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Van Waters, Miriam. Papers of Miriam Van Waters, 1861-1971: A Finding Aid

Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University


Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University

© President and Fellows of Harvard College

Descriptive Summary

Call No.: A-71
Repository: Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University
Creator: Van Waters, Miriam
Title: Papers of Miriam Van Waters, 1861-1971
Date(s): 1861-1971
Quantity: 21.89 linear feet (51 file boxes, 3 half file boxes) plus 2 oversize folders, 1 folio+ folder, 15 folders of photographs, 14 reels phonotape, 1 reel microfilm, 1 reel motion picture film)
Language of materials: Materials in English.
Abstract: Correspondence, diaries, case studies, etc., of penologist Miriam Van Waters.

Immediate Source of Acquisition:

Accession numbers: 56-101, 57-91, 112, 1653, 1677 70-29, 71-57, 71-72, 71-89, 71-105, 71-170, 74-15, 75-58, 75-373, 77-M80
The papers of Miriam Van Waters were given to the Schlesinger Library in 1969-1971, 1974-1975 and 1977 by Miriam Van Waters,Dorothy Kirchwev Brown,Margaret H. Davis,Ralph Van Waters, and Elizabeth Bode Van Waters.

Processing Information:

Reprocessed: August 1978
By: Patricia Aronsson, Linda J. Henry, Kathleen Marquis


Access. To protect the privacy of students, former students and others who were in sensitive positions and are represented in these papers, the Schlesinger Library has imposed restrictions on the use of names and each researcher must sign a special form before using the papers. For the same reason, names of students and former students and of the prisoners in Series VIII are not listed in the index of correspondents.
An appointment is necessary to use any audiovisual material.

Conditions Governing Use:

Copyright. Copyright in the papers created by Miriam Van Waters is held by [the President and Fellows of Harvard College for the Schlesinger Library. Copyright in other papers in the collection may be held by their authors, or the authors' heirs or assigns.
Copying. Papers may be copied in accordance with the library's usual procedures.

Preferred Citation:

Miriam Van Waters Papers, 1861-1971; item description, dates. A-71, folder #. Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.

Related Material:

There is related material at the Schlesinger Library; see Papers of Anna Spicer Gladding and Miriam Van Waters, 1855-1992 (MC 426).


Miriam Van Waters, penologist, was born October 4, 1887, in Greensburg, Pennsylvania, the eldest living child (an older daughter died before Miriam was born) of George Browne (1865-1934) and Maude Vosburg (1866-1948) Van Waters. She had two sisters and two brothers: Ruth Van Waters Burton (1893-1967); Rebecca Van Waters Bartholomew (1898-1974?); George, Jr. (1899-19??); and Ralph (1906-). Van Waters graduated in 1904 from St. Helen's Hall in Portland, Oregon, and then attended the University of Oregon, where she earned a B.A. in Philosophy, 1908, and an M.A. in Psychology, 1910. She received a Ph.D. in Anthropology from Clark University, Worcester, Massachusetts, in 1913.
From 1913 to 1932, Van Waters devoted her career to various aspects of juvenile care. She served as a special agent for the Boston Children's Aid Society, 1913; the superintendent of the Frazer Detention Home in Portland, Oregon, 1914-1915; the superintendent of Juvenile Hall in Los Angeles County, California, 1917-1920; director of the El Retiro School for Girls in Los Angeles, 1919-1920; and referee of the Juvenile Court in Los Angeles, 1920-1930. Van Waters was director of the juvenile delinquency section of the Harvard Law School Crime Survey, which began in 1926, and a consultant on juvenile delinquency for the National Commission on Law Observance and Enforcement ("Wickersham Commission"), from 1928 probably until 1931. Throughout this period Van Waters also served on other government and university committees and commissions, participated in various professional organizations, delivered speeches and lectures, and wrote two books: Youth in Conflict (1925) and Parents on Probation (1927).
In 1932 Van Waters succeeded Jessie Hodder as the superintendent of the Reformatory for Women at Framingham, Massachusetts. Her progressive penal policies included: emphasizing psychological treatment, allowing mothers to keep their children with them at Reformatory for Women at Framingham, and broadly interpreting the Massachusetts indenture system to allow for more day work. During her tenure there, several state officials along with local newspapers, launched critical attacks on Van Waters and her policies. After hearings in 1948, Van Waters was dismissed as Superintendent in January 1949. She was then reinstated by a governor's commission in March 1949, following further hearings and much publicity. She served as superintendent until her retirement in 1957. As in previous years, Van Waters was involved in other activities: teaching, serving on committees in professional organizations, delivering speeches, conducting research and writing.
In 1929 Van Waters assumed guardianship of a seven-year-old girl and renamed the child Sarah Ann. Van Waters, who never married, legally adopted Sarah in 1932. In 1941 Sarah Ann Van Waters (1922-1953) married Richard Hildebrandt. They had three sons before they were divorced in 1949: George (born 1941), Richard (born 1943), and Peter (born 1945). Sarah Hildebrandt was killed in a car accident in February 1953.



The Miriam Van Waters Papers are divided into 10 series:
Series I Miriam Van Waters Diaries covers the years 1932-1959; the diaries include entries about daily activities, family, personal and professional matters. This series also contains several appointment booklets, notes and lists of tasks.
Series II Family Correspondence consists largely of Van Waters's correspondence with her parents, her sisters and brothers, and her daughter, and of her parents' correspondence with her brothers and sisters. These letters document Van Waters's role as daughter, oldest sister and mother and also contain much information about her career and professional concerns. In addition to family matters, correspondents discuss historical events, including the effects of the Depression (George Van Waters, Van Waters's brother); life in England during World War II (Rebecca); the Korean War (Jack Bartholomew), and the Vietnam War (Richard Hildebrandt, Jr.). The women often discuss topics of an intimate nature: menstrual problems (Van Waters and Rebecca); marriage difficulties and parenting (Ruth, Rebecca, and Sarah). Maude, Ralph and Sarah also worked, or participated in activities, at the Reformatory for Women at Framingham. Letters from these members of the family, as well as those from Van Waters, therefore provide some information on the Reformatory. Since this Series covers more than sixty years, it provides substantial information on family life and womanhood, as well as a variety of other topics.
Series III General Correspondence contains both professional and (non-family) personal correspondence. This series covers Van Waters's entire career but does not include correspondence for which there are other series. These letters reveal the spectrum of topics that interested Van Waters, including Shakerism, World War II, social welfare and civic improvement, as well as juvenile delinquency and prison reform. Correspondents are indexed at the end of this finding aid.
Series IV El Retiro and Related Work consists mainly of papers about this school for delinquent and/or homeless girls, a branch of Juvenile Hall, the juvenile detention home of Los Angeles County. Van Waters helped found El Retiro, served as director of the school, and was involved in its administration for several years after she resigned as director. Papers include correspondence, case studies, reports and articles about the school; correspondence, reports and testimonies from students regarding the 1927 firing of Alma Holzschuh from the directorship of the school; and five folders of correspondence between Van Waters and students or former students. This series has only a very few items about Van Waters as referee of the Juvenile Court (see #174); there are also a few papers on the Los Angeles Business Girls Club, which Van Waters helped to found.
Series V Reformatory for Women at Framingham concerns Van Waters's work there from 1932 to 1957, with some earlier papers and a few items after 1957. This material is divided by type and by author.
Subseries 1 and 2 consist of papers by Van Waters or the Reformatory for Women at Framingham staff and people who communicated with them. Many folders date from 1948 or 1949 and are about Van Waters's dismissal and reinstatement. General topics include Reformatory for Women at Framingham staff and interns, policies and students. Of particular interest is the case history of an abortionist, several times a student at Reformatory for Women at Framingham. (Van Waters used the term "student" instead of "prisoner" or "inmate;" this inventory follows her terminology.)
Subseries 3 contains correspondence, most of it between Van Waters and former students, which relates their experiences after leaving Reformatory for Women at Framingham. Letters and reports about individual students are in this subseries; letters and reports about more than one student are in Subseries 1 and 2 respectively. Subseries 3 is arranged not chronologically but by individual student.
Subseries 4 contains student essays and stories on a variety of topics: "The Meaning of Parole to Me" (May 1932) and "Women" (February 1943), for example. Poetry, reports of student clubs and activities, lists of casts of plays, and three plays that Van Waters wrote which were performed by students are also included in this Subseries. Arrangement is chronological.
Subseries 5 contains news clippings and articles about Van Waters and Reformatory for Women at Framingham, as well as various reports and articles by Van Waters and others concerning prison policies. Included are four oversize scrapbooks containing news clippings about Van Waters's hearings, 1946-1949.
Series VI Van Waters Speeches and Articles begins with correspondence about speeches (correspondence about writings is in Series III). The speeches and articles cover a wide range of topics and span the length of Van Waters's career; a list of titles or topics and dates is in #463. Van Waters's writings also include four folders of papers about Youth in Conflict, one folder about Parents on Probation, and a folder on a proposed book about Martha Platt Falconer (1862-1941), a prominent social worker. Nine folders of papers with both autobiographical and professional information are apparently notes and proposed chapters for a book, or two books, which Van Waters was compiling, possibly in 1957 and later. Van Waters's articles and speeches are not listed individually in this inventory but are listed in #463. They cover the entire range of Van Waters's career and are in chronological (not subject) order; readers should consult #463 for the subject or title, date, place, etc. Correspondence about speeches is in #428-462; correspondence about articles is in Series III, General Correspondence, #112-158. See also: #230-267 for Van Waters speeches to students, staff and others at Reformatory for Women at Framingham; #391 and #398 for plays about Van Waters. This series concludes with lecture notes and other papers about courses which Van Waters taught in California in the 1920's and at Boston University in the 1950s.
Series VII Organizations, Honors and Awards begins with a folder of information about honors and awards. Van Waters received honorary degrees from Smith College (LL.D., 1932), University of Oregon (LL.D., in absentia, 1944), Calvin Coolidge College of Liberal Arts (Litt. D., 1949), Portia Law School (Litt. D., 1949), Western College for Women (Dr. of Humane Letters, 1955), and Bates College (Dr. of Humane Letters, 1958). Organizations in this series are those in which Van Waters was actively involved and for which there are at least several items. Other letters about organizations are filed in Series III. Most of this series consists of papers of the American Youth Commission of the American Council on Education. The Commission, formed in 1935, conducted a comprehensive study of youth in America; Van Waters was secretary and served on the executive committee. Papers of other organizations represent Van Waters's involvement in prison administration, juvenile rehabilitation, social work and, especially, opposition to capital punishment. One folder of papers on the Society of the Companions of the Holy Cross documents Van Waters's activity in that religious group, which was composed largely of professional women. Through this group Van Waters and Vida Scudder became friends. Papers about Van Waters's work for the Harvard Law School Crime Survey and for the National Commission on Law Observance and Enforcement were removed from the Van Waters Papers here and are now housed in the Harvard Law School Archives (see separation record following inventory). A copy of the Survey of the Montrose School for Girls, 1931, from the Harvard Law School Crime Survey is in #475.
Series VIII Male Prisoner Correspondence consists of letters to, from or about male prisoners, roughly half of which are from inmates of Massachusetts prisons. Topics include parole, probation and prison policies, as well as personal matters. The remaining half of this series consists of correspondence with and about one male prisoner from Illinois. Van Waters and others saved him from execution in 1933 and thereafter worked for his welfare and parole. The letters span 42 years; other correspondents include Jessie Binford, Clarence Darrow, Father E.J. Flanagan and Julia Lathrop.
Series IX Photographs includes photographs from all other series: Van Waters, family, enclosures in general and student correspondence, etc.
Series X Other Papers consists of three folders of papers about Burton J. Rowles' biography of Van Waters, The Lady at Box 99 (1962); an article by Orfa Jean Shontz and essays by Eleanor Pippert; one folder of short biographies; and a 55 page typescript of excerpted reports from the State Industrial School for Girls at Lancaster [Massachusetts].
To protect the privacy of students, former students and others who were in sensitive positions and are represented in these papers, the Schlesinger Library has imposed restrictions on the use of names and each researcher must sign a special form in addition to the application for use of the manuscripts, before using the papers. For the same reason, names of students and former students and of the prisoners in Series VIII are not listed in the index of correspondents.


Index of Selected Correspondents

This selected list of individual correspondents does not include names of students (i.e. prisoners), nor of organizations. Correspondents were chosen on the basis of their national or local prominence and on the number of their letters to Miriam Van Waters. * denotes typescript or other copy of letter

Container List

Additional Index Terms

African American women
Capital punishment
Correctional institutions
Corrections--Study and teaching
Family records
Juvenile delinquency
Juvenile detention homes--California
Prison periodicals
Prison reformers
Reformatories for women--Massachusetts. Social work with juvenile delinquents
Religion--Societies, etc.
Social work education
Social work with criminals
Women--Social conditions
Abbott, Grace, 1878-1939
Addams, Jane, 1860-1935
Almy, Helen Jackson Cabot, 1856-1938
American League to Abolish Capital Punishment
American Prison Association
American Youth Commission
Baldwin, Roger N. (Roger Nash), 1884-1981
Bates, Sanford, 1884-1972
Bay State Schools, Inc.
Berry, Dorothy
Binford, Jessie Florence, 1876-1966
Blanchard, Nellie
Bode, Elizabeth
Bradford, Robert Fiske, 1902-1983
Breckinridge, Sophonisba Preston, 1866-1948
Brooks, Paul
Brown, Dorothy Kirchwey, 1888-1981
Brown, Sibyl Clement
Cass, E. R.
Chace, Florence
Chute, Charles Lionel, 1882-1953
Comstock, Ada Louise, 1876-1973
Cross, Claude B., 1893-1969
Cushing, Richard, 1895-1970
Darrow, Clarence, 1877-1938
Deutsch, Helene, 1884-1982
Dummer, Ethel Sturges, 1866-1954
Ehrmann, Sara R., 1895-1993
El Retiro School for Girls, Los Angeles
Ellis, William John, 1892-1945
Ellwyn, Christina
Fisher, Dorothy Canfield, 1879-1958
Flaschner, Franklin N.
Frankfurter, Felix, 1882-1965
Friends of Framingham Reformatory
Griswold, Erwin N. (Erwin Nathaniel), 1904-1994
Gladding, Anna Spicer, 1906-1992
Glueck, Eleanor Touroff, 1898-1972
Glueck, Sheldon, 1896-1980
Goodale, Francis G.
Hall, Fanny Southard Hay, 1872-1968
Hodder, Jessie Donaldson, 1870-1931
Holmes, Gertrude B.
Holzschuh, Alma
International Association of Children's Magistrates
Jamieson, Anna D.
Kellett, Howard P.
Kellogg, Paul U., 1879-1958
Kennedy, John F. (John Fitzgerald), 1917-1963
Kirchwey, Freda, 1893-1976
Kirchwey, George W., 1855-1942
Kross, Anna Moscowitz
Lathrop, Julia Clifford, 1858-1932
Lawrence, W. Appleton (William Appleton), 1889-1968
Lenroot, Katharine F. (Katharine Fredrica), 1891-1982
Loring, Bessie Brooks
Lurie, Reuben L. (Reuben Levi)
MacCormick, Austin Harbutt, 1893-1979
MacDowell, Elliott E.
Massachusetts Council for the Abolition of the Death Penalty
Massachusetts Reformatory for Women at Framingham
Mead, Margaret, 1901-1978
Mebane, Daniel, 1894-1956
Miller, Dorothy W.
Munk, Marie
National Council for the Abolition of the Death Penalty
National Probation Association
Newell, Nancy
O'Keefe, Margaret
Parsons, Herbert Collins, 1862-1941
Perkins, Frances, 1880-1965
Pierce, Vivian
Pippert, Eleanor
Pound, Roscoe, 1870-1964
Putnam, Caroline
Rainey, Homer P. (Homer Price), 1896-1985
Rantoul, Lois. LinkRoosevelt, Eleanor, 1884-1962
Rowe, Allan Winter, 1879-1934
Sachar, Abram Leon, 1899-1993
Saftel, Helen
Saltonstall, Leverett, 1892-1979
Sayre, Francis Bowes, 1885-1972
Scudder, Vida Dutton, 1861-1954
Sexton, John S.
Shontz, Orfa J.
Shriver, Eunice Kennedy
Smith, Betty Cole
Society of the Companions of the Holy Cross
Southern California Society for Mental Hygiene
State Industrial School for Girls (Lancaster, Mass.)
Stevenson, Adlai E. (Adlai Ewing), 1900-1965
Thompson, Geraldine L.
United Prison Association of Massachusetts
Van Waters family
Weinberg, Ruth
White, William A. (William Alanson), 1870-1937
Wilder, Thornton, 1897-1975
Wills, Grace T.
Woods, Elizabeth L.
Yust, Walter, 1894-1960