Rare Prison Records Added to Digital Prison Archive

We’re pleased to announce the addition of new historical materials to our publicly accessible DIGITAL PRISON ARCHIVE from the House of Refuge for Women, New York’s first ‘reformatory’ for women, located in Hudson, NY.

The House of Refuge for Women, the brainchild of Josephine Shaw Lowell, Progressive reformer and member of a socially and culturally elite New England family, was opened in 1887 to provide a female-only place of confinement for young women who had previously been locked up in mixed gender jails and poorhouses.

  Progressive Era reformer Josephine Shaw Lowell

Progressive Era reformer Josephine Shaw Lowell

It was only the second reformatory for women established by law in the United States and when it opened it was the only place of confinement for women in New York sentenced by the state. Guided by the belief that older women were unredeemable, the House of Refuge For Women took only young women, ages 15 to 30 and later 15 to 25, convicted of petit larceny, habitual drunkenness, and prostitution.

The House of Refuge for Women closed in 1904 following a series of scandals and a declining population. The New York State Training School for Girls took its place.

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The House of Refuge for Women case file, donated to Prison Public Memory Project in 2015 by Hudson, NY resident Karen DePyster, is a plain envelope tied up with a pink ribbon. The records that have been added to the Digital Prison Archive pertain to one young woman, “Sadie Roe whose real name is Maud Veach”, and chronicle Maud’s experience at this first reformatory for women in New York from the view of the institution’s staff.

Maud was incarcerated there from June of 1898 to November of 1899. At sixteen years old, she was convicted of “common prostitution”. Maud’s records reveal she was subjected to severe punishments and practices. Her conviction was overturned in late 1899 and she was released.

 Maud Veach, Prison Public Memory Project

The collection of records on Maud that can now be found in the Digital Prison Archive include court papers, intake records, a ‘mug shot’, letters, and a record book of staff comments and ‘scoring’ of her behavior. These records are only one of three such sets of records that we know to exist from the House of Refuge for Women. This link will take you directly to the Maud Veach collection.

 Prison Public Memory Project digital prison archive

Prison Records Archive

The Prison Archive was born out of our desire to foster critical thinking and conversation among diverse audiences about these documents and the lives and institutions they represent. It is made possible by people, like Karen DePyster, who donated the Maud Veach file to us, and by donations from generous individuals that help cover the cost of the labor to digitally scan and process these materials.