Women’s City Missionary Society Laundry

also known as J & H Electric

A non-descript one story building in the jewelry district was once a job training program for impoverished women

About this Property

Reason for Demolition

Reasons are unknown. The building is mentioned in the Jewelry Manufacturing Historic District nomination form but no photos of it have been found. According to aerial photos, it was demolished some time between 1997 and 2008.

The building served a noble purpose for almost 10 years. It was built as a commercial laundry facility and specifically employed women who needed to learn important skills that would pay them well.

For the rest of its life, the building was home to electric and machinery shops.

Current Events

The site, nearly 25 years later, is still a parking lot.


Providence Jewelry Manufacturing Historic District nomination form, 1985

Women’s City Missionary Society Laundry (1903): This is a single story, flat-roof, brick building on a raised basement. Three bays wide and six bays deep, it has a central front entrance that is sheltered by a large shed roof with elaborate brackets. There is also a side entrance with a large, projecting, gable-roof hood with built-up brackets. The windows in the upper story have brick jack arches and quarry-faced granite sills. The basement windows have quarry-faced sills and lintels. The roof, which was originally enclosed by a picket fence and used for drying laundry, has a copper-sheathed coping and projecting eaves with block like brackets. Except for some replacement of the original six-over-six windows, the principal alteration has been the addition of a single-story, flat-roof, brick wing on the northeast corner, which contains a loading bay. The laundry is presently occupied by a manufacturer of plating equipment.

From the Jewelry District Association history page

Not all of the building in this vicinity in the early 20th century was related to the jewelry industry. An interesting exception was the Providence Women’s City Missionary Society Laundry, built at 155 Clifford Street in 1903. The Providence Women’s City Missionary Society was a voluntary society founded in 1867 to aid the city’s indigent women. A basic goal in their efforts was to create an “industrial home” where women might learn skills that would enable them to earn a living. A lack of finances delayed the creation of such an institution until 1897, when the Society, following the example of Trinity Church, Boston, established a laundry where needy women could find employment and learn the trade. The laundry’s success enabled the Society to move it out of rented quarters and into this new building, designed specifically as a laundry.

For several years the laundry was able to support itself, but in 1908, a depression reduced the amount of business at the same time that large commercial laundries began to compete with hand-wash laundries. By 1912, both business and the number of applicants for positions in the laundry had decreased to the extent that the Society closed the laundry and sold the building. In the course of its existence, the laundry paid $42,000 to its employees, all of them needy women. The Society itself continued its other activities for many more years before publishing its final report in 1940. The laundry building was soon taken over by the J. & H. Electric Company, a firm that specialized in furnishing and servicing electrical motors and other apparatus for the jewelry industry and other manufacturers. After J. & H. Electric moved to a new building at 200 Richmond Street in 1929, the former laundry building was occupied by a succession of tenants, all involved in some aspect of the jewelry industry. Source: Jewelry District Association

From Providence’s North Burial Ground Women’s History Tour

Sarah Durfee […] worked for more than forty years. An active member of Providence’s First Baptist Church, she served as president of the Women’s City Missionary Society, organized in March 1868, to “assist the poor in efforts to help themselves, and to engage in general missionary work for the city, providing homes for women who desire to reform, where they may be enabled to earn an honest livelihood, and aiding poor girls to procure respectable homes and employment.” Many women contributed money or visited the indigent who lived in their wards. Source: Rhode Island College

Primary Sources