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Helen M. Danforth records

Biographical note

Born on September 3, 1887, the daughter of RISD Treasurer Stephen O. Metcalf, Helen M. Danforth attended St. Timothy's School (Baltimore, MD). She married orthopedic surgeon Murray S. Danforth in 1916. Danforth joined the Museum Committee in 1927, the year after the Museum of Art’s Radeke Building opened. This period marks the beginning of her many gifts and loans to the Museum. In 1931 Danforth succeeded her aunt, Eliza G. Radeke, as President of the RISD Corporation and Chair of the Executive Committee. She served as President until 1947 when she became Chair of the Board of Trustees, an office created that year. Danforth retired as Chair in 1965, bringing to a close 34 years of leadership. She died on October 28, 1984.

During Danforth's tenure, RISD received the authority to grant degrees (1932), awarding the first Bachelor in Art Education in 1937. Changes in the educational program, made under the guidance of Royal Bailey Farnum, transformed the Day School into an accredited college program (1949). Campus expansion included the construction of the Helen Metcalf Building on College St. (1936), the Auditorium (1941), and the Metcalf Refectory and Waterman St. dormitories (1959). Enrollment grew from 388 (1931) to 997 (1965).

Danforth received an honorary degree from Brown University in 1939 and, in 1976, the first honorary degree awarded by RISD. Her son Murray S. Danforth, Jr. succeeded his grandfather as RISD Treasurer, serving from 1952 to 1990. Her oldest child, Stephen Danforth, an Army pilot, died in action over Boulogne, France in September 1943.