“Saving Girls”: Montana State Vocational School for Girls

 

Catalog # PAc 96-9 3 [Montana State Vocational School for Girls.] 1920

Matrons put students at the Montana State Vocational School for Girls to work, believing that “Satan finds some mischief still for idle hands to do.” The girls’ farm labor helped support the school. Photo c. 1920. Catalog # PAc 96-9 3 [Montana State Vocational School for Girls.] 1920

Imagine an eight-year-old child thrown into a prison cell with a hardened criminal. Until the late nineteenth century, any child over the age of seven who broke the law was normally sentenced to an adult penal institution. However, after psychologists realized that, for children especially, rehabilitation was more effective than punishment, states began to establish juvenile reformatories. Then, as women took up the cause of child labor laws, juvenile court systems, and separate women’s correctional institutions, they also began a campaign to separate delinquent girls and boys in reformatories.

In 1893 the Montana legislature established the Pine Hills Boys and Girls Industrial School at Miles City. The court could commit any boy or girl between the ages of eight and twenty-one to Pine Hills for any crime other than murder or manslaughter. Judges could also remand a child to the reform school who “is growing up in mendicancy, or vagrancy, or is incorrigible.” Girls were generally sentenced to reform school “to punish petty larceny; to supply a home; to effect moral salvation; to prevent further ‘lewd’ acts; and to provide protection from physical abuse.” Boys, on the other hand, were sentenced for more criminal behaviors. Continue reading