But where were the "fallen women"?
March 24, 2015 6:58 AM   Subscribe

The researchers focused their attention on allegations of wrongdoing at the prison, looking at previously discredited testimonies of prisoners who claimed to have been physically abused and at the activities of a prison doctor who had some very Victorian ideas about women and sex. They began to unravel a long-standing mystery: Why didn’t the prison incarcerate any prostitutes in its early years? They presented their findings at academic conferences and published papers in journals. And they did all of it without access to the Internet.
They had to do it without access to the internet, as the researchers investigating the hidden history of the Indiana Reformatory Institute for Women and Girls, America's oldest women only prison are themselves prisoners at the same prison and what they found shines a new light on its origins.
posted by MartinWisse (12 comments total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
What a fascinating story. It's both heartwarming to see these women being given the chance to use their minds and do research, and frustrating that they have to be locked up in order to get that opportunity. And I had never thought about the US having its own Magdalene laundries, but it certainly seems possible.
posted by emjaybee at 7:26 AM on March 24, 2015

It is a neat story. The delays in getting books and articles must be so frustrating; I wonder if there is any compensatory benefit to that, like a deeper engagement with primary sources, or if it is just purely a barrier.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:36 AM on March 24, 2015

What a great story. I just volunteered to help and I hope other mefite librarians will do likewise. she already wrote me back, yay, gotta go read it.
posted by mareli at 8:11 AM on March 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

To be honest, the Internet is less useful for historical research than a lot of people might think. As of 2009, there still weren't any systematic bibliographic for my field, and even commonly used demographic sources weren't online. I had much better library access, of course, but my grad research was otherwise conducted similarly: microfilm, photographs of pages, or sitting in an archive taking notes.
posted by jb at 8:13 AM on March 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

This is a brave project, and I'm curious what kind of pushback and retaliation the researchers are experiencing from corrections officers. COs have all manner of tools to suppress voices that would expose modern mistreatment in prisons (limiting how much paper an inmate can have, seizing an inmate's papers, trumped up infractions, etc.). And so I'm wondering if the researchers are attracting that kind of negative attention from the COs, especially when they tie historical prison abuse to their current situation.
posted by Banknote of the year at 8:35 AM on March 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

"We applied muriate of cocaine to the clitoris, and I can assure you the effect was wonderful, the vagina at once behaved as well as the most virtuous vagina in the United States."

How do "virtuous vaginas" behave, exactly?
posted by clawsoon at 9:21 AM on March 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'm extremely glad this is getting published, and to see it shared here. The level of abuses that were commonplace and that STILL drive institutions and political powers treatment and labeling of the vulnerable among us and empower them to abuse without accountability needs a lot more exposure. A lot of assumptions we make about certain people in our communities, how to label and treat them, stem from extremely abusive ideologies and we have a hard time facing that is still within ourselves and the powers we enable and support to cause harm.

"And I had never thought about the US having its own Magdalene laundries." The way women have been labelled as mentally ill or criminal for things like having sex out of marriage (mind you the men don't need to be institutionalized, tortured, or assaulted and their bodies and sexual parts destroyed for their sexual misconduct including raping because we all know boys will be boys!)--- the heinous crimes done to women just for being women still have not fully seen the light of day. The things that were done to women while giving birth, or to "improve" them have essentially been various forms of assault and torture.

Currently programs from foster children and "problem children" often operate with very little oversite, and even when abuses are uncovered, the public feels very ambivalent about standing up for orphans (who cares... they're just orphans right) and problem children... everyone knows problem children are hard to deal with, so how can we judge those that abuse them! The history of maternity homes in the US carries a lot of unsavory truths about restraints and outright kidnapping of children that has still gone without acknowledgement from human right organizations or women's rights agenda's in the US. In fact many of the agencies who ran outright kidnapping and sales of children schemes during the baby scoop era STILL are in business with reformed techniques to separate babies from their mothers and sell them on the adoption market. Agencies like Gladney, Florence Crittendon and others have not been held accountable at all for their abuses against vulnerable pregnant women.

Today, women prisoners often still give birth IN SHACKLES and there are very few programs that allow the mothers to keep their newborn babies with them, meaning forced separation is routine even for mothers imprisoned for non-violent crimes.

We still have a lot of work to do, and bringing this stuff to the light of day is a very important part of this process.
posted by xarnop at 9:30 AM on March 24, 2015 [12 favorites]

""We applied muriate of cocaine to the clitoris, and I can assure you the effect was wonderful, the vagina at once behaved as well as the most virtuous vagina in the United States."

This guy needs a punch in the face like I can't fucking describe. -Que inner battle between my pacifistic nature and my wrath at the horrors humans have inflicted upon the vulnerable-
posted by xarnop at 9:32 AM on March 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

This was an interesting read. Both the history of the institution and the inmates stories, separate but intertwined. I also read the comments section. There was a thread in the comments basically saying the inmates could not write an honest history because of their inherent bias as inmates and wrong-doers. The comments seemed to go back and forth from troll-y to an honest discussion about bias.
posted by Belle O'Cosity at 9:58 AM on March 24, 2015

This feels like a preview for a movie. I think the story could be interesting, but not enough material is presented in that article to really know.
posted by corb at 10:49 AM on March 24, 2015

Abuses committed against real people should not be cared about based on whether the facts involved create an "interesting" story that provides entertainment value.

These were real people who endured abuses. Their reality deserves to be known, and injustices against them acknowledged and prevented in the present and future whether their experiences pass as "interesting" enough.
posted by xarnop at 11:03 AM on March 24, 2015 [3 favorites]

I would think that cocaine applied to the clitoris would numb it (and any nearby mucous membranes) for a little while. And in the Victorian era were there any genitals more virtuous than numb genitals?
posted by telstar at 12:25 PM on March 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

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