Is it a stretch to see Benefit Street as a sweatshop for girls of the cultural elite? Probably; but it is interesting to note that in the years that Mary Balch’s School was teaching its young pupils the art of needlepoint, a young girl named Betsey Metcalf started Day’s Academy in Providence, teaching girls to braid straw hats that resembled the straw bonnets then in vogue in England from patterns she developed. When asked why she did not patent her technique, Metcalf replied that she did not want her name to be sent to Congress; her contemporary, Mary Kies, who lived in Connecticut, did not suffer this qualm and applied for and won a patent to protect her method of braiding straw into bonnets in 1809.
Betsey married Obed Baker in 1807 and moved to Westwood, Massachusetts. She continued to teach women to braid straw bonnets at the local Baptist and Unitarian Churches so they could raise funds for causes such as relief during the Irish Potato Famine. She and her husband were anti-slavery activists and may have helped slaves escape to the North through the Underground Railroad.