Mayor Joseph Henry Gainer, 1878-1945, attorney, city councilman, alderman, and Providence mayor from 1913 to 1927, presided over development of city’s outer harbor, creation of its water supply, and other projects.
Joseph Henry Gainer was born in Providence, January 18, 1878, the son of John and Margaret (Keogh) Gainer, immigrants from Ireland. One of the only surviving chjldren in the family, Joseph was at LaSalle Academy, and Holy Cross College. Immediately following his graduation from Catholic University law school, Mr. Gainer took and successfully passed the Rhode Island bar examination. He practiced alone until 1908, when he entered into a law partnership with Edward G. Carr and Charles E. Mulhearn. He then accepted an appointment as State probation officer, and withdrew from the active practice of law.
Gainer, a Providence native, had the distinction of being Providence’s youngest ever mayor at the time of his first inauguration, His political career began as a school committeeman, before becoming a member of the Common Council. He later as a member of the Board of Aldermen, during which time he gainmed popularity. Mr. Gainer was staunch member of the Democratic party, and at about took an active part in rescuing his party organization in Providence. As a result of his efforts in this direction, he was elected alderman from the Third Ward in November, 1908, where he continued to represent the ward for the next three years.
First elected mayor in 1912, Gainer’s administration was one of progressive legislation, including: the development of the port was made through leases of land at Field’s Point, developing the business center of the city, beautifying City Hall plaza. One of the most important and extensive undertakings of his administration was the proposed development of the city’s water supply at an approximate cost of $15,000,000, a project already well on its way toward completion, notwithstanding the setbacks and delays encountered due to World War I.
Mayor Gainer was active in supporting wartime activities. He arranged a three day celebration in honor of and for the benefit of the boys of the Three Hundred and First Engineers, the big Rhode Island draft regiment, prior to their going to France. Later he appointed Arthur Henius chairman of the Welcome Home Comittee, a body whose duty it was to arrange receptions for the returning soldiers at the conclusion of their services abroad and at the various cantonments in this country. During the acute coal shortage of the winter of 1917-1918, Mayor Gainer arranged an emergency coal delivery system for the benefit of people of the city who were in dire need of fuel. During the war the mayor also served as chairman of the Providence branches of the National Security League and the Home Service Section of the American Red Cross.
Gainer’s legislation proved so popular with both parties, that in the fall of 1918, following his renomination by the Democrats, he was endorsed by the Republican convention, and ran practically without opposition. He had extradordinary influence of the people, which increased with each successive administration. At the time, he was known as one of the most popular public officials that ever held office in Rhode Island. On twelve occasions he exercised his veto power for the defeat of unwise legislation. One of his first official acts after becoming mayor was the naming of a Democrat for a place on the Board of Police Commissioners.
Mayor Gainerwas a member of the University, Catholic, Metacomet Golf, Pen and Pencil, West Side, Columbus and Rotary clubs, the Town Criers, Knights of Columbus, Elks, Eagles, Owls, and the Royal Arcanum. He iwas also an honorary member of the Rhode Island Historical Society and Brown University Chapter of the Phi Kappa fraternity. He is a communicant of the Roman Catholic church, and a member of St. Sebastian’s parish.
He was married to Christina McPherson, daughter of Andrew and Margaret McPherson, of Quincy, Mass. and was the father of two daughters.