady-like deportment, to diffuse an air of cheerfulness and good feeling throughout the Home…" No alcohol or drugs were allowed except under a physician's order. Anyone violating a rule had to face a formal review by the managers and trustees.
In 1908, the original wooden structure at 133 Ash Street was replaced with an impressive Neo-Colonial brick building with classical columns, designed by prominent architect William Butterfield. It could now house up to 40 women. The furnishing for the "Gale Home for Old Ladies" was generously provided by several local businesses, including the Amoskeag Manufacturing Company. By this time the requirement that residents be born in the United States had disappeared and the home had begun admitting women who were not Manchester residents. The entry fee was now determined by a woman's ability to pay, rather than being a flat sum.
In 2003, the building was acquired by the Manchester Housing and Redevelopment Authority. This agency worked with CMK Architects to enlarge and rehabilitate the structure. In 2005, the Mary Gale Apartments, an assisted living facility with 37 modern units, was completed. The endowment that was begun with Mary Gale's 1876 bequest became the Mary Gale Foundation, which supports local programs that improve the lives of senior citizens.
Correction: In last week's column, the second sentence in the fourth paragraph should have read, "The couple had two daughters, Mary Green Ayer and Susan Rebecca Ayer."
Next Week: A Valley Cemetery Story — The talented Custer family of Switzerland.
Aurore Eaton is executive director of Manchester Historic Association; email her at firstname.lastname@example.org