Louisa Sharpe Metcalf

Inducted: 2017
Born: 1866
Died: 1959

Jesse Metcalf and his wife Louisa Sharpe Metcalf were the dynamic duo of Rhode Island philanthropy in the early 20th century. Jesse was the son and namesake of the founder of Providence’s Wanskuck Mills, one of America’s largest woolen manufacturers, and his mother, Helen, a Hall of Fame inductee, co-founded the Rhode Island School of Design. Louisa’s father was Hall of Fame inductee Lucian Sharpe, co-founder of Brown & Sharpe, a machine tool company hailed as one of Providence’s “five industrial wonders of the world.”

To whom much is given, much is expected. Jesse and Louisa vastly exceeded expectations. After private schooling and the study of textile manufacturing in England, Jesse succeeded his father and accumulated great wealth from his Branch Avenue business.

In 1909, in his 49th year, he married the equally wealthy Louisa Dexter Sharpe. Although Jesse had already served as a Republican state representative and a member of the Providence City Council, his union with Louisa greatly extended his range of interests, and he directed more of his vast energy to humanitarian pursuits, including the chairmanship of the powerful Metropolitan Park Commission, the presidency of Rhode Island Hospital, and service as a trustee of Brown University and RISD. In retrospect, one of his most important early benefactions was to the hugely significant Rhode Island Foundation, now with assets of approximately $900 million. In 1916 Jesse was its first major donor, and, in effect, its founder.

By the 1920s, Jesse was co-owner of the Providence Journal and used that platform to secure election in 1924 to the U.S. Senate defeating Hall of Fame inductee Governor William S. Flynn. He served with integrity and efficacy for two six-year terms until his defeat in the New Deal political landslide of 1936 when he lost to Governor Theodore Francis Green, another Hall of Fame inductee. As senator, Metcalf chaired the Committee on Patents and was a member of the Committee on Education and Labor–both posts in his area of interest and expertise. From 1935 to 1940 he was a Republican National Committeeman. Jesse died in October 1942 at the age of 81.

Jesse’s wife Louisa outlived him by 17 years and died in October, 1959 at the age of ninety-three. Throughout her life, and especially after Jesse’s death, she was one of Rhode Island’s leading philanthropists. In both World Wars she worked not only as a Red Cross volunteer, but as a donor of supplies and money to the victims of those conflicts. According to her obituary, “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. The Rhode Island School of Design, the Boy Scouts, the Red Cross, the Tim O’Neil baseball leagues, libraries, the Wanskuck Boys Club, historic preservation projects, and the City of Providence were all recipients of her generosity, among many others. She even got naming honors when she donated Metcalf Park to the city and christened the Liberty ship S.S. Jesse H. Metcalf at the Walsh-Kaiser Shipyard in March, 1944.

These devoted philanthropic partners now repose in Providence’s

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