Quite a Pair: Jesse and Louisa Metcalf

Our very first donor, Jesse H. Metcalf, was born in Providence in 1860. His father was the founder of the Wanskuck Company, a profitable woolen mill, and his mother was one of the founders of RISD. Jesse attended private schools and studied textile manufacturing in England, the home of his ancestors. A gentle man with a sweet and serious face, Jesse loved people, and he loved boats. He would go on to lead the Wanskuck Company, make a fortune, and become a part owner of the Providence Journal.

Jesse Metcalf also served. From his parents he inherited a deep sense of duty to his state: Like any good leader in his time, Jesse believed in being useful. He served on the Providence Common Council and was chairman of the Metropolitan Park Commission, president of Rhode Island Hospital, and a trustee at both RISD and Brown University. Jesse also served in the House of Representatives and in the United States Senate and was on the Republican National Committee.

His politics were old New England Republican – fiscally conservative, socially liberal. He called the New Deal, in a radio speech, “BUNK PIFFLE AND BOMBAST.” He lived on a yacht while in Washington. When a Providence bank failed in 1923, he advanced every customer the Christmas Fund money they had lost, just because he felt it was the right thing to do. He also spoke out on the Senate floor against the Nazis treatment of the Jews in 1933. He was a man of vision, commitment, and generosity.

Jesse Metcalf married Louisa Dexter Sharpe in 1909.

A Providence Journal obituary from October 7, 1959 reveals much about Louisa:

“From the time she was a young woman she was interested in charitable activities, particularly those to which she could give her personal as well as financial help….

“Her devotion to her husband and to his interests at once became the outstanding feature of her married life. She shared with him his broad participation in the advancement of social service and cultural projects in this city.

“Mrs. Metcalf’s loyalty to her husband led her to join in the Metcalf family’s devotion to the Rhode Island School of Design. Her particular province was the school library….”

With Jesse, Louisa founded the Branch Avenue Neighborhood Center, built a dining hall for the Boy Scouts at Camp Yawgoog, sponsored baseball and tennis leagues, and donated a new wing for men at Rhode Island Hospital.

In 1948, after Jesse’s death, she gifted the city the family homestead and grounds for use as a public park, together with $30,000 for its development. Metcalf Park was intended for “persons seeking a sylvan retreat from the city’s turmoil.”

Louisa Dexter Sharpe Metcalf remained philanthropic until the end of her life, leaving the Foundation an unrestricted gift of $1 million in her will.

One Union Station
Providence, RI 02903


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