Hardin County - Iowa Reform School

History of Hardin County, Iowa.
Springfield, Ill: Union Publishing Company, 1883.
pp. 446-455
Contributed by Linda Suarez

Iowa Reform School

Among the notable institutions in Hardin county, is that of the Iowa Reform School. The General Assembly, at its session held in 1868, passed an act to establish and organize a State Reform School for juvenile offenders. The act was approved March 31. 1868.

On the 29th day of April, 1868, the trustees met on the place designated in sec. 22 of said act, as White’s Iowa Manual Labor Institute, and proceeded by lot to determine the length of time that each trustee was to serve. M. A. Dashiell and J. D. Ladd, drew for the short term of two years; I. T. Gibson and E. O. Coleman, drew the term for four years; and J. A. Parvin and W. J. Moir, drew the long term, for six years. The Board appointed J. A. Parvin, President; M. A. Dashiell, Secretary, and I. T. Gibson, Treasurer. By-laws and rules were enacted for the regulation of the Board and the institution, and the Board leased from the trustees of "White’s Iowa Manual Labor Institution," the tract of land owned by them, with the appurtenances, for a term of ten years, but to be declared null and void at any time, when the trustees of the Reform School shall elect so to do.

The property leased, consisted of about 1,400 acres of land, part of which was improved with several small tenements for farmers, and the Institute building with the walls up and roof on. The trustees appointed a committee to advertise for bidders, and to contract with one to finish the house. The contractors made such progress with the work, that on the 21st day of September, 1868, the board of trustees gave the required notice that the Reform School was ready for boys, and on the 7th of October, from Jasper county was received the first boy committed to the institution.

The trustees, at their July meeting, appointed Joseph McCarty and wife, as Superintendent and Matron, at a salary of $1,300 per annum for both, their salary to commence on the 10th of August.

The appropriation made by the Legislature, was found to be inadequate to meet the necessities of the institution, and an indebtedness of $4,689 was incurred by the trustees. During the year there were forty-five boys and one girl taken into the school. Five boys escaped, and succeeded in eluding the vigilance of the officers, and one was discharged. The cost of the institution the first year, was $26,862.90.

The second biennial reports of the trustees and of the Superintendent were made in November, 1871. For the two years they received ninety-one; and forty discharged; three boys escaped; two died, and one was pardoned by the Governor. The total cost of running the school in the same time, $22,066.

The General Assembly at its session in 1871, appointed the trustees a Board of Commissioners to select a place for the permanent location of the Reform School, and appropriated $45,000 for the erection of suitable buildings for that institution. They were also authorized and instructed to organize a school for girls in the building where the boys were then kept, and made an appropriation of $5,000 for that purpose.

In compliance with the instruction of the Assembly, the trustees at their regular meeting in April, 1872, gave public notice that they would receive offers from any city or county that desired the location in their vicinity. A number of communications were received, and offers made to the State, of lands, etc., as an inducement to have the location made at the different places. The trustees considered the donations in connection with the places as to convenience for fuel, building material, the health, eligibility and centrality of the situation. After visiting Des Moines, Ottumwa, Oskaloosa, Muscatine and Eldora, and personally inspecting the lands offered, and the convenience and sites for the building, the trustees selected Eldora as the best location, all things considered.

In his biennial report for 1873, the Superintendent says: "In order to secure the location of the school at this point, the citizens of Eldora and vicinity, at a cost of about $15,000, donated to the State, for this purpose, four hundred and forty acres of most excellent land. The tract on which the buildings are located consists of three hundred and twenty acres of land, one mile long from east to west, and half a mile wide. Across each end of this tract runs a never failing stream of water. From these two brooks the ground gently rises to near the central plot, where it terminates in a broad ridge, gently sloping to the south, as well as to the east and west, affording one of the most beautiful building spots in the State. It seems that nature has done everything to make this one of the most lovely sites for such an institution. This tract is all under fence, and the most of it under cultivation. It has been divided as follows: Forty acres have been appropriated for garden purposes; twenty-five acres to building-plat; seventy acres to pasture grounds and feed lots; about one hundred and fifty acres to farm lands, and about twenty-five acres of rich bottom-lands, too wet to plow until drained, have been left for mowing purposes. Half a mile north of this main tract we have eighty acres of good farm land, which is under fence, but has not yet been broken. About three miles southeast of the main tract we have forty acres of timber land; the timber is yet small, but the land lies well and is of good quality."

The deeds for the land were legally executed and recorded.

After the selection of the site, a committee of three of the trustees were then appointed to visit the Reform Schools in Ohio, Indiana and Illinois, to inspect the buildings, see their styles, convenience, etc. Immediately on the report of said committee, a plan was adopted for the buildings, and notice given, according to law, for sealed proposals for their erection. The advertisement was for two buildings, one 40 by 100 feet, for manufacturing purposes, dining-hall, school-room, etc., the other a family building 37 by 56 feet, two stories and an attic, with mansard roof, and a basement story. Both of the buildings to be built of good rock to the top of the basement, and the rest of the walls of good brick. The contract for the first named building was awarded to Smith & Foster, the other to S. G. Mowen, all of Eldora. Both were finished to the satisfaction of the trustees – the former at a cost of $11,500, the other at a cost of $11,000. Another family building, to be finished in all respects like the former one, was, in December, awarded to Mr. Mowen, for the same price as the first one, but, owing to extra expenses in the foundation, it cost $13,196.31. None of the buildings could be finished in the fall of 1872; but, being anxious to raise a crop in 1873, and make improvements on the new premises as early in the spring as possible, the trustees rented some improved land, and removed the school to the new Home the first week in April, although neither of the houses was then finished.

Mr. Entriken, one of the officers of the school, with five of the boys, removed from the school in Lee county to Eldora, a month or more before the Superintendent and rest of the school followed, and although 150 miles from the Home, not one of these boys violated the trust reposed in him, but labored faithfully as directed, and behaved so circumspectly as to attract the notice and receive the admiration of strangers.

From the Superintendent’s report, it is learned there were received in the two years from date of last report, boys, 122; girls, 13; total, 135. There were 54 boys and 2 girls discharged, 5 boys escaped, and 2 boys died.

During the next two years, 166 boys and 30 girls were admitted to the school; 146 boys were released, 29 escaped, and 2 died; 11 girls were released, leaving in the school, October 31, 1875, 135 boys and 30 girls.

During the summer of 1875, the Reform School has passed through one of the most severe ordeals that any State institution ever endured. Charges were made against the Superintendent and his management of the school, and the trustees determined to investigate the whole subject. Governor Carpenter was solicited by the trustees to appoint some persons to unite with them as an investigating committee, and, at their request, he appointed Hon. A. C. Dodge, of Burlington, and W. H. Leas, Esq., and Mrs. Deborah Cattell, of Des Moines, who, with the trustees, met at Eldora on the 28th day of April and organized as a joint committee by appointing Mr. Dodge as chairman and W. L. Vestal, one of the trustees, as secretary, and, with a few short recesses, remained in session until the 27th day of August. Between one hundred and fifty and two hundred witnesses were examined. Much of the evidence was hearsay testimony. The committee made two reports – a majority and a minority.

During the investigation, Mr. McCarty was suspended from the superintendency of the school, and, when all the evidence had been received, he was reinstated. Immediately after being reinstated, he sent his resignation to the trustees, which was accepted, and the school remained under the charge of the Assistant Superintendent, H. S. Rogers, M. D., until September 29, at which time the trustees appointed Charles Johnson, of Michigan, Superintendent, and his wife, E. A. Johnson, Matron.

Joseph McCarty, the first Superintendent of the Reform School, was born in Morgan county, Ohio, February 3, 1826. He was raised on a farm, where he labored until his nineteenth year, making a full hand in the harvest field. Over exertion at this time brought on hip disease, which confined him to his room for three years, and resulted in crippling him for life. At the age of twenty-two he could read and write and had some knowledge of arithmetic. He began study at a graded school, attending about half the time, the other half being engaged in teaching. He then resolved to prepare himself for teaching a higher grade of schools. Accordingly he entered Allegheny College, at Meadeville, in 1851, and graduated in 1854. For one year he taught in the graded schools of Marietta, Ohio. In 1855 he moved to Iowa, and for seven years was engaged in teaching the public schools of Davis county. For three years he was Superintendent of the graded schools of Oskaloosa, Iowa, when he was elected Professor of Theory and Practice of Teaching in Wesleyan University, Mt. Pleasant, Iowa. In 1868 he was called to take charge of the Reform School. Mr. McCarty was married in 1856 to Mary B. Lockman, a native of Indiana.

In the two years ending October, 1877, there were 147 boys and 37 girls admitted to the Institution, and 138 boys and 14 girls released by discharge or in other ways. Some improvements were made in the time, and from the report of the trustees the following extract is taken:

"The last General Assembly appropriated $40,000 to erect a main building so that the house now used for that purpose might be occupied for manufacturing purposes, as it was originally designed. The amount appropriated not being sufficient to complete such a house as was deemed necessary, the trustees wished to build as large as they could with that sum; but in no case did they intend to commence a building that could not be finished with the money at their disposal. They advertised for plans, estimates and proposals. After examining all submitted to them, they preferred the plan prepared by B. J. Bartlett, Architect. He assured the trustees, that the building, as he proposed, could be finished for a less amount than the appropriation. With this assurance his plan was adopted, and Mr. Bartlett employed to superintend the erection of the house, the trustees having decided not to contract with any person for the whole building. We believe Mr. Bartlett a good architect and skillful in his business, but he missed the amount in his estimate, for the appropriation has been expended and the building is not finished. It will cost about $15,000.00 to complete it, and we ask an appropriation for that amount. The house is of good material, and substantial in every part.

"At the time the estimate was made it was supposed that the same kind of stone could be used that is in the basement of the other buildings, and which is found plentifully near Eldora; but on trial it was found insufficient to support the weight of the new house, consequently we were compelled to to procure rock from near Marshalltown at some more expense. Some other small changes were made, but with little difference in the expense of the building."

"Charles Johnson was removed from the office Superintendent shortly after making his biennial report, and E. H. Winans appointed in his stead. He took charge February 1, 1878. The trustees, in their report, October, 1879, say: "The career of the school under his superintendency, has been gratifying to the Board, satisfactory to the community where the school is located, and has secured the commendation of the press, and people who are acquainted with the affairs of the school under its present management." In his first report, Superintendent Winans said:

"A State’s prison is a necessity of organized society; a reform school is equally so. The prison’s main design is to protect society against adult law-breakers; a reform school has the double design of protecting society and reclaiming the lawless. How else may society be shielded from the depredations of a thousand homeless, friendless, vagrant criminals, from eight to sixteen years of age? Stealing is the instinctive crime of neglected childhood; it is the natural expression of want; it sends to us nineteen-twentieths of all our inmates. Society will endure obscenity, lying, swearing, Sabbath-breaking and disobedience – almost any crime a child may commit, but when property rights are invaded by theft, it will invoke the law’s protection. The prison is not suited to the restraint of even criminal youth. Its speechless silence may be an appropriate discipline for men, but it would be cruelty to children. A boy needs the unrestrained activity of voice and limb to unfold his physical manhood. Walls and bars are not needed to restrain children; a watchful eye and person influence can take the place of these and avoid the gloom and disgrace of a prison. Many are reckless and bad simply because they are boys. Maturity is all the reformation they need. The reform school ought to furnish happy surroundings while this maturity is coming on. The best estate of childhood is a Christian home. Surely to an institution that most nearly resembles this, the waifs of society and the wards of the State can be more safely intrusted than to a prison. We proceed by the law of selection, keeping the bad and sifting out the good; if it were our plan to reverse this process, by discharging the bad and retaining the good, our school might soon become a model for the outer world. The career and destiny of boys who go out will be as carried as that of other boys who never come in; some will go to State’s prison, and it may be to a worse place; others will take rank with the industrious, useful citizen, and become honest and noble men. Two who were formerly inmates are now among the best officers of the school, beloved and respected by the whole institution. We are constantly in receipt of testimonials as to the good conduct of boys sent out."

In the two years there were 124 boys admitted to the institution.

The seventh biennial report of the Trustees and of the Superintendent was made September 30, 1881. From the reports several extracts are here taken. The trustees say:

"On the 7th day of October, 1868, the doors of the Iowa Reform School were first opened for the reception of juvenile offenders, on leased land in Lee county. The first boy came from Jasper county.

"In the spring of 1873 the boys were removed from Lee county to Eldora, where the school was permanently located, and whose citizens had donated 440 acres of land to the State for that purpose.

"Immediately after the boys were removed from the old location, the trustees organized a school for girls, with six inmates. The girls’ department is now permanently located at Mitchellville, has 62 inmates, and is now under the kind care and able management of Mrs. L. D. Lewelling.

"The buildings there consist of a large brick building 40 by 80, two stories high and basement, a barn and laundry, and has 40 acres of good tillable land. It is a fine site. The grounds are tastefully arranged and surrounded by shade trees.

"The boys’ department was now 760 acres of good land, 40 acres of which is timber.

"The buildings are all situated on high rolling prairie, the location is extremely healthy, and the scenery and surroundings beautiful.

"The buildings consist of a main building of brick and stone, 60 by 140 feet, with front projection, three stories, mansard story and basement. Three family buildings, each 37 by 56 feet, with projection of 30 by 16 feet, two stories, with mansard roof and basement. A brick workshop, 40 by 100 feet, with front projection, two stories and basement. A barn, 60 by 120 feet, with basement for stock. A wooden workship, two stories high, brick engine house and laundry, ice-house, wood-shed, etc., etc.

"The boys number 201; are divided at present into three families, and are immediately cared for by a Family Manager, Assistant Manager and Teacher.

"No high fence, stone walls or prison cells are used to restrain the boys or prevent them from escaping.

"By kind treatment and judicious management, it is not long before many of the boys can be trusted to go to any part of the farm, or to town on business, without supervision or danger of their escaping."

The first ill-luck or misfortune of any kind experienced for some time by the institution, was on the night of September 29, 1881, in the shape of a cyclone that tore off the roof of the west wing of the main building, and sent a portion of the brick work of the mansard story crashing from one story to another to the floor of the basement. Among all the two hundred and twenty-five officers and inmates, not one was injured. In response to a telegram, Gov. Gear and Messrs. Finkbine and Conger visited the school, and in conformity with their advice, the trustees went immediately to work to repair the damage.

In reference to the change of Superintendents, the trustees say:

"In the month of July, 1879, Rev. E. H. Winans tendered his resignation as Superintendent, and B. J. Miles, who has been connected with the school a greater portion of the time since its organization was by us at once appointed in his place, and his estimable wife, who has been a teacher in the girl’s department, was selected Matron, and D. M. Crouse for Assistant Superintendent, and after the many seasons of prosperity and adversity that the Iowa Reform School has experienced, we can truly say that under the faithful, humane, and skillful management of B. J. Miles and wife, assisted by the other officers and employees, our boy’s department has attained a standing and degree of public confidence and respect that has caused it to stand unrivalled as a reformatory institution in this or any other land. And if the Legislature of Iowa will so its duty, and second our efforts, we will endeavor to make the Reform School what it is intended by its founders to be – a blessing to the erring, and a credit to the State."

That the school is doing a great good cannot be doubted by any one familiar with its workings. A good common school education is given the inmates, which, to many is all the instruction ever received. Many are taken away from the school on account of the importunities of parents, too soon to reap the advantages they would receive from the instruction given. In reference to the discharged boys and girls, the trustees say in their report to the General Assembly:

"Permit us again to call your attention, and that of the people of the State, to the duty of all good men and women to give aid and comfort, employment and support to our boys and girls. When they leave the school it is oftentimes a critical period in their history. It is an experiment fraught with peril. While in school they form correction ideas of life and duty; they adopt good principles and form good habits; by being controlled they have learned to control themselves. And in order that the good work here commenced may successfully progress, they need the wise counsels of kind and sympathizing friends. Some of our boys and girls are welcomed by parents or friends into safe, good homes. But others, ‘alas! have no home,’ and encounter many rebuffs and heart-crushing disappointments, and fail to find that aid that their honest endeavors to do well, demand. Many people are inclined to think that having been bad once, they are always bad, and that there is no such thing as reformation. This idea should not prevail anywhere. Succor the erring, reclaim the criminal, and encourage them in their efforts to lead useful and honorable lives, that shall be an honor to the State, and a credit to the founders and labors of the Iowa Reform School.

"It is a pride that we can travel throughout the State and find a goodly number of our boys and girls leading virtuous, industrious, and happy lives. While some may now be in prison, others may have met the fate of Charles Howlett, yet we think that three-fourths of those sent to the Reform School are saved. And while reunions of families, soldiers, and college students are common occurrences, we shall favor in the near future, a reunion of the inmates and officers of the Iowa Reform School.

"One hundred and forty-four girls have been admitted, and eighty-one discharged. Eight hundred and one boys have been admitted, and six hundred discharged since the organization of the school, three-fourths of whom are now earning an honest living, are not producers, not consumers, respectable and useful members of society. A gathering together of all these former inmates of the school would be an occasion of rejoicing – would be encouraging to the State that has founded and so generously supported the school, and to the officers, whose labor of brain, heart, and muscle has produced such beneficent and satisfactory results."

The health of the inmates of the school is good, the Superintendent attributing it in a great measure to the systematic regularity of working, playing, bathing, eating, drinking and sleeping. Every boy bathes, and all under-clothing and bed linen are changed at least once a week. In reference to the purpose of the school, the Superintendent says:

"That the school has done and is doing great good, is shown by the large percentage of boys who have had the benefit of its influence, who have come up from a childhood of vice and vagrancy into a well informed and respectable manhood. We want this thing to continue and the good results to increase. But it takes time and money to accomplish this. The strictest economy should be practiced in the management of the finances of such institutions; but in the application of this principle, great care should be used that a parsimonious policy be not substituted for that of true economy. This would be entirely foreign to the humane principles on which the school was founded, and would cause the philanthropic hearts conceiving the idea of such a school for Iowa to throb with pain and disappointment; therefore, we urge that the judicious expenditure of money for some other things than simply teachers, food and raiment, is essential to the accomplishment of the good results that are so much to be desired.

"In pursuance of this idea, we have, within the last few months, placed upon the boys’ tables, neat, but inexpensive castors, and have substituted queensware for the worn and dingy tinware hitherto in use. We have also placed upon the walls of the boys’ dining-rooms and school-rooms some appropriate pictures, and have made some other little additions to the attractiveness of the school-rooms; and will, with your consent and approbation, continue to make such improvements, from time to time, as our limited means will admit. Such improvements add very materially to the homelike appearance and attractiveness of the school; and while they cost the State but little, are of great value to the children here, many of whom have no homes but this."

With reference to the schools, the Superintendent remarks:

"Our schools have been, for the past year, efficient and progressive. They have had a liberal supply of books and material. The branches taught are, of necessity, the common ones only, there being no demand for a higher course of study.

"The teaching here is a peculiar work. Many teachers who would do good work in the common school, would fail utterly in ours. The teacher here must possess the tact, perseverance and patience to control, instruct and interest a school of truants, for the boys who come here are almost invariably from that class who could not be kept in school at home, and would grow up to manhood in vice and ignorance if they were not subjected somewhere to a species of compulsory education.

"They are not wanting in intellectual ability. On the contrary, they possess native powers of mind equal to the average boy in our common schools. But they are sadly wanting in the disposition to apply themselves earnestly to study. Hence the necessity for the greater tact on the part of the teacher to control, instruct, and interest, than is essential to successful teaching in our common schools.

"Every boy is required to attend school four hours each school day during our school months. Consequently, every boy committed here, who remains any considerable length of time, will go out with a common school education.

"Right here on this point, I wish to call your attention to the fact, that, in my judgment, many of the boys are relased from the institution too soon; not having yet attained that degree of scholarship which would fit them for the ordinary business transactions of life. We would, therefore, recommend that you raise higher the standard of scholarship to which you require the boys to attain, before granting them a "leave of absence," and then adhere strictly to it, except in cases where there is a strong probability that the boys will attend some other good school after leaving this one."

A fair library is at the disposal of the inmates of the institution, and all are encouraged to read. Many of the leading papers of the State are also furnished by the publishers.

The following named are the officers and employees of the Institution, with salaries paid each, per year:

B. J. Miles and wife, Supt. and Matron $1,200

D. M. Crouse, Assistant Superintendent 620

W. F. Hewitt, family manager 420

J. W. Stephens, family manager 480

C. F. Stephens, family manager 360

Wm. E. Whitney, farmer 300

E. B. Eckhard, stock man 300

J. B. Wilson, steam-fitter and engineer 420

D. J. Dickinson, shoemaker 300

H. B. Shelling, baker 240

T. E. Evans, night watchman 240

Miss E. A. Woods, teacher 300

Miss Ollie Mace, general work 216

Mrs. D. M. Crouse, dormitory work 180

Mrs. Wm. E. Whitney, tailoress 180

Mrs. Laura Brown, kitchen 180

Mrs. Ella F. Brink, kitchen 180

Miss Sallie Wright, laundress 180

Mrs. Lucy Babcock, dining-hall 180

Miss Lillie Williams, dining-hall 144

Miss Cora Cook, dining-hall 144

There were 115 boys admitted to the institution from October 1, 1879, to September 30, 1881. Since the opening of the school, 801 boys have been admitted, 600 of whom have been discharged, leaving 201 inmates September 30, 1881.

B. J. Miles, Superintendent of Iowa Reform School, was born in Miami county, Ohio, in 1848, where he lived till the fall of 1863, when he came to Iowa with his parents, who settled in Lee county. Mr. Miles has had much experience in connection with this institution. He became connected with it in 1872, as teacher, in which capacity he continued three and one-half years. He then resigned, and went to Indiana, where he was connected with a similar institution for one year. He was then offered by the Board, the Assistant Superintendency of this institution, which he accepted. He was appointed Superintendent November 1, 1880, succeeding E. H. Winans.

That Mr. Miles is eminently fitted for the position he occupies, there can be no question; under his able efficient and humane management, the wayward and unfortunate youth finds a home, whose influences point to a better manhood.

Mrs. Miles, the Matron of the institution, is a native of Henry county, Iowa. She has had considerable experience in the institution.

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