Henry Lippitt

Inducted: 1987
Born: 10/09/1818
Died: 06/05/1891

Henry Lippitt, a man of many accomplishments, served as the 33rd governor of Rhode Island from 1875 to 1877. Born in Providence, Rhode Island, on Oct. 9, 1818, Lippitt was the son of Warren and Eliza (Seamans) Lippitt. He became co-owner with his father and brother of the Tiffany Mill—a cotton mill in Connecticut that later became the Quinnebaug Manufacturing Company. Lippitt was also associated with several other mills and became part owner of the Manville Company in Lincoln, Rhode Island. He organized and became President of the Silver Spring Bleaching and Dyeing Company. He also was an officer in several other banking, manufacturing, and land-related interests.

Lippitt served as a Lieutenant Colonel of the Providence Marine Corps of Artillery and was in command of a company that combated the forces of Thomas Wilson Dorr during the 1841 rebellion. Dorr and his followers attempted to force broader democracy to the state legislature by extending suffrage beyond the propertied class. During the Civil War, Lippitt was Commissioner of Providence County, enrolling and drafting soldiers as called for by Abraham Lincoln. In the gubernatorial elections of 1875 and 1876, no single candidate captured a majority of the vote, which resulted in the state legislature making the final decision, choosing Lippitt as governor. As governor, he was interested in Rhode Island’s representation at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. He also favored Rhode Island constitutional amendments to repeal the registry tax and permit naturalized veterans to vote.

A successful businessman, he was the president of the Lippitt Woolen Company. He owned several mills, including the renowned Lippitt Mill in West Warwick and the Anora and Social Mill in Woonsocket. His influence extended to the financial sector, where he was vice president of the Rhode Island Institution for Savings and the Rhode Island National Bank president.

Henry, with his father, Warren, and brother, Robert, built The Globe Mill in Woonsocket. The Globe was a five-story landmark known for its brilliant white exterior, 560 windows, over 40,000 spindles, and 900 looms driven by a massive 750-horsepower Corliss steam engine and three water wheels, all overseen by 500 employees. 

Lippitt married Mary Ann Balch in 1845 and built her home at 199 Hope Street on the East Side of Providence. The couple had eleven children. Their sons, Charles and Henry F., would go on to make their marks in Rhode Island’s political landscape. In 1856, scarlet fever took the lives of three of their children and rendered their daughter Jeanne deaf.

Henry and Mary turned their entire focus on Jeanne, making sure she would not be marginalized because of her deafness. In the mid-nineteenth century, provisions for deaf children were few. They were separated from society and taught in asylums, where they learned how to sign but how to speak. Mary Lippitt believed that signing would divide Jeanie from her family and the rest of the hearing community. She determined that her daughter would talk. Mary set out to instruct Jeanie herself. Once she achieved some proficiency, Jeanne attended school with other girls in the neighborhood, where she was excellent at spelling, math, and geography.

Mary and Henry’s efforts culminated in creating the Clarke School for the Deaf in Northampton, Massachusetts, and the Boston School for Deaf Mutes, known today as the Horace Mann School for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. She founded the Rhode Island School for the Deaf, which is still in operation today. Mary also engaged the services of a young Alexander Graham Bell, the son of a phonetics teacher interested in lip reading. Bell married Mabel Hubbard, a deaf friend of Jeanne’s.

Mary Ann was a businessperson in her own right and owned and managed rental property in Providence. She also owned the house and furnishings at 199 Hope Street and bequeathed them to her three daughters at her death, giving her husband Henry life tenancy. The home was donated by the Lippitt family to Preserve Rhode Island and turned into the Lippitt House Museum, which was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1976. Lippitt House is recognized nationally for its historical significance, architecture, and interior design. The house has three stories and thirty rooms and is significant for its technologically advanced central heating and plumbing systems. Preserved in a remarkably intact condition with elaborate painted decorative wall and ceiling finishes, colorful stained-glass windows, ornate plaster details, intricate parquetry floors, and ornately carved woodwork, the house is noteworthy for its craftsmanship. It is a statement of Providence’s prosperity as a 19th-century manufacturing and commerce center.

In 1881, Henry’s business revenue was reported to be more than $4,000,000, the equivalent of $123,00,000 today. Henry died on June 5, 1891. He was inducted into The Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame in 1987.

For additional reading:

•  Mohr, Ralph S. Governors for Three Hundred Years (1638-1954): Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. State of Rhode Island, Graves Registration Committee, August 1954.

•  The National Cyclopedia of American Biography, Vol. 9. New York: James T. White & Company.

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