The Legacy of Miriam Van Waters: The Warden Who Would be Their Teacher First

Chlup, Dominique T.
June 2006
Journal of Correctional Education;Jun2006, Vol. 57 Issue 2, p158
Academic Journal
Dr. Miriam Van Waters was the superintendent (warden) of the Massachusetts Reformatory for Women at Framingham for twenty-five years. She has the distinct honor of holding that position the longest. In 1949, she rose to national prominence when the new Massachusetts Commissioner of Corrections, under allegations of lax administrative policies, dismissed her from her position of superintendent. Van Waters refusing to relent quietly engaged in a short lived but sensational trial that reinstated her within three months of her dismissal. In the course of that trial, advocates of Van Waters revealed the ways in which the Framingham Reformatory operated as a unique correctional institution affording inmates a variety of educational opportunities. For instance, both Dr. Van Waters and her mother taught classes to the inmates. While previous historical scholarship has focused on Van Waters and her role as warden, none of it has focused solely on her role as teacher at the Framingham Reformatory. In this article, the author discusses the educational role Miriam Van Waters played at the Reformatory. Van Waters' role as a correctional educator and its ensuing impact on the inmates at Framingham are explored. The unique and progressive educational policies and practices implemented during Van Waters' tenure at the Framingham Reformatory are presented. Findings include that Van Waters' influence resulted in an institution which was as much educational as it was correctional Specifically, evidence is presented that under Van Waters' tutelage education as a vehicle to affect rehabilitation was liberating. While reformatory-prisons are often deemed to have remained prisons at heart, Framingham's academic educational classrooms were spaces in which inmates could ‘forget lock and key’ and operate as students rather than inmates. The historical legacy of these programs can inform contemporary thinking about correctional education by reminding educators of the importance of placing educational programs at the backbone of correctional institutions.


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