Midwest Social Sciences Journal


For the past four years, as part of a group of currently and formerly incarcerated scholars, we have researched the “inmates” and staff at the Indiana Women’s Prison during the institution’s first decade. Then known as the Indiana Reformatory Institution for Women and Girls, the facility was located near downtown Indianapolis on Randolph and Michigan Street. We focused on a key constituent of the Indiana Reformatory for Women and Girls: the girls themselves, heretofore voiceless and uninvestigated.

Our primary sources include the annual reports of the reformatory and the original registries for the girls during the survey period of 1873–1884. Contemporary news articles revealed in-depth details, particularly regarding an investigation launched in 1881 concerning allegations of severe physical abuse on the part of the staff committed against the women and girls. We have also derived information from books and articles written by traditional and current scholars, which provide background on the reformatory movement in the 19th century, particularly regarding juveniles.

This information allows us to draw a verbal picture of what the average girl looked like coming into and going out of the facility. We give an account of their days, revealing an extremely strict work and education regimen to which they were forced to adhere. They also received vocational training in domesticity, which was used, in part, to prepare them for being sent out of the prison via the ticket-of-leave system. We will also expound on the evidence of cruelty and abuse that were disguised as love and reformation.