The residence that came to be known as the Amory-Ticknor House was built in 1804 by the merchant, poet, biographer, and historian Thomas Coffin Amory. It was designed in the by the architect Charles Bulfinch, famous for his construction of the Massachusetts State House and his work on the Capitol Building in Washington DC. In financial trouble, Amory was forced to sell the house not long after its completion, and the mansion was divided into four residences. These became fashionable houses for politicians and Revolutionary War heroes visiting Boston.
In 1830, George Ticknor bought the one portion of the house. Ticknor had, by that time, begun to amass one of the largest private libraries in the United States, with a special focus on Spanish and Portuguese literature. Having traveled widely in his early thirties—and classically trained in Greek and Latin—Ticknor was given a professorship at Harvard University, where he would teach students such as James Russell Lowell and Henry David Thoreau. At Harvard, he completed his most famous and exhaustive work, the three-volume History of Spanish Literature. A contemporary news article said of Ticknor,
“He never said brilliant things, nor surprised anybody by the boldness of his criticism… But his large reading, his exact and cheerful scholarship, his finely cultivated taste, elegant manners, and pronounced conservatism made him conspicuous and respected.”
Later in his life, Ticknor became a great advocate for the Boston Public Library, then in its infancy, serving briefly as president of the board of trustees. His personal collection was ultimately left to the library, and upon his death, his portion of the Ticknor-Amory House was left to his wife, who continued to live there with their daughter, Anna Eliot Ticknor.
Drawing from her own library, the younger Ticknor founded the Society to Encourage Studies at Home, which was dedicated to the education of women, and especially those who otherwise did not have access to scholarly materials or instructors. Through correspondence with teachers and volumes of the lending library that were sent through the mail, many women were able to complete courses the sciences, art, history, and in English, French, and German literature. Annual meetings of Ticknor’s pupils were held in her father’s library.