Victorian Penal Institutions for Juvenile Females and Mary Carpenter, by Tahaney Alghrani

In our latest post Tahaney Alghrani reflects on crime, gender and ‘reform’ in Victorian port cities.

In recent months, youth knife crime has been much debated in the British press. These debates, however, are not new.  Just as today there are conflicting views on how we should address youth crime, this was also a central debate in the nineteenth century. Reformatory and Industrial schools, the first penal institutions for juvenile offenders, were established in 1855 to remove youths from their criminal associations and ‘at risk’ environments in order to reform them and train them within industry. Recent research by Barry Godfrey, Heather Shore, Pamela Cox and Zoe Alker, published in the book Young Criminal Lives (2017), utilises archival/digital sources to examine the lives of 500 juveniles who passed through these institutions and traces their destinations post-release. However, research on young girls in the Victorian port cities and urban towns is unmapped in the literature. My research focuses on juvenile girls, their pathways into crime, how they fared in these institutions and their trajectories in the urban areas and ports of Liverpool, Manchester and Bristol, as well as their pathways on release.

A particular institution of interest in my research is Red Lodge, which was the first certified female reformatory in England, opened in Bristol in 1854 by Mary Carpenter, who was a key advocate of ‘certified Institutions’ and managed the Lodge for over a decade. Within the literature, she is presented as an ‘Educational Hero.’[1] Mary Carpenter devoted her life to trying to educate children, opening the first Ragged School in Bristol, but it was her work on juvenile delinquency and reformatory schools which is of particular significance here. Annie Schwan, in her paper ‘Dreadful beyond Description’, argues ‘Carpenter has been hailed as the first women to dedicate a professional life to social reform and the study of crime, especially the reform of juvenile delinquency.’[2] Indeed her influence in this area, especially her contribution to the reform ideology, has been neglected in the research. Jo Manton, in her autobiography Mary Carpenter and the Children of the Streets of Bristol, reveals how Mary Carpenter worked tirelessly to establish juvenile institutions and hailed these a great success in public,[3] although as my research has uncovered, her journals[4] reveal chaos, scandals, punishment cells, and girls being removed to Prison as ‘incorrigible.’ [5]

Mary Carpenter at Red Lodge Reformatory with her first reformatory girl, Annie Woolham, 10th October 1854. George Edmund Butler 1872-1936

Mary Carpenter was the superintendent of Red Lodge and imposed strict Rules and Principles for both the girls and the staff. The discipline and reform of the girls was firmly aligned with domesticity and respectable femininity. Mary Carpenter stated ‘Girls must be prepared for the natural restraints of the home.’[6] Girls were required to follow strict daily routines. They engaged in religious lessons, prayer and hymns in the morning and performed industrial laundry work in the afternoon for the neighbouring families and boys’ reformatories. The daily performance of laundry generated profits for the school but emphasis was also placed on its symbolism of cleanliness and purity. Pamela Cox states the idea that wayward girls needed to be domesticated firmly underpinned the philosophy and practice of girls’ reform for the century between the 1850s-1950s’ (2003, p.87). The social control and discipline within these institutions normalised the view that the girls’ place was within the domestic sphere. These technologies of discipline along gendered lines acted as a regulatory power over females, even after they left the institution. Girls were rewarded with prizes in the form of monetary rewards if they married and remained in a stable situation, thus endorsing the ‘ideal’ feminine role.

However, Selleck, in his paper ‘Mary Carpenter, a confident and contradictory reformer’ argues that she was contradictory in her practice of child removal from families and posits a person who placed such stress on ‘the holy duties of a parent’ was willing to compel the separation of parents and children, though once separated, the children were to be brought up in industrial schools permeated with a family atmosphere.’[7] Indeed, we must remember that, no matter how benevolent these schools may have seemed, they were removing children from their homes and detaining them for up to five years. Albeit harsh on the youths, Heather Shore argues ‘it is also a system that has rescued them from abusive adults, educated them, trained them in occupational skills, given them a chance of a new start in life.’[8] My research on a local regional level, aims to trace the trajectories of the girls once back in society, which will provide insights into the success of the institutions in equipping females with the education and skills they needed to navigate the male-dominated port and urban cities. This research is important not only for what it tells us about the treatment of wayward females in the nineteenth century but also the insights it offers into possible solutions for youth offenders in contemporary society.

Tahaney’s research centres on juvenile institutions in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Her primary focus is on the ideology, reform and discipline of juvenile females incarcerated within reformatories. Her interdisciplinary approach is to investigate historical sources utilising sociological theories to locate the position of young women in port/urban locations and their pathway into incarceration. For more information see: https://www.liverpool.ac.uk/sociology-social-policy-and-criminology/research/postgraduate-research-students/tahaney-alghrani/

Bibliography

Carpenter, M Suggestions of the Management of Reformatories and Certified Industrial Schools, 1964, p.9).

Cox, P. (2002) Bad Girls in Britain, Gender, Justice and Welfare 1900-1950, Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan.

Manton, Jo Mary Carpenter and the Children of the Streets (London, Heinemann, 1976).

Rush, P., ‘The Government of a Generation: the subject of juvenile Delinquency’ The Liverpool Law Review, v.14. no.1 (1992) pp.3-43.

Saywell, R., Mary Carpenter of Bristol, (1964) issued by the Bristol Branch of the Historical Association, The University, Bristol.

Schwan, A ‘Dreadful Beyond Description’, European Journal of English Studies, 14.2, pp. 107-120 p.108.

Selleck, R ‘Mary Carpenter, A Confident and Contradictory Reformer’ The History of Education 14:2, (1985) pp101-115, p.115.

Shore, H Inventing and re-inventing the Juvenile Delinquent in British History, Memoria Y Civilization 14, 2011, pp105-132 p.130.

[1] Saywell, R., Mary Carpenter of Bristol, (1964) issued by the Bristol Branch of the Historical Association, The University, Bristol.

[2]Annie Schwan, ‘Dreadful Beyond Description’, European Journal of English Studies, 14.2, pp. 107-120 p.108.

[3] Jo Manton, Mary Carpenter and the Children of the Streets (London, Heinemann, 1976).

[4] Mary Carpenter Diaries, Bristol Archives (12693).

[5] Incorrigible –Not able to be changed or reformed. Depraved or unruly see Peter Rush Rush, P., ‘The Government of a Generation: the subject of juvenile Delinquency’ The Liverpool Law Review, v.14. no.1 (1992) pp.3-43.

[6] Mary Carpenter Suggestions of the Management of Reformatories and Certified Industrial Schools, 1964, p.9).

[7] R.J.W.Selleck, ‘Mary Carpenter, A Confident and Contradictory Reformer’ The History of Education 14:2, (1985) pp101-115, p.115.

[8] Heather Shore Inventing and re-inventing the Juvenile Delinquent in British History, Memoria Y Civilization 14, 2011, pp105-132  p.130.

Image 1: Red Lodge, used with permission of Bristol Archives, 17563/1/898.

Image 2:  Bristol Museum and Art Gallery, UK / Given by James Fuller Eberle, 1921 / Bridgeman Images

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