The Voice of Reform

Miriam Van Waters, Ph.D. 1913, was named superintendent of the well-known Massachusetts Reformatory for Women at Framingham, placing her squarely as a leading voice of United States penal reform. Van Waters' bold-for-the-time emphasis on rehabilitation over punishment for women and juveniles brought her national acclaim, including an appointment by President Herbert Hoover to the Wickersham Commission on crime; a United Nations appointment to a panel on the rehabilitation of the female offender (the only woman to serve on the panel); and the unflagging admiration of, among others, Eleanor Roosevelt and Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter.

[Below: Miriam Van Waters (seated bottom right), Eleanor Roosevelt, and staff and inmates of the Framingham reformatory. Image courtesy of the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University.]


Newsweek reports on the proliferation of prison nurseries for female inmates and their babies, following a study showing that such programs lead to better outcomes for both mother and child. Decades earlier, when the Massachusetts Legislature tried to separate infants from nursing mothers, Van Waters successfully lobbied against the proposed law.

Did You Know?

While Van Waters' fans were legion, she also had her detractors, including a subordinate at Framingham who tried to poison her.

Clark University Logo

Clark University | 950 Main Street | Worcester | MA 01610 | USA | (800) 793-6246