Hometown History #60: Lorraine Metcalf Molded Youth and Served Two Towns


For older folks who grew up in Franklin, the name Lorraine Metcalf summons powerful memories. A demanding teacher who insisted that her students learn, she was respected if not always loved. She was also the prime mover in teaching thousands to swim and even ran an all-female town ambulance service during World War II.

Born in 1908 to Ernest and Edwina (Tibbets) Metcalf, her obituary states that she was a 1928 graduate of FHS, however the 1928 year book lists her as an alum of the class of 1926 attending New Haven Normal School. [Again, her obituary mentioned that she graduated from the former Arnold College, part of Bridgeport University, and was the first woman inducted into their hall of fame for her participation in four
varsity sports.]

A 1970 profile in the Franklin Sentinel, a year after she moved her residence to Wrentham, paints a portrait of accomplishment when Metcalf had yet a quarter century of activity ahead of her.

In the mid-1960s Lorraine Metcalf was scheduled to speak before the New England Regional Convention of the Delta Kapp Gamma International Group for Women Teachers, meeting at Poland Springs, Maine. When she rose from her chair, she heard a loud snap, as though someone had snapped his fingers, and within seconds, she realized that she had broken a bone in her foot.

Without indicating to anyone that the broken bone was giving her excruciating pain, she approached the speaker’s podium where she raised her foot to rest it horizontally on a chair behind her, relieving the painful pressure.

Classes Held on Monday

This happened on a Friday before the season’s swimming lesson was to begin. Miss Metcalf refused to go to Portland for hospital treatment; instead she drove her own car home from Poland Springs with her broken foot. On Saturday it was placed in a cast, and on Monday she was instructing her swimming class as usual.

“I have just completed my 40th year with the swim program in Franklin; and in that entire period not one woman or child was lost,” observes the Lake Pearl resident.

Lorraine Metcalf has resigned from her swimming program activities in Franklin, and will not be instructing next season. She is determined to enjoy more time at her beautiful new home at Gilmore Road, which borders the lake. Beginning with her girlhood years and for approximately 35 summers, she had spent vacations on the “Franklin side” of Lake Pearl.

Lake Archer first site

“The swimming program started at Lake Archer in the early 1930s and moved subsequently to Lake Pearl in the areas of the Enegrens where it remained until 1942 under the auspices of the American Red Cross. And class members were shuttled by bus to the lake. For approximately six years now, the program has been under the Town of Franklin; the Red Cross sponsorship folded about a dozen years ago,” asserts Miss Metcalf.

“There were no politics involved with the town program,” notes Miss Metcalf. “It was understood from the very beginning that the program would be strictly an educational one. Forty years ago, we were instructing average age groups of 15-17; nowadays, it has been the average age group of six to eight.
Prominent family

The Metcalf family has been prominent in the roots of Franklin’s growth from its earliest day, including the activities of Lorraine Metcalf’s grandfather through the Civil War years, and her mother and father through the World War I period.

The family homestead at 11 West Central St., was torn down in 1940. “The house was built by my grandfather. I was born there and my father before m. We later moved to 25 West Central St., abutting the Franklin Lumber Company property, formerly the property of the Metcalf Brothers.”

And speaking of family members, Michael Metcalf was the first public school teacher in America, associated with the Dedham public school system.

Buffalo and Cleveland

The Franklin native left this region in the early 1930s for Buffalo and Cleveland where she was active in physical therapy [including at the Crippled Children’s Guild in Buffalo]. Due to illness in the family, she returned to this area, where she has been ever since. Lorraine Metcalf began her work with the school system in 1938 at $800 annually, and she was in physical therapy for 10 years before she started to teach.

Physical fitness has been one of the hallmarks of the Metcalf family. It was not uncommon for the Franklin school teacher to be seen swimming in Lake Pearl approximately six miles each morning with Harry Bullukian and Tommy McCarthy.

“I went on the staff of the National Aquatic School in Hanson in 1951 where I taught water safety and first aid. In 1956, following a bout with rheumatic fever, I was assigned to the first aid staff as an instructor and in 1960, I took over as Dean of Women as well as remaining on the first aid staff.”

Ambulance service

During the World War II years “there was no ambulance service available, so Dr. Walter F. Crowley if there was a unit that could be formed to handle emergency stretcher case calls only from a doctor, the fire department of the police department. Thirty-six women from a class of 90 in first aid (ages 18-67) volunteered their services, believing it was only temporary, but it stretched into 4 ½ years.

“Within a week, a 1939 Ford Beachwagon was obtained from Joe Turco who was entering the service with the understanding that he could have it back again once he returned. Before this time, two undertakers had operated ambulance services, but one died and the other gave up the services.

Voluntary donations

“Gene Simmons of the old Ford Agency provided space. Voluntary donations were accepted from patients. The donations were used in the maintenance of the car, linens and such supplies as were necessary in the operation of the vehicle, relates Miss Metcalf

“At the end of 4 ½ years that a professional came in and took over the ambulance services, and Turco came back and his beachwagon was returned. When the town finally established its own ambulance service for the townspeople, Fire Chief Pond approached me and asked if I would take over the training of the men. And I have been training them ever since.”

Metcalf taught in Franklin for a total of 40 years. She was a member of the Wrentham Board of Selectman and helped to get cable TV coverage of their meetings and was chair of the Wrentham Wage and Personnel Board.

She was a regional negotiator for the Mass. Teachers Association and headed the Norfolk County Teachers Association.

The town of Wrentham even held a Lorraine Metcalf Day, and Lorraine Metcalf Drive, named in her honor, is located in that town, off of Route 1A.

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