Mary Elizabeth Sharpe Steward of Rochambeau House, Brown University and Providence

A “vivid and unspoiled imagination, varied and unique talents, rigorous self-discipline”: New virtual exhibit shines light on patron of Brown University and Providence, Mary Elizabeth Sharpe

Every so often there comes along a figure so truly dedicated to an organization that they profoundly impact those around them well beyond their time; a new virtual exhibit developed by Béatrice Duchastel de Montrouge '23, Curatorial Assistant in the Office of the University Curator highlights how Mary Elizabeth Sharpe was that figure for the Brown University and Providence community.

A self-made woman, Mary Elizabeth began her own lucrative candy business in New York City, later opening two tea rooms. Following the first World War, she married Henry Sharpe and settled down in Providence, Rhode Island, where they built Rochambeau House.  Inspired by their love of 18th century French architecture, the house was expertly furnished to complement the Louis XVI style rooms. During her tenure in Providence, Mary Elizabeth supported a variety of causes, particularly championing women in the arts, such as painter Florence Koehler and landscape architect Marian Coffin. She was not content to be merely a patron, however,  Mary Elizabeth was a passionate landscape architect, designing the intricate and interwoven gardens around Rochambeau House.  In 1940 she was invited by President Henry Wriston to plan the planting of trees across Brown University’s campus. Her passion for gardening extended throughout the city to the creation of India Point Park. Mary Elizabeth used the arts as a tool to connect with her community and to give life inspiration.  Her contributions continue beyond her death in 1985, when Rochambeau House was donated to Brown as a cultural and language center, now housing the French and Hispanic departments.

Visit the Mary Elizabeth and Rochambeau House Exhibit