Fear, Force, and Leather: The Texas Prison System's First Hundred Years 1848-1948
 

 

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Women Prisoners

Report of Superintendent L.A. Whatley, November 1, 1896

In the early days of the Texas prison system, the number of female prisoners was very small. At any given time a handful of women, usually young and African-American, were serving out short sentences for crimes such as burglary and petty theft.

By the turn of the century, the female prison population had risen to about 130 convicts. The African-American women worked the fields of a farm near Huntsville owned by the Reverend J.G. Johnson, who paid the state $500 a year for the women’s labor, plus 50 percent of the earnings from the crops. The white or Hispanic inmates, who usually numbered only about 10 or 12, were hired out as domestic help to prison officials and citizens in Huntsville. Ironically, they were usually serving out murder sentences.

In 1908, the African-American women were moved to a camp at Eastham Farm, about 20 miles north of Huntsville, where they were subject to whippings and sexual misconduct by the guards. Several pregnant women were forced to work up until the time of delivery and to give birth in the fields. The shocking conditions at Eastham would be a major factor in the prison scandal that rocked Texas in 1909.

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Page last modified: August 23, 2011