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Miriam Van Waters

Miriam Van Waters (1887–1974) was an American prison reformer who served as superintendent of the Reformatory for Women in Framingham, Massachusetts, for 25 years. 

Portrait of Miriam Van Waters
Portrait of Miriam Van Waters, ca. 1920-1925. Ethel Sturges Dummer Papers. Hollis #: olvwork20016629

Van Waters earned a PhD in anthropology in 1913 and worked at several juvenile facilities for girls in Los Angeles later that decade. Her experience with these “delinquent” women and girls led her to develop a reformist approach to the usual criminal punishments of the time. Van Waters advocated for counseling, education, health care, and meaningful work to be part of juvenile and adult justice programs. Van Waters’s progressive policies at the Reformatory for Women at Framingham included emphasizing psychological treatment, allowing mothers to keep their children with them, and broadly interpreting the Massachusetts indenture system to allow for more day work. Her liberal views on penal reform brought her both praise and condemnation. 


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