The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers, Digital Edition > My Day
My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt

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NEW YORK—I went out to Clinton State Farms in New Jersey, a state institution for women, last Thursday at the invitation of my old friend, Mrs. Geraldine Thompson, of Red Bank.

In many ways, this institution is patterned after Miriam Van Waters' institution at Framingham, Mass. Miss Edna Mahan, the superintendent at Clinton, worked for some time in California with Mrs. Van Waters and then in Washington, D.C., so it is not astounding that I found a similarity in Dr. Van Waters' approach to the problems of women delinquents to that of Miss Mahan's.

It is interesting how, in visiting this type of institution, one almost immediately feels a change in atmosphere. But the atmosphere at Clinton Farms is not that of a prison. No girl is locked in. All go about freely. I was told that as many as 400 are allowed to go on a picnic on a hillside with only one attendant in charge.

The inmates are given opportunities to learn, and they sense the value of education, in character training as well as in academic achievement. Those who have not finished the eighth grade are encouraged to do so, hard as they may find it to stick at schoolwork.

Everyone learns a skill. There is a course in domestic science. The girls are taught to use power machines and to sew. They are taught to be beauticians and are given state licenses as operators when they earn them.

They do the work of the institution and they do it well. The buildings are clean and attractive and our lunch was delicious.

But the remarkable thing was the feeling of all the girls for the superintendent. When her name was mentioned, she was cheered—a reaction that is not always accorded the warden of a penal institution.

The educational director arranged for each girl who was being graduated from eighth grade to make a little statement on the value of what she had learned. And I was astonished at the way they spoke—clearly, and with well-chosen words and phrases. There were no accents or colloquialisms. They spoke English as it should be spoken, and I thought this was an achievement to make any director of education very proud.

Rehabilitation, not confinement, is the key word here. I was told that girls sometimes refuse parole so they may finish their schooling, and I was interested to find that they themselves stressed the value of cooperation, which they had learned.

One girl, in speaking of the value of arithmetic, said it was easier to meet problems in life when you had been trained to analyze a problem in arithmetic because, in facing other problems, you worked them out in much the same way.

I went out with former Judge Anna M. Kross, commissioner of New York City's Department of Correction, and we talked a little about the efforts she is making to bring about changes in our New York City system.

I hope the Mayor will carry through on the suggestion of naming a board for the institutions of correction in this city. Why should he have a Board of Health and a Board of Education and ignore the fact that we need a board to help us rehabilitate those who can and should be saved, especially our younger ones, in our institutions of correction?


(Copyright, 1956, by United Feature Syndicate, Inc.)

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About this document

My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt, June 25, 1956

Roosevelt, Eleanor, 1884-1962
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Digital edition created by The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project The George Washington University 312 Academic Building 2100 Foxhall Road, NW Washington, DC 20007

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Digital edition published 2008, 2017 by
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Transcription created from a photocopy of a UFS wire copy of a My Day column instance archived at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library.