Northern Illinois University Press


"Whores and Thieves of the Worst Kind"

A Study of Women, Crime, and Prisons, 1835–2000

L. Mara Dodge

"A remarkable historical account of female offenders in Illinois."—American Historical Review

"Gives the reader insight into gender and racial disparities in our society and connects those disparities to women's daily lives."—Criminal Justice Review

"Significant and impressive."—The Journal of American History

Prostitutes, shoplifters, vagrants, murderesses—Dodge tracks the history of such "improper" women as she explores the history of female incarceration in Illinois from 1835 to the present. In court and in prison, these women—some who are considered beyond all hope of reformation—have received vastly different treatment than their male counterparts.

A woman's fate in court often hung on officials' estimates of her moral and sexual reputation. Alleged promiscuity, illegitimate births, venereal disease, interracial relationships, or use of alcohol could condemn her in the eyes of judge and jury. Ethnic and social prejudice played a role, too, as most incarcerated women poor, workingclass, immigrants, or members of a racial minority.

In women's prisons, the slightest misbehavior—from poor table manners to inappropriate dress—could lead to disciplinary action. Guards vigilantly monitored female friendships, suspecting lesbianism in the most innocent acts. Instead of creating docile and dutiful subjects, such treatment stirred resistance among the prisoners and fostered a powerful inmate subculture.

Highly readable yet theoretically sophisticated, "Whores and Thieves of the Worst Kind" provides a striking collective portrait of incarcerated women. Drawn from extensive primary sources, the voices of female prisoners emerge powerfully and poignantly as individuals tell their stories.

(2002) 352 pp., illus.
ISBN: 978-0-87580-296-1
cloth $45.00

ISBN: 978-0-87580-611-2
paper $22.50

L. Mara Dodge, at one time a college instructor within the Illinois prison system, is Assistant Professor of History at Westfield State College in Massachusetts.

Table of Contents

Introduction
Part I: Women in the Nineteenth-Century Male Penitentiary
1 "She Will Benefit from Further Disciplinary Treatment"
2 "One Female Prisoner Is of More Trouble than Twenty Males"
3 "The Most Degraded of Their Sex, if Not of Humanity"
4 "For God Sake Your Honor Let Me Out of Here"
Part II: The Social Construction of Crime and Criminality
5 "An Act Becomes a Crime According to the Community in Which It Is Committed"
6 "Lured Traveling Salesman to Her Room"
7 "Whores and Thieves of the Worst Kind"
Part III: Doing Time at Joliet Women's Prison, 1896–1933
8 "Defective Degenerates" versus "These Poor Unfortunates"
9 "The Rottonest Hole in the Whole Prison System of Illinois"
Part IV: Finding a Cure: Psychiatrists, Sociologists, and the Parole Board, 1917–1963
10 "We Seem to Be Dealing with a Psychopathic Personality"
11 "Success upon Parole Is Doubtful"
Part V: Managing Wayward Women at the Illinois State Reformatory for Women, 1930–1972
12 "Discipline and Morale Have Not Been Satisfactory"
13 "I Have Trouble Getting Her to Live by the Rules"
14 "Punished for Vulgarity and Unladylike Behavior" Conclusion: Lessons for the Twenty-First Century
Appendix A: Notes on Archival Sources
Appendix B: Interviewees
Notes
Bibliography
Index

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ISBN: 978-0-87580-296-1
cloth $45.00
ISBN: 978-0-87580-611-2
paper $22.50