Helping People One and All: Cranaleith Spiritual Center

Cranaleith Spiritual Center on 13475 Proctor Road in Northeast Philadelphia is not your typical non-profit organization due to the history of its building. It is historically significant because of its architecture and ties to the women’s suffrage movement. Minerva Parker Nichols, the first woman in America to independently work as an architect, designed the building for women’s right activist, Rachel Foster Avery as her home. The place is also known as the Mill-Rae House, because it combines Avery’s name with her husband’s name, Cyrus Miller.

Nichols opened her firm in 1889 and quickly became known for making her female clients places for “female” use. She felt that women should have a place that showed their personality, and male architects at the time did not share that view. It was difficult for women to be architects in this time, but Nichols was raised around strong women who encouraged her to achieve her dream. The Mill-Rae property was purchased in 1890 and completed by 1891.

While originally it was meant to be Rachel and Cyrus’ house, it was mostly used as a meeting place by others in the women’s rights movement. Rachel Avery was the corresponding secretary for the National American Woman Suffrage Association while living here and was very involved with helping other women be part of this movement. Many important activists, such as Susan B. Anthony, a close friend of Rachel’s, stayed here often. In the house, Anthony wrote to her supporters, and raised money for the cause. Inspired by Anthony’s efforts, the activists created a pension fund in her name. Without this building and Avery and Miller’s welcome, the women’s rights movement in Philadelphia would not have been as successful.

Today the house has a new life as the Cranaleith Spiritual Center, a place of relaxation and “to get away from it all.” Started in 1996 by the family of Joseph C. Trainer, the non-profit formed and partnered with Sisters of Mercy, a Catholic organization run by women. The center provides programs for religion, business retreats, veterans, homeless people, and people who just want to be more healthy and happy.

Events and programs can last anywhere from a morning to overnight. A lot of the time, meals are provided. The center is very flexible with people’s schedules and one can rent out the space and bring his or her own spiritual leaders. The property has multiple houses currently; the main house and a smaller carriage house have room for as many people as possible for overnight programs. Expanding the site was a goal of the organization so that it does not have to turn away people who need help in any way, whether it’s religious or for a break from the stresses of everyday life.

While the spiritual center is open to all, helping women is still a focus today. Cranaleith offers many programs aimed to the empowerment of women. Some programs celebrate women’s strength, while others focus on women veterans and encouraging women to speak up for their beliefs. Minerva Parker Nichols and Rachel Foster Avery would be proud to see the building still being used to help women.





13475 Proctor Road

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