Our History

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The concept of Abby’s House began with an invitation to Annette Rafferty from the Worcester Urban Ministry Commission. It was early 1973 and pastors, rabbis, and ministers were overwhelmed with requests to house the “new homeless” – women and children. At the time, there were only three shelter beds for women in Worcester.

As chair of the Task Force, Annette was charged with exploring the need and finding a solution. She collected stories and statistics from homeless women in Worcester, and as a result of their research, Annette and the Task Force recommended opening a shelter. However, the recommendation was voted down by the Commission, and Annette resigned. She knew that if no one was going to take action now for these women, it was not going to get done.

Annette would later recall the moment she resigned from the Commission. Some members reminded Annette that she had neither the skills nor the training to work with the homeless, let alone establish a shelter.

Annette thought: “…in the realm of practical considerations, to follow the advice to wait for funds and training would have made sense. But I was no longer living in the realm of practical considerations. I had passed over, so to speak, to another space in time and was no longer willing to follow conventional wisdom.”

In the months that followed, a collective of women and men held meetings, sent letters, fundraised, generated publicity and searched for a property to house the shelter. By the time we opened, hundreds of people had committed themselves to the project. A strong tradition of volunteerism and community support had begun. Hear in Founder Annette Rafferty’s own words, how the shelter began in 1976. 

After opening our doors, more and more women were arriving on our doorstep. We realized that to be a part of the solution to homelessness, we had to offer housing. Once again, the community came to our aid and we were able to open 3 more houses, providing 79 units of affordable, supportive housing.

Unfortunately, the need for a safe place to stay is even greater today, but we’re here to help. Through our shelter and housing programs, and with the support of our advocacy team, who work one-on-one with each woman who comes through our doors, we’re helping women reclaim and rebuild their lives.

Abby’s House Through the Years

Collective of Concerned Citizens (1975)

September 13, 1975

A collective of concerned citizens forms and takes up the task of creating a safe place for women and their children.

Abby’s House is Formed (1976)

September 13, 1976

A 9 bed overnight shelter is opened at 23 Crown Street and is named Abby’s House after Abby Kelley Foster, Worcester’s most famous abolitionist and women’s rights activist. Abby’s House is formed!

Women’s Center is Formed (1986)

September 13, 1986

What is now known as the Annette Rafferty Women’s Empowerment Center is formed.

Abby’s Thrift Shop Opens (1988)

September 13, 1988

Abby’s Thrift Shop opens.

16 Units of Affordable Housing Opened (1993)

September 13, 1993

16 units of affordable housing are opened after the purchase and rehabilitation of the 19 Crown Street building.

7 Two-Bedroom Apartments Open (1996)

September 13, 1996

7 two-bedroom apartments open after the purchase and rehabilitation of the 77 Chatham Street building.

The Sisters of Mercy (2001)

September 5, 2001

After opening their doors to low-income women for over a century, The Sisters of Mercy, hand us the keys for their 54 unit building on 52 High Street, keeping their mission alive.

Renovation of 52 High Street Begins (2018)

August 10, 2016

Renovation to enhance critical systems, efficiencies, and accessibility of 52 High Street begin.

Renovation of 52 High Street Is Completed (2019)

August 30, 2019

A $16.2 million renovation is completed to ensure that women facing homelessness continue to have a safe, affordable and supportive home for decades to come.