Walter Lippmann House

Circa 1920

The graceful white house that is home to the Nieman Foundation was originally built in 1836 by Ebenezer Francis Jr. A carpenter student of Harvard College, Francis became a professional carpenter and housewright — what we would consider a building contractor today. In 1831, Francis was appointed superintendent of Harvard’s buildings, grounds and real estate. He also served as Janitor of Divinity Hall.

Francis was responsible for subdividing the lots on Francis Avenue, which is named for him and was known as Professors’ Row in the 1800’s.

Originally the Francis house was two buildings facing inward to accommodate horse carriages. Francis lived here with his family for 50 years until his death at age 95. His widow sold the house in 1921; and sometime after 1927, the fourth owner, John C. Runkle, remodeled the buildings, putting them together, and reoriented the main entrance to face Francis Avenue instead of Kirkland Street.

Over the years, the house has served as a private dwelling, a kindergarten, a school to train girls for “better secretarial positions,” a residence for foreign dignitaries and the parsonage for Harvard-Epworth Methodist Church.

In 1974, the church sold One Francis Avenue to Harvard College for $150,000. In the spring of 1977, Harvard offered the property to the Nieman Foundation, which needed larger quarters than its small offices at 48 Trowbridge Street. Harvard also gave the foundation $100,000 as a challenge grant for the restoration and maintenance of the house.

The $100,000 came from a bequest of more than $1 million that Walter Lippmann left Harvard when he died in 1974. Lippmann, Harvard Class of 1910, was one of the most influential journalists of his time and served on Harvard’s Board of Overseers. He was among the people Harvard President James Bryant Conant consulted in 1937 when Agnes Wahl Nieman, widow of The Milwaukee Journal’s founder and publisher, Lucius W. Nieman, left $1 million to Harvard “to promote and elevate the standards of journalism in the United States and educate persons deemed specially qualified for journalism.”

Walter Lippmann’s advice to President Conant contributed to the creation of the Nieman Fellowships, and the foundation’s new home was dedicated to Lippmann on Sept. 23, 1979, the 90th anniversary of his birth. In 2003, the Nieman Foundation expanded the house, adding 3,409 square feet on two levels.