To ‘Protect’ Women and Children: Gender, Race, and the Carceral Manifestation of Southern Paternalism



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This study explores southern carceral policy as it pertained to women and children in the region from the Progressive Era through the 1950s. Using various state archival records from carefully selected Upper South (Tennessee, Virginia, and North Carolina) and Deep South states (Alabama and Texas) as well as personal papers and gubernatorial records, this work uncovers the ways in which southern lawmakers implemented carceral policies that sought to preserve race and gender traditions of the region. Indeed, I argue early twentieth century penal reform campaigns influenced southern lawmakers to establish institutions that, according to the state, helped rehabilitate “delinquent” women and children into upstanding citizens while simultaneously protecting society from this “criminal” class. In reality, state officials used broad interpretations of the law to justify the segregation of women and children who challenged social constructs of race, gender, and sexuality. Specifically, this study uncovers how southern reformers and lawmakers utilized reformatories as institutions of social control. As the twentieth century progressed and challenges to traditional gender, racial, and sexual mores occurred throughout the nation, southern attempts to “modernize” the carceral state were instead mere continuations of antiquated punitive methods that prevented effective rehabilitation and inspired objections from the inmates and citizenry. Their refusal to yield to changes in society led to the construction of a carceral state that failed in its intended reformative mission. The result was the institutional manifestation of traditional southern paternalism that sought to preserve nineteenth century gender and racial hierarchies.



Women, Children, Crime, Delinquency, South, Paternalism, Carceral