In August, Beloit Juvenile Correctional Facility in northern Kansas closed its doors. Heather Hollingsworth's coverage for the Associated Press highlights the triumphs and downfalls of one of the country's longest-running girls' reformatories.
Beloit was started in 1888 by the Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), which ran it for a year or two before handing it over to the state. A separate reformatory for juveniles was still a relatively new concept; up until the mid-19th century, children and adult were jailed in the same facility.
Beloit's WCTU had good intentions to shape "incorrigible" youth into morally upright women. Like other reformatories, girls at Beloit worked in the gardens or at nearby farms and took care of the institute's animals.
"But with the high-minded ideals of the reformers, there was a dark side as well," explained Ned Loughran, executive director of the Council for Juvenile Correctional Administrators in Braintree, Massachusetts. "These kids were an eyesore for the upper classes of society. The solution wasn't to change the conditions they were growing up in, the poverty and lack of parental supervision. The view was to get them out of sight. Then people forgot they were there, and abuses crept into the system."
One of Beloit's worst times took place between 1935 and 1936 under superintendent Lula Coyner. With a growing belief in eugenics, Coyner forced 62 girls, nearly half of Beloit's inhabitants, to be sterilized. The girls had to go to the police to stop Coyner, who was planning for more residents to have their fallopian tubes removed. Under other superintendents, girls had been physically and emotionally abused in other ways.
In addition to abuses at Beloit, Hollingsworth notes, "It was common ...1
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