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Hadn’t the prison been created for all the “fallen” women? A clue came in a 1967 article from the mentioning that the Sisters of the Good Shepherd had come to Indianapolis in “1873 to operate a correctional institution for women prisoners.” That was the same year that the Indiana Reformatory for Women and Girls had opened, but we knew that none of the women working there in the 19th century were nuns.

Smith said, “What, it will be asked, has been the result of all this improvement in prison life?Further, we discovered that an acclaimed doctor who cared for the women and girls at the prison from 1873 to 1883 advocated female circumcision and removal of women’s ovaries to cure nymphomania and masturbation.As revealed in the 1881 legislative investigation, Theophilus Parvin performed operations on the women for reasons not always clear to the inmates.Commitment to a Magdalene laundry was often indeterminate and, at least in Ireland, some women spent their lives “washing” away their sins.As a different picture of our prison began to form, we came to understand that its self-proclaimed successes in reformation would have to be tempered against a dramatic legislative investigation in 1881 into physical abuse of inmates by Superintendent Smith and her staff at the prison.

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