42 Beacon Street, Beacon Hill
First established in 1826 as an informal group, what is today the Somerset Club became formalized as the Beacon Club sometime thereafter. In 1851, the club purchased a house at the corner of Beacon and Somerset Streets to serve as its home. Renamed the Somerset Club the following year, it is the oldest of Boston’s private clubs.
In the years surrounding the Civil War, political tensions permeated the Somerset as many of its members were “Copperheads”—Democrats strongly opposed to abolitionism, the war and President Abraham Lincoln. This led to one of its members on the other side of the political divide to found the Union Club nearby (on 8 Park Street) in 1863.
Reflecting the Harvard ties of many elite social clubs, the Somerset is now located in what was the mansion of David Sears (Harvard class of 1807). The club purchased the property in 1871.
The Harvard Crimson newspaper has characterized the Somerset as “traditionally . . . the haughtiest and most prestigious of clubs.” One does not to ask to join the Somerset, but rather one is asked. The club is so secretive that one needs to be a member to access its website.
Long associated with Boston Brahmins and WASPs—its members have included powerful Yankee politicians and businesspeople and deans from the area’s elite institutions of higher learning—the Somerset did not admit women until the late 1980s. While its membership still reflects “old money” and proper “pedigree,” the Somerset, like Boston’s private social clubs as a whole, is no longer at the center of the area’s pyramid of power. Given large political-economic shifts over the last several decades and the internationalization of Boston’s economy, the Somerset’s status is somewhat a relic of the past.
Red or Green Line to Park Street Station. 0.3 mile (seven-minute) walk.
To learn more:
Alexander Whiteside Williams, A Social History of the Greater Boston Clubs, Barre, Massachusetts: Barre Publishers, 1970.