The predecessor of the Fraternity House, Portland's settlement house, was the Portland Fraternity, organized in 1870, to provide an evening school. Classes were first held in the Preble Chapel (site C15). The programs moved several times until the group acquired its own building on Center Street with a large hall, club rooms, a library, and an apartment for the residents. Some evening activities were held in the Staples School (1865 to 1971) next door. By 1909, the weekly attendance averaged about 1200, mostly young people, aged 8 to 25. Activities offered included dramatics; cooking, drawing, and printing classes; sewing and knitting clubs; a music school; Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops; and mothers' clubs. Its programs declined, finally closing in the 1970s, but its traditions were carried on by the YWCA and YMCA.
Head workers at the Fraternity House included Elsie Clark Nutt (d. 1956) and Hazel Tapley (1891-1963). Nutt assisted Eva Shorey (1871-1964), special agent of the Maine Bureau of Industrial and Labor Statistics, in preparing the 1907 report on working women in Portland. They concluded: "The woman wage earner of Portland is a person, and not merely a screw in a machine, as she would be in a larger city." A problem remained, they said, "If some arrangement could be devised to leave a larger margin between the amount of wages received and the price paid for living expenses, the problem of the women wage earners of Portland would be greatly simplified."