The Lancaster Industrial School for Girls in Lancaster, Massachusetts, was was established in 1854 as one of the most progressive correctional institutions of its day, and the first in the U.S. for girls. Throughout the 19th century, state governments struggled with how to best deal with youthful law-breakers and vagrants. Some states began to provide correctional facilities, often known as “Industrial Schools,” while other states continued to incarcerate “delinquents” in prisons alongside adults who often were charged with much more heinous crimes. Institutions like the Lancaster Industrial School led the way in social reform, copying a cottage system created in France that emphasized a wholesome, family-like atmosphere and the opportunity to rise above the “low life” slums from which Victorians assumed delinquent children came from. All girls who were under 17 years old at the time of commitment, were housed in one of eight “cottages” where they would each have their own rooms and chores. The Rogers Cottage seen here was one of a handful of the earliest cottages, all identical in design. Matrons and teachers taught the girls the domestic arts, including how to cook and sew. The Industrial School closed in the 1970s and has been used in an ever-diminishing role by the State of Massachusetts ever since. There have been talks about this complex being sold for redevelopment with some old buildings saved, but I am not holding my breath.
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