Metcalf, Helen Adelia Rowe, — -1895.
Ms. Rowe Metcalf, formerly of Providence, was leader in the drive to establish the Rhode Island School of Design and devoted most of her time from 1878 to her death in 1895 to directing the School. Her influence and administrative skills enabled RISD to be founded with the goals of training artisans, teaching students the principles of art, and promoting appreciation of art, allowing it to become recognized as one of the most prestigious fine arts schools in the country.
Helen Adelia Rowe Metcalf was born in Providence in 1831. In 1852 she married Jesse Metcalf, a cotton buyer and a textile manufacturer in Providence. She was praised as a benefactor of the poor, even extending generosity to striking workers at her husband’s company.
Helen Metcalf and a group of Rhode Island women visiting the 1876 Centennial Celebration were impressed by the arts on display. Upon their return to Rhode Island, the women decided use their excess funds to start an art school in Providence. The first class was mostly composed of women, who received education in “useful arts, as, for example, designing for calico printers, for jewelers’ designs, for carriage and furniture making.” Helen Metcalf directed the school until her death in 1895. She believed in direct and hands-on involvement, and took a keen interest in everything from teaching methods of the faculty, encouraging the students in their work, arranging the furniture in the most effective ways, and driving school fundraising effort.
She died in 1895 and was buried in the Swan Point Cemetery. Metcalf’s daughter Eliza Greene Metcalf Radeke, served as president of the school after her mother’s death. Metcalf’s son, U.S. Senator Jesse H. Metcalf also served as a RISD trustee. The Jesse + Helen Rowe Metcalf Society, an association of supporters who have demonstrated their generosity and commitment to RISD by incorporating the college or the museum into their estate plans, has been named for Helen and her husband.