The State Prison for Women

Women were received at Auburn Prison from 1825, confined in a large room in the attic of the south wing.  Their meals were brought to them and they were tasked with carding wool.

Women were not exempt from physical punishment.  Rachel Welsh arrived at Auburn Prison January 5, 1825 and died there on January 9, 1826, six weeks after giving birth to a child clearly conceived in prison.  After a public outcry, a commission of inquiry was appointed to look into the circumstances of her death.  Evidence showed she had been whipped, frequently and severely.  However, commissioners concluded that “the punishment inflicted upon Rachel Welsh has no connection with her death.”

The first matron ever employed in any New York State prison was Miss Lucinda Foot, hired by the warden of Auburn Prison for $16 a month in 1832.  As early as 1828, Governor Clinton had addressed the gross impropriety of females being confined in quarters connected with a prison for males.  The Legislature authorized the building of women’s prisons at Auburn and Sing Sing in 1835, but the one at Auburn was never built.  The women’s prison at Sing Sing housed all the state’s female convicts until 1877, when they began being housed in county jails.

When the Asylum for the Criminally Insane closed in 1894, the state authorized its buildings for use as a prison for women.  With 125 rooms, accommodations for as many as 250 women, the Women’s Prison served the entire state until 1934 when part of the Westfield State Farm at Bedford Hills became the women’s prison.