Maternal Justice: Miriam Van Waters And The Female Reform Tradition

  • Publish Date: 1996-05-15
  • Binding: Hardcover
  • Author: Estelle B. Freedman
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Celebrated prison reformer Miriam Van Waters made history for her sensational battle to retain the superintendency of the Massachusetts Reformatory for Women in 1949. Maternal Justice provides a compelling biography of this early lesbian activist by moving beyond the controversy to tell the story of a remarkable woman whose success rested upon the power of her own charismatic leadership.

Estelle B. Freedman draws from Van Waters's diaries, letters, and personal papers to recreate her complex personal life, unveiling the disparity between Van Waters's public persona and her agonized private soul. With the power and elegance of a novel, Maternal Justice illuminates this historical context, casting light on the social welfare tradition, on women's history, on the American feminist movement, and on the history of sexuality.

"Maternal Justice is as much a work of history as it is biography, bringing to life not only a remarkable woman but also the complex political and social milieu within which she worked and lived."Kelleher Jewett, The Nation

"This sympathetic biography reclaims Van Waters for history."Publishers Weekly

"The Van Waters legacy, as Freedman gracefully presents, is that she cared about the lives of women behind bars. It is a strikingly unfashionable sentiment today."Jane Meredith Adams, San Francisco Chronicle Book Review, Editor's Recommended Selection

"This finely crafted biography is both an engrossing read and a richly complicated account of a reformer whose work . . . bridged the eras of voluntarist charitable activism and professional social service."Sherri Broder, Women's Review of Books

"This is a sympathetic, highly personal biography, revealing of both the author's responses to her subject's life and, in considerable detail, Van Waters's family traumas, illnesses, and love affairs."Elizabeth Israels Perry, Journal of American History
A biography of Miriam Van Waters, a Massachusetts prison reformer who believed in individual and cultural transformation through good works. The daughter of an Episcopal minister, Van Waters received her doctorate in 1913. Despite the absence of women in politics, and especially in prison administration, her intelligence and work ethic, and a bevy of outside champions, buoyed her to the position of superintendent of the Massachusetts Reformatory for Women. Freedman recounts the hardships Van Waters encountered upon entering the good old boy network and the difficult decisions she had to make without support. Her unconventional methods finally lost her job, but her unyielding conviction led to vindication.

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