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Geraldine Morgan Thompson
(March 2, 1872 - September 9, 1967) USA

Geraldine Thompson

Social reformer

Miriam Van Waters
(October 4, 1887 - January 17, 1974) USA


Prison reformer


Geraldine Livingston Morgan was born in New York City, the daughter of William Dare Morgan and Angelica Livingston Hoyt. In 1896, she married Lewis Steenrod Thompson, heir to a fortune amassed by his father, William Payne Thompson, a founder of the National Lead Company and later a treasurer of Standard Oil.

Her awards included an honorary Master of Philanthropy degree, conferred in 1931 by Rutgers University. She was the first New Jersey woman to receive this honor.

Devoted to fishing, hunting, and horse racing, Lewis Thompson lived for much of each year at Sunny Hill, a plantation he owned in southern Georgia, while Geraldine Thompson generally remained with the children at Brookdale Farm. The couple had four children of their own, and the Brookdale household included five orphaned relatives and many servants. Lewis Thompson died in 1936.

Geraldine Thompson was a feminist, a social worker, and her activism was aimed at female prison reform, public health and juvenile justice. She donated money to psychiatric services and college scholarships. In 1923, she was the first female New Jersey delegate to a Republican National Convention.

She was a lifelong friend of Eleanor Roosevelt. She helped preserve Island Beach as a state park and worked to save wildlife habitat.

Geraldine Thompson maintained a 40-year romantic and professional relationship with Miriam Van Waters, a prison reformer who served as superintendent of the Massachusetts Reformatory for Women at Framingham. Van Waters was a closeted lesbian who eventually destroyed most of the letters she received from Thompson.

Geraldine Thompson died at Brookdale Farm, Lincroft, New Jersey. She is buried at Saint James Episcopal Churchyard in Hyde Park, New York.


Miriam Van Waters was born in Greensburg, Pennsylvania. Her parents, George Browne and Maud Vosburg Van Waters, were from middle-class families. Their first child, Rachel, was born in 1885, the year the family moved to Greensburg. Rachel died there at age 2 and, in the same year, Miriam was born. In 1891, the family moved again, this time to George's new posting as rector of St. David's Episcopal Church in Portland, Oregon.

Miriam, as the eldest daughter, helped her mother with housekeeping and with the care of younger siblings. Her mother, in failing health, often retreated to the Oregon coast or to her parents' home in Pennsylvania, leaving Miriam in charge of the household. She attended St. Helen's Hall, an Episcopal girls' school, for her secondary education, graduating in 1904. Remaining at St. Helen's for another year as a post-graduate student, she left Portland for the University of Oregon in Eugene in 1905.

Miriam excelled academically, majoring in philosophy and focusing on courses related to progressive ideas, feminism, public service, and politics. She served on student committees, joined the women's debate team, and became chief editor of the Oregon Monthly , a campus literary magazine.

As a graduate student, she majored in psychology. Her master's thesis focused on philosophical materialism and social progress. In 1910, she was awarded a fellowship at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts, to pursue a doctorate in psychology. She graduated from Clark in 1913 with a Ph.D. in anthropology.

Van Waters applied for work in Portland. She returned there in 1914 to become superintendent of the Frazer Detention Home, the condition of which concerned the Multnomah County Juvenile Court. The detention center held boys and girls who, while in custody, were fed a poor diet, received scant medical attention, were given little to do, and were subjected to corporal punishment with straps and rubber hoses. During her short tenure, Van Waters recruited volunteer medical doctors and a volunteer psychologist, hired a resident nurse, improved the children's diet, added a library, put the children to work cleaning, painting, and gardening, and banned corporal punishment. Her stay at Frazer ended abruptly in late 1914, when fatigue followed by a diagnosis of tuberculosis made it impossible for her to continue.

Her parents had by then relocated from Portland to Wellsboro, Pennsylvania; the Harvard Crime Survey, with headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts, was unfinished, and in November 1929 Miriam Van Waters agreed to direct the juvenile-delinquency division of the Wickersham Commission, formally titled the National Committee on Law Observance and Enforcement, established by President Herbert Hoover.

Miriam entered what was to be a strong, eventually intimate 40-year relationship with another wealthy philanthropist, Geraldine Morgan Thompson. Encouraged by Thompson, Miriam relocated to Cambridge in 1931. In that same year, publication of her 175-page Wickersham Commission report, The Child Offender in the Federal System of Justice , enhanced her reputation as an expert on juvenile justice.

Miriam was also a closeted lesbian during this period, and in fact, it was a "'moral panic" against "prison lesbianism" that almost led to her dismissal as a superintendent in 1949. At this time, her successful female networks were to prove indispensable in prompting widespread protest from Episcopal, Jewish and Catholic clergy, the Massachusetts State Federation of Women's Clubs, Massachusetts Council of Churches, National Council of Jewish Women and Americans for Democratic Action.

However, Van Waters herself eluded "outing" although she sacrificed mementos of her past, such as two decades-worth of romantic letters from Geraldine Thompson. Given strong public support, she weathered this storm. It was to be another eight years before she retired from public service.

After her retirement, Van Waters moved into an apartment with two former inmates and staff members from the Massachusetts Reformatory. She did not slow down in retirement, and tirelessly still campaigned for greater prison reform, civil rights, and abolition of the death penalty, which she abhorred.

As time went on, however, her friends began to pass away. Van Waters and Geraldine Thompson remained lovers, and participated in joint social activities like membership of the Audubon Society. Thompson died in 1967. In 1972, Van Waters experienced a minor stroke, but her remaining friends and associates were concerned at what it might mean. In 1974, Miriam Van Waters died.


Source :Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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