Women in Prison 1900s

Women in Prison 1900s


Clipped from

    1. The Ottawa Citizen,
    2. 14 Jul 1920, Wed,
    3. Page 6

In 1835, almost a hundred years before the Prison for Women opened, the first three women arrived at Kingston Penitentiary, just across the road from the future site of the Prison for Women. Susan Turner, Hannah Downes and Hannah Baglen, all serving one to two years for larceny, were housed temporarily in the prison hospital until a separate facility could be found. It was not until 1839 that they were moved to part of the North Wing, then designated as the first prison for women in Canada.

Women inmates rarely came into contact with their male counterparts. While several babies were born inside the walls, the women conceived before they had been admitted to the prison. In some cases, mothers were allowed to keep their babies in their cells, usually only as long as was necessary to wean them, after which the child would be sent to an orphanage or to family members.

Conditions for the women were similar to those for men, or worse. Their quarters were cold, damp and crawling with bugs. Punishment for infractions of rules included floggings and placement in the “box”: a coffin-like container with air holes, in which a woman was forced to stand, hunched over, for hours at a time. Women, like men offenders, could also be chained, submerged in ice water, put in a dark cell or fed only bread and water. And so it went for years. In 1881, Matron Mary Leahy reported for the year that various members of the inmate population of 15 had spent a total of 14 days in solitary confinement on a diet of bread and water.

Although their numbers were comparatively small, women prisoners in Kingston Penitentiary seldom had enough room; as their numbers increased they were moved several times within the prison. In 1858, the Warden reported that eight women were forced to sleep in the corridor due to a lack of cells. In 1867, the Inspector strongly advocated in his annual report that a proper women’s prison be built outside the walls of Kingston Penitentiary.


Photo from the files of Doris Blackburn/ Karen Blackburn Chenier 1930s

Regrettably, no action was taken and conditions for incarcerated women remained poor. Productive activity for the women was often in short supply and limited to typically “female” pursuits: the manufacture of inmate clothing and other needlework activities. In 1872, Matron Leahy reported that the women inmates had made, among other things, 201 aprons, 34 sun bonnets, 406 pillowcases and 1,480 pairs of socks.

In 1889, Inspector James G. Moylan, referring to the women’s area of Kingston Penitentiary, stated as follows: “I have always considered this portion of the penitentiary unfit for the use that is made of it. Apart from its objectionable proximity to the male prison, the cells being underground in a gloomy and dismal compartment is sufficient cause for recommending a change.”

In 1909, a partial remedy was decided upon: a new, separate prison for women would be constructed, but it would still be located within the walls of Kingston Penitentiary. By February 1913, male inmates had completed construction of the Northwest Cell Block and the women inmates moved into their new quarters. There were 32 single-occupancy cells and two double sick-bay cells.

The following year, the Royal Commission on Penitentiaries, having favourably commented on the new building, nonetheless stated “… that the interests of all concerned would be best served if those few inmates were transferred to an institution for women. It may be possible that, as has been suggested elsewhere in this report, in connection with certain other classes, arrangements might be made with the provincial authorities for the custody of all female offenders.”

In 1934, after 99 years, the women were at last moved from Kingston Penitentiary to a separate institution – across the road, behind the Warden’s residence and into the new Prison for Women. It wasn’t any closer to home and it certainly wasn’t what many of them had hoped for. Women in prison in Canada


Clipped from

  1. The Ottawa Journal,
  2. 06 Jan 1920, Tue,
  3. Page 13 - Isolation Wing. Two of the most interesting...

    Clipped from

    1. The Ottawa Citizen,
    2. 18 Oct 1919, Sat,
    3. Page 20 
    4. Information where you can buy all Linda Seccaspina’s books-You can also read Linda in The Townships Sun and theSherbrooke Record and and Screamin’ Mamas (USACome and visit the Lanark County Genealogical Society Facebook page– what’s there? Cool old photos–and lots of things interesting to read. Also check out The Tales of Carleton Place. Tales of Almonte and Arnprior Then and Now.


      Several Shades of Christina Gray –Home for Friendless Women in Ottawa

    5. The Home for Friendless Women

    6. How Many Women Does it Take to Replace a Team of Horses?The Doukhobors

    7. What Do Sir Wilfred Laurier and Lanark County Women Have in Common?

    8. Women Arrested for Wearing Pants?

About lindaseccaspina

Linda Knight Seccaspina was born in Cowansville, Quebec about the same time as the wheel was invented and the first time she realized she could tell a tale was when she got caught passing her smutty stories around in Grade 7 at CHS by Mrs. Blinn. When Derek "Wheels" Wheeler from Degrassi Jr. High died in 2010, Linda wrote her own obituary. Some people said she should think about a career in writing obituaries. Before she laid her fingers to a keyboard, Linda owned the eclectic store Flash Cadilac and Savannah Devilles in Ottawa from 1976-1996. After writing for years about things that she cared about or pissed her off she finally found her calling. Is it sex drugs and rock n' roll you might ask? No, it is history. Seeing that her very first boyfriend in Grade 5 (who she won a Twist contest with in the 60s) is the head of the Brome Misissiquoi Historical Society and also specializes in local history back in Quebec, she finds that quite funny. She writes every single day and is also a columnist for Hometown News and Screamin's Mamas. She is a volunteer for the Carleton Place and Beckwith Heritage Museum, an admin for the Lanark County Genealogical Society Facebook page, and a local guest speaker. She has been now labelled an historian by the locals which in her mind is wrong. You see she will never be like the iconic local Lanark County historian Howard Morton Brown, nor like famed local writer Mary Cook. She proudly calls herself The National Enquirer Historical writer of Lanark County, and that she can live with. Linda has been called the most stubborn woman in Lanark County, and has requested her ashes to be distributed in any Casino parking lot as close to any Wheel of Fortune machine as you can get. But since she wrote her obituary, most people assume she's already dead. Linda has published six books, "Menopausal Woman From the Corn," "Cowansville High Misremembered," "Naked Yoga, Twinkies and Celebrities," "Cancer Calls Collect," "The Tilted Kilt-Vintage Whispers of Carleton Place," and "Flashbacks of Little Miss Flash Cadilac." All are available at Amazon in paperback and Kindle. Linda's books are for sale on Amazon or at Wisteria · 62 Bridge Street · Carleton Place, Ottawa, Canada, and at the Carleton Place and Beckwith Heritage Museum · 267 Edmund Street · Carleton Place, Ottawa, Canada--Appleton Museum-Mississippi Textile Mill and Mill Street Books and Heritage House Museum and The Artists Loft in Smith Falls.

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