Dexter Donation Accepting Grant Proposals

The Commissioners of Dexter Donation will be receiving proposals from organizations requesting grants to assist the low income residents of the City of Providence. (Go here for instructions.) Applications must be received by the City Clerk no later than Friday, March 15, 2019 at 4pm.

From the announcement in the ProJo:

In light of the current economic hardship facing many Providence families, consideration will be given only to proposals and/or programs relating to food, clothing, shelter and healthcare.

To be eligible for a grant from the Dexter Donation Commission an agency must be a private, non-profit organization, (with tax-exempt status), serving Providence’s citizens.

What is the Dexter Donation? At his death in 1828, prominent Providence merchant Ebenezer Knight Dexter left funds to be used for the building and maintenance of an asylum (what we might call a poor farm) on the east side of the city.

Some of the 1828 “Rules and Regulations” provide a window into the world of the Dexter Asylum: “At the ringing of the bell, 10 minutes before each meal, everyone at work shall cease and be ready with clean hands and face; at the ringing of the second bell, to repair to the dining hall. Those not attending shall lose that meal unless they can render a satisfactory reason for their absence.”

. . . There were strict rules against smoking in bed. Also, “No intercourse [interaction] whatever shall be allowed between the unmarried males and females of the house.” Permission was required to leave the farm, and those suspected of harboring “strong liquor or stolen property” were subject to search. The penalty for begging was three days in the asylum’s jail. The master and matron had extensive duties, such as inventories of numerous items, ringing the bell for various daily activities, and “attending to the security, proper management, and comfort of insane or deranged persons, lodged in the maniac cells. . . .” (Although probably a quarter of the patients suffered some degree of mental illness, there was no other place for them until the founding of Butler Hospital in 1847.)

Maniac cells? In time, the presence of this facility with its inmates and livestock became a problem for the surrounding neighbors — while Brown University coveted the real estate — and the city worked out a plan for liquidating the facility. Proceeds from its sale established the Dexter Donation maintaining its mission of helping the poor.

Ebenezer Knight Dexter’s wall is about all that remains to remind us that this site once existed “to ameliorate the conditions of the poor.” . . .

Ebenezer Knight Dexter’s bequest for the comfort and relief of the poor served Providence for 179 years in physical form and continues to benefit the city through a foundation established from the sale of Dexter Asylum. In addition, the sturdy wall that now encircles Brown University’s athletic fields stands as a lasting tribute to his generosity and foresight.

In 2000, Dexter was inducted into the RI Heritage Hall of Fame.

His most notable gifts were the Dexter Asylum and the Dexter training grounds [seen here]. Today, both the land and the financial proceeds from Dexter’s bequest are managed by the Commissioners of the Dexter Donation, a city agency chaired by the mayor of Providence.


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