Friday, March 28, 2014

Back to the House of Refuge

On Tuesday, Gossips begin figuratively tagging along on a tour of the House of Refuge taken August 1890 and recounted in the New York Press by Mary A. Worswick. We learned about the buildings and the routines and procedures of the then three-your-old institution. Today, we return to that report to learn more about how the House of Refuge went about its noble work of reforming fallen women.

Every young woman committed to the House of Refuge was initially assigned a place in the Second Division, located on the second floor of the prison building, "from which she may be reduced, if refractory, or promoted for good behavior." Promotion was first to the third floor of the prison building and then to one of the four cottages. Demotion was to the first floor of the prison building, where "the prisoners seem a hard set of women," or to an annex in the rear of the prison "where unruly inmates can be confined without disturbing the whole house." 

Mary Worswick focused on the life in the cottages.

When girls are promoted to the cottages they are given greater advantages and privileges. They have the assembly for work and study and attend school in the main building.
The cottages are neat brick structures, many windowed and with cheerful interiors, white walled and finished in light wood. The girls' rooms, opening out of the galleries, have each a white counterpaned bed, a chair and table. Each room has some fanciful decorations on its wall--cards, pictures, dried grasses, paper flowers, or bits of fancy work done by the girls in the one hour of recreation allowed them each evening.
There are four cottages, number one ranking first, each containing twenty-four inmates, under the charge of a supervisor and her assistant, and in them the idea of a family life is carried out as far as possible.
The girls are only locked in their rooms at night. They take their meals together in the neatly appointed dining room. After school hours and when all their housework is done they sit in groups in the long corridors, sewing or knitting or talking in subdued tones, but always under the supervision of the officers in charge.
Women with young infants when committed or those who become mothers after entrance are allowed to keep their children with them, and so it is that distributed between prison, cottages and hospital there are babies of all sizes, conditions and types of babyhood. . . .
The matron of the hospital is a trained nurse and under the advice of the consulting physician had charge of the sick and attends to the general health of all the inmates. Dissipation has made as great havoc in the bodies as vice has made in the souls of these women, and the majority of those who enter the Refuge are in broken health. Not alone moral, but physical, too, is the reform accomplished, as the general health of the institution testifies.
In the main building is the chapel, where services are held every Sunday and occasional lectures and entertainments for the benefit of the girls; also the sewing room where the sewing of the institution is done by the inmates, the officers' rooms, offices, etc., and the two large school rooms where the cottage girls attend. There is a general teacher and an inmate holds the position of monitor in the lower grade room.
Already a number of deserving girls have been conditionally discharged from the institution by the Board of Managers. Before leaving on parole a good home is provided for each girl, and if she desires to change her place afterward she must obtain consent from the Refuge. She is required to write every month, as to her welfare and conduct, to the superintendent, and her statement must vouched for by some responsible person. If she is sick or in trouble the Refuge doors are always open to her during the period of her parole.
After a continued course of good behavior outside the girl is granted the following absolute discharge:
"Since you entered this institution you have behaved in an orderly manner, exhibiting regret for the past and an earnest desire to live an honest and honorable life in the future. There is no reason why, by a continuation of such a course, you should not win the respect of any community in which you may hereafter live and become a well to do member of society. This discharge is granted in the expectation that such will be your success."
Thus the State says: "Go, and sin no more" to these modern Magdalens.
The photograph of the House of Refuge is from Historic Hudson's Rowles Studio Collection; the engravings accompanied Mary A. Worswick's article, which appeared in the New York Press on August 17, 1890.

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