Guide to the Prison Discipline Society (Boston, Mass.) records, 1826-1854

Descriptive Summary

Creator Prison Discipline Society (Boston, Mass.)
Title Prison Discipline Society (Boston, Mass.) records
Dates 1826-1854
Identification CC 1
Quantity 1.5 linear feet (3 manuscript boxes)
Collection Abstract The Prison Discipline Society records are arranged chronologically and include annual reports and the Rev. Mr. Stone's 1854 sermon before the society. Excerpts from the Annual Reports of the London Prison Discipline Society are included to contrast European and North American prisons. Topics covered in the annual reports and sermon of the Society include solitary confinement, religion, convict labor, prison administration, prison design and construction, and segregation and classification of prisoners by gender, crime, age, and mental health.
Historical Abstract Founded in 1825 by Louis Dwight, the Prison Discipline Society of Boston collected facts and statistics on prisons through correspondence and annual visits to various prisons. Corresponding members included Alexis de Tocqueville, and Samuel Woodward.
Language Material in English.
Location Collection may be stored offsite. Please contact Archives staff for more information.

Information for Users

Access Restrictions

Collection is open.

Copyright Notice

Copyright for materials resides with the creators of the items in question, unless otherwise designated.

Publishing Permission

Please contact the College Archivist with requests to publish any material from the collection.

Preferred Citation

[Identification of item: description and date], Prison Discipline Society (Boston, Mass.) records, CC 1, Simmons College Archives, Boston, MA, USA.

Acquisitions Information

Transferred from the Simmons College School of Social Work Library, 1991

Accession number: 1992.039

Processing Information

Processed by Sheri Kelley, October 1992

Supervised by Peter Carini and Megan Sniffin-Marinoff

This collection guide was encoded as part of the LEADS project by Katherine M. Wisser, July 2012

Organizational History

The purpose of the Prison Discipline Society (1826-1854) was the improvement of public prisons. The members of the Prison Discipline Society collected facts and statistics on prisons through correspondence and annual visits to various prisons. one of the duties of the Prison Discipline Society was to establish other Societies in each of the United States. Among those states in which this endeavor was successful were New York and Pennsylvania. The objectives of the Society were to urge that: cells be provided for separate confinement at night; bibles be provided to prisons; the gospel be read; prisoners be treated with respect; employment and productive industry be provided; separate housing be provided for lunatics, hardened criminals, and youths and children; common school be provided for prisoners; programs for discharged convicts be implemented; and matrons be available for female prisoners. The Society also discussed the needs of "coloured" prisoners and criminals.

The ideas of the Prison Discipline Society were based upon the philosophy of the Auburn Prison System. The premise of this system was the belief that good food, clothing, medical aid, discipline, and economically practical and productive labor lead to reform. For the system to function, prisoners were to be divided into three levels or classes. Class one was to include hardened criminals in solitary confinement. Class two prisoners mixed solitary confinement with silent labor enforced with a whip. Class three prisoners engaged in silent labor and were kept in solitary confinement only at night. This system contrasted with the Pennsylvania (separate) System which espoused opposite values including solitary confinement all day and night without any opportunity for productive labor although prisoners were provided with bibles.

The work of the Prison Discipline Society resulted in the construction of prisons based on the Auburn Prison System in Thomaston, Maine; Wethersfield, Connecticut; Charlestown, Massachusetts; Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Ossining and Clinton County, New York; Concord, New Hampshire; Windsor, Vermont; Providence, Rhode Island; Columbus, Ohio; Jackson, Mississippi; and Indianapolis, Indiana. It also resulted in improved lighting and ventilation in an already existing prison in Richmond, Virginia. The effects of the activities of the PDS were wide ranging and included an 1826 bill passed by the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives appropriating $5,000 to repair the jail in Washington, D.C.; $10,000 to build a new jail in Alexandria; and $40,000 to build a penitentiary in Washington. In addition to affecting prisons, the activities of the Society brought about the construction of houses of refuge or reform schools and state asylums for the mentally ill in many states including New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Maryland, Maine, Rhode Island, and Connecticut.

The founder of the Prison Discipline Society, Louis Dwight, was a moving force in the work of the Society. Dwight was born on March 25, 1793 and attended Yale University. He was later ordained as a minister. Dwight was unable to serve in the pulpit due to an accident at Yale which damaged his lungs. His interest in prison reform began while distributing bibles to prisons in the South. Dwight was appalled by the conditions in the prisons he visited and upon his return to Boston in May 1825 rounded the Boston Prison Discipline Society. Dwight served as secretary for the Society from its founding until his death in 1854. Following his death the PDS ceased to exist.

All information taken from: Prison Discipline Society, Reports of the Prison Discipline Society of Boston (Boston: T.R. Marvin, 1855; reprint ed., Montclair, New Jersey: Patterson Smith, 1972).

Collection Overview

The Prison Discipline Society records, 1826-1854, include loose and bound materials that may duplicate each other and are arranged chronologically. The records include annual reports and the Rev. Mr. Stone's 1854 sermon before the Society.

The reports from 1828-1830 include discussions and correspondence on prisons at Wethersfield, Connecticut; Auburn and Ossining, New York; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Baltimore, Maryland; and Charlestown, Massachusetts. Subjects covered include religious education, prison expenses, and the need for general improvement. The reports include statistics on the number of persons imprisoned for debt and public opinion on those statistics in New England, and the Atlantic states, and most specifically Berkshire County, Massachusetts. There are also statistics on the number of prisoners, the crimes they committed, mortality rates, employees' salaries, and total expenses and earnings of the prisons.

In addition to information on various U.S. prisons, these reports also contain excerpts from the annual reports of the London Prison Discipline Society. The excerpts of the London Society include lists of European countries with prison discipline societies and those countries the authors felt were in need of such a society. Throughout the reports comparisons are drawn between European and United States prisons, specifically between the Maison de Force at Ghent and the prison at Auburn, New York. Reports also include information on the treatment of "lunatics" and "coloured" prisoners.

Beginning in 1836, the annual reports cover the previously described topics with several additions. The reports from 1836-1854 include a separate section on asylums for the insane and houses of refuge or reform schools for juvenile delinquents in New England, new York and other states. Information on prisons in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Washington D.C., Virginia, Kentucky, Ohio, and Canada include the plans of various prisons and discussions on the causes of the crime, classification of prisoners, solitary confinement, variant types of inmate discharge programs, and the role of prison labor in regard to the Auburn and Pennsylvania prison systems. All the reports include a listing of the officers, corresponding members (including Alexis de Tocqueville and Samuel Woodward), life members, subscriptions and donations, and a treasurer's report.

In his sermon before the Prison Discipline Society on May 28, 1954, the Reverend Mr. Stone praises the successes of the Society and their work "for the reformation of the criminal himself, and his restoration to loyalty and virtue" (Reverend A.L. Stone, p. 24). He praises the Society's work and its support of the Auburn Prison System. In his sermon he supports and praises the society's views on classification of prisoners, solitary confinement, religious instruction, prison labor, houses of refuge and correction for juvenile delinquents, lunatics, common schools in prisons, matrons, and programs for discharged convicts.

Online Catalog Headings

These and related materials may be found under the following headings in online catalogs.

Charities -- Massachusetts -- Boston
Dwight, Louis
Prison Discipline Society (Boston, Mass.)
Prison discipline -- History -- 19th century
Prisons -- Design and construction -- History -- 19th century
Prisons -- Statistics -- History -- 19th century
Prisons -- Visits and correspondence with inmates -- History -- 19th century
Psychiatric hospitals -- History -- 19th century
Reformatories -- History -- 19th century
Religious work with prisoners -- Sermons -- History -- 19th century
Tocqueville, Alexis de, 1805-1859.
Woodward, Samuel B. (Samuel Bayard), 1787-1850.

Collection Arrangement

Arranged into three series:

Series I: Annual Reports
Series III: Sermon

Related Material

Detailed Description of the Collection

Series I: Annual Reports, 1826-1852 (15 folders)

Box 1

  • Folder 1: 1826
    • Folder 2: 1827
      • Folder 3: 1828
        • Folder 4: 1828 (copy 2)
          • Folder 5: 1829
            • Folder 6: 1830
              • Folder 7: 1831
                • Folder 8: 1836
                  • Folder 9: 1837
                    • Folder 10: 1838
                      • Folder 11: 1839
                        • Folder 12: 1840
                          • Folder 13: 1849

                            Box 2

                            • Folder 1: 1850
                              • Folder 2: 1852

                                Series II: Annual Reports (Bound), 1826-1842 (3 folders)

                                Box 2

                                • Folder 3: 1826-1829
                                  • Folder 4: 1826-1834

                                    Box 3

                                    • Folder 1: 1836-1842

                                      Series III: Rev. Mr. Stone Sermon, 1854 (1 folder)

                                      Box 3

                                      • Folder 2: 1854