Sunday, October 2, 2016

Oakdale Women's Reformatory

Everyone's heard of the Dwight correctional facility just outside Dwight, IL. It housed prisoners there for years and was shut down just a few years ago. It was part of a grinding penal system and no one who came out of there did so without a few scars and bad memories. But it wasn't always that way.

In the early 1930's Illinois prisons were dank, overcrowded, and sanitary conditions were fair at best. Dismal at worst. The Women's Clubs of Illinois undertook a project to build an institution strictly for incarcerated women and in 1931 at a cost of $850,000.00 a state of the art facility was built in the farmlands outside Dwight. The location was chosen for it's pleasant countryside,  flora and fauna because it was believed that "Beautiful surroundings, orderly training and kindliness would overcome the effects of bad breeding, environment, and adverse mental conditions".

Here are a few lines from the dedication brochure that was given out on opening day: "Believing idleness is a contributing cause for the unrest and discontent so prevalent in institutions the policy that has been approved allows for 8 hours of work or school 6 days a week", "The commercial laundry offers an excellent opportunity for those adapted to this work-hand laundry being part of the training. The industrial building includes space for power sewing machines, with opportunity for hand sewing, mending, fancy work and the factory type of sewing. The garden of 12 acres, the care of the flowers and shrubs, 130 sheep and 2000 chickens and the farm work provide the outdoor work so beneficial to certain groups. Home economics and canning form part of the work"

Recreation at the reformatory included community singing, dancing,movies, and in the summer months there was baseball, volleyball, croquet, and horseshoe pitching.  Each inmate had her own closet, a bed, a dresser and a rocking chair!  Inmates ate in a spacious dining room with tables and chairs and even had a sun porch to spend cool evenings on.

The facility is state owned property and is strictly off limits but if you ever get down that way it's worth a moment to pulls off the road and snap a picture of the stately castle like towers and turrets of this dream that ultimately failed.

I'd like to give a big shout out to the Dwight Historical Society for graciously allowing me to post several of their photo's of the interior of the reformatory. It's much appreciated!













11 comments:

  1. The Dwight correctional facilities have become a regional Fire/Ems/Police training facility. Several local fire departments have been training out there in the last few months.

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    1. It's nice to see Some use being made out of it rather than just sitting empty and abandoned as so much of our older properties are. Thank you for your comment!

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  2. "It was part of a grinding penal system and no one who came out of there did so without a few scars and bad memories." Dramatic much??? There were great programs availiable right up until the doors closed. If the ladies wanted to utilize them and work toward being productive, it was entirely up to them and their attitudes. I was proud to work there and proud of our programming. We helped anyone who wanted to better themselves and there are so many women who used this experience to better themselves and now live productively in society.

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  3. I would like to note that Illinois prisons can, and do, produce many successful former prisoners that are now useful members of society. If I have offended anyone's sensibilities with my turn of phrase I apologize to them.

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  4. I too worked there until the doors closed. The memories I have are to say the least great memories. I miss that job very much. I enjoyed my fellow co workers and I enjoyed helping, encouraging and taking care of the inmates. I don't like that anyone attaches a bad rap to the place.

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    1. Hello! I am writing a book set at Oakdale in 1950 and am having a very difficult time finding a blueprint of what the buildings were and how the prison was laid out. I would really appreciate exchanging a few emails or even a telephone conversation (whichever you feel comfortable with) to get your insights. I am sure that you have great memories there, from everything I have read it was a unique facility that wanted to rehabilitate instead of merely punish. My email is ortegon.lissette@gmail.com.

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  5. As an ex-inmate Dwight Correctional Center, I am very thankful... Believe it or not, for the time that I spent in there. I met a lot of officers who were fair and compassionate and a few who were not. However, I was one who utilized the programming until I was transferred and am grateful for the opportunities and the staff that helped me start over in a sense. I also would like to add that I truly appreciated the beauty of the grounds. Many times I would get lost in it just long enough to feel free.... and enough also to remember the littlest of things I once took for granted.

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    1. Hello! I am writing a book set at Oakdale in 1950 and am in the research phase. Since it is closed, it is difficult to get a sense of what it was like to be there. I came across your comment and I would really appreciate exchanging a few emails or even a telephone conversation (whichever you feel comfortable with) to get your insights about what life was like there and what it was like to be there personally. My email is ortegon.lissette@gmail.com.

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  6. My husband's grandmother was an inmate in Dwight Reformatory for women from 1934-@1944. Her name was Ida May Michaels and her crime was capital murder. She shot and killed her husband, Jessie Ambrose Michaels in 1934. Am interested in anyone who might have information about her during her incarceration. Dorothy Seehausen

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    1. One of my followers suggested this: , I would try this: Freedom of Information Act Officer Lisa Weitekamp
      Illinois Department of Corrections
      1301 Concordia Court
      P.O. Box 19277
      Springfield, IL 62794-9277
      Phone: 217-558-2200 ext. 4166
      Fax: 217-558-5612
      Email: DOC.FOIARequest@doc.illinois.gov

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If you have a comment or know of a place that would make for a great future article drop me a line. Thanks!