By Kara Keeler*
Editor's note: Earlier this year, we received an e-mail followed by a package in the mail from a former employee at the New York State Training School for Girls at Hudson, NY (1904 – 1975), once the largest juvenile prison for girls in the United States. The package contained the original program for a reunion of Training School employees held in 1981 held at a locally owned restaurant in Columbia County, NY and sponsored by the local branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). The information provided in the program made clear the close ties between many Training School employees and the local NAACP where they were members and officers going back at least to the 1950’s. We think this is interesting and plan to explore this relationship in some depth further down the road. In the meantime, the following article, by guest writer and photographer Kara Keeler, a native of Columbia County, recounts the reunion based on the program documents now in our possession.
On Saturday September 18th, 1981 two hundred and fifty former employees from Hudson's Training School for Girls and their family members and friends met at Kozel's restaurant in Ghent, NY to reunite and reminisce about their days working at the Training School. This event was sponsored by Columbia County's Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Former Training School employee Gladys Carter (1928-2015) opened the evening, followed by remarks by William Harris, president of the local NAACP branch.
The evening included a warm welcome from Hazel Murray and Gloria Meus:
“Six years have passed since the training school closed. This is the first opportunity provided for us to gather to renew acquaintances, to reminisce and to just share an evening together.
"As members of the Columbia County Branch of the NAACP and also former employees of the New York State Training School for Girls, we are grateful that the NAACP consented to allow us to combine their annual fundraising affair with a reunion for former employees and friends of the training school.
"Many thanks to those people who worked hard to insure the success of this affair…"
Thanks to Training School employee Carolyn Smith Ressler, who sent the Prison Public Memory Project a copy of the program for the night which contains short contributions from former employees, we are able to get a glimpse into their lives after the Training School closed in 1975.
Mabel Blanks, a teacher for over 30 years at the Hudson Training School, wrote:
"Spent one year (summer) as teacher at the Regional Secure Detention Center, Highland, NY: 1976 -1978 – Teacher at Edward A. Cass Youth Center, Rensselaer, NY; 1978 – present – Eddie A. Parker Youth Center, Red Hook, NY."
Jessie Cooper wrote:
"Retired. Still active with church organizations and the Columbia County Branch of NAACP."
Gloria Meus wrote:
"Enjoyed a life of leisure for six months before beginning work at the Coxsackie Correctional Facility. Employed at Hudson Correctional since 1978. Currently working in personnel and involved in facility training."
Jim Fitzsimmons wrote:
"Wife, Marion and I were house parents in cottage B for approximately 10 years after which we were promoted to Children Supervisors--Marion at Brookwood and myself on grounds. Over the years I’ve had little or no contact with fellow employees at the Training School. All the more reason, I think, the reunion is a fine idea and I am looking forward to it."
Fay Fagan wrote:
"Home economics teacher in Mount Vernon school system since 1962, teching middle school. Active member of Greater Centennial A.M.E. Zion Church, serving as Director of Christian Education for 10 years, member of Crusaders Club and presently serving as president of local layman’s council. Active in Westchester County Chapter of Bennett College Alumnae, having served as President for 4 years (1974-1978). Have done extensive traveling through Europe, parts of Asia, the West Indies and the USA…"
Ida Jones Scales wrote:
"I joined the staff at the Training School on March 1, 1958. I married the late Mr. Selma H. Scales on January 26th 1963. He passed away on September 5th 1974. I retired May 5th 1973. I must confess I do miss my friends, my girls, the school and Hudson. Those five years were truly and experience for me and I can never forget them. Those were the good ole days and I enjoyed them."
Myra Harrington Bledsoe wrote:
"Since leaving the training school 25 years ago I have taught in the Hudson City School District. I started the first special class for the educable mentally handicapped in 1956. During the years I taught both primary and intermediate classes and one year of intermediate trainable children. I retired in June of 1981 after 33 years of teaching. Since leaving I have been listed in 1st Edition, 1976, of Marquis Who's who Biographical Record-Child Development Professionals, the 1978 fourth edition of the World's Who's Who of Women and several international and American books."
Parinella Williams Lewis wrote:
"After leaving the Training School in October of 1952, was employed with Wassaic State School until 1962. 1963-1979 employed at Hudson River Psychiatric Center. During that period I returned to college and received a degree in social services and human relations. Presently employed as a case manager with the Dutchess County Mental Health Center… Many community activities. My newest goal is to become alderman of the fifth ward in my city (Poughkeepsie)…"
Moe Bickweat wrote:
"1973 Transferred to South Lansing Center as Unit Coordinator; 1974 Appointed Assistant Director of South Lansing Center; 1976- Transferred to Southern Tier Youth Service Team, appointed Supervisor; 1977 received Master’s Degree from Marywood College. 1978- appointed Youth Service Coordinator for Rochester District.- 1980 Married to JoanL. Halliwell in June 1980April 30th 1981 Firstchild was born. Presently –The proudest father I know of!!!..."
Helen Dago wrote:
"Spent summer at the University of Ghana in Accra and The University of Science and Technology in Kumasi, Ghana studying African history, art and culture. After certification, taught ceramics for 8 years. For the past 12 years have been associated with Olana, NYS historic site. Co-authored book “Olana Customs and Receipts". Set up and managed Olana Museum Gift Shop. Trustee of Olana for 9 Years and officer of Governor’s Advisory Board for the past 4 years."
Joseph De Dominicis wrote:
"Returned to training school on October 13th 1976 to start up plant for the department of corrections. Now working as principal Stationary Engineer at the Hudson Correctional Facility in the heating plant."
Sandra K. Pell wrote:
"Worked in accounting Department of Social Services and then as DMT at Coxsackie Correctional Facility. Now employed as the Hudson Correctional Facility in the Service Unit."
Carolyn Smith Ressler wrote:
"I worked in the training school from June 1973 to March 1976, at which time I left to get married and move to this area, which is approximately 20 miles south of Poughkeepsie. I have worked at Green Haven Correctional Facility from April 1967, in various titles. My present position, which I have held for nine years, is Principal Clerk, handling all legal matters for the prison. I was widowed in March 1970, and have two handsome sons Raymond 14 and John 11."
Harriet Egan wrote:
"Retired February 1st 1980, to life as an active apple farmer. My life of retirement includes trips to Chicago, Florida and local visits to family and friends. So far not much time allowed for being bored. Many happy memories of days at the training school!!!"
N.R. Catlett wrote:
"Since leaving Hudson in 1955, I helped establish Otisville Training School as assistant Superintendent under Dr. Ben Hill. In 1966, I became director of Goshen Center and while there I helped to open South Lansing School for Girls where Mrs. Jenkins became superintendent. I retired from Goshen Center in 1974."
Gale Smith, former Assistant Superintendent at the Hudson Girls Training School, wrote:
"Director South Lansing until February 1977. Staff training and management consultant in Regions 1 and 2 since then. Have a home on six acres of land just outside Ithaca where I garden, refinish furniture and work in stained glass and do some individual counseling. If you are in the area, please stop to visit. Marilynne, my companera, works at the Dick Van Dyke Alcohol Treatment Center. She is a social worker/team leader and enjoys her work."
Betty Williams wrote:
Employed at Brookwood Center. Recently completed YDC traineeship, promoted to Grade 18 YDC Counselor on January 5, 1981. Presently serving as special supervisor of the Special Service Team at Brookwood Secure Center.
For the reunion, two songs were written and sung to remember the days at the Training School. We are grateful to Carolyn Smith Ressler for including them in the package she sent to us with the program for the reunion.
*Kara Keeler is a resident of Columbia County. She grew up in the hamlet of Claverack and went to school in Philadelphia, PA where she studied graphic design. She has a strong passion for history and photography.