Out of Time: The Curtis-Wells Anomaly and the History of American Corrections

By Kennedy, Devereaux | Social Justice, Spring 1995 | Go to article overview

Out of Time: The Curtis-Wells Anomaly and the History of American Corrections


Kennedy, Devereaux, Social Justice


Joseph Curtis was the superintendent of the New York House of Refuge from its inception in January of 1825 until June of 1826, the first 18 months of its existence. E.M.P. Wells was superintendent of the Boston House of Reformation from 1828 until 1834. Although there does not appear to have been any working relationship between the two, the tenure of both men represents something of an anomaly in the history of American corrections. Sutton argues that Curtis and Wells were both "at least nominal Pestalozzians," and credits them with placing "romantic childrearing ideas within refuge walls" (Sutton, 1988: 80). Mennel (1975: 25) identifies both as "humane men, more interested in developing each child's individual capacities and talents through programs emphasizing self-government and education than in compelling children to follow an inflexible workshop routine." Though crediting Curtis and Wells with early experiments in inmate self-government so crucial to Progressive correctional philosophy at the beginning of the 20th century, Mennel notes that Wells and Curtis did not set the standards for rules of care and discipline in their own time (Ibid.: 199).

Holl (1971: 239-240) identifies Curtis and Wells as "forerunners of the new penology," "overlooked" and "neglected" by historians. He praises Wells and Curtis for being "willing to subordinate system to personality as a method of education. Each stressed the development of character rather than fixed routine or curriculum." He adds that their work was of "greater significance than was recognized at the time" (Ibid.: 248-249).

Yet what was that significance? It is generally granted that neither Curtis nor Wells had a significant influence on the correctional theory or practice of their contemporaries. Curtis felt it necessary to resign his post after 18 months. When Gustave Beaumont and Alexis de Tocqueville visited Wells' Boston House of Reformation in 1832, they compared it unfavorably to the Philadelphia House of Refuge and to New York's House of Refuge under Curtis' successor, Nathaniel Hart. Orlando Lewis argued that Wells and Curtis influenced the self-government principles of the George Junior Republic, but neither George nor Osborne acknowledge the influence (Ibid.: 249-250; Lewis, 1918: 13). Wines (1895: 380) argued that Brockway's correctional practices at Elmira were influenced by the practices of Wells and Curtis, but Brockway himself explicitly denied any such influence. Holl (1971: 249) concludes that "anti-institutionalism" like that of Wells, Curtis, Osborne, and George is by its nature ahistorical. Yet if that is so, why were George and Osborne celebrated in their time as correctional and educational leaders, with their methods not only applauded but also applied in a wide variety of contexts, while Curtis and Wells were attacked and then largely ignored in theirs?

This article will attempt to evaluate the significance of the reform school regimes of Wells and Curtis. It begins with a description of the utilitarian correctional theory and practice dominant in America during the 1820s and 1830s - Curtis' and Wells' time. Next, a summary of the Progressive approach to corrections dominant in the United States during the first 20 years of the 20th century is presented. Then, the regimes of Curtis and Wells are examined in sufficient detail to distinguish them from those dominant in the 1820s and 1830s and to demonstrate their similarity to Progressive correctional theory and practice. I conclude by suggesting that the correctional methods of Curtis and Wells failed to be institutionalized on a wide scale during the 1820s and 1830s because they were incommensurate with the utilitarian ideology and disciplinary techniques favored by the ante-bellum reformers who controlled correctional institutions during this period, though many of their correctional techniques and practices were later reinvented by Progressive reformers.

Corrections in the Utilitarian Era

Despite the great controversy over the meaning, purpose, and function of the transformation of American correctional institutions during the 1820s and 1830s (see Cohen and Scull, 1983; Rothman, 1970; Foucault, 1979; Griffen, 1967; Heale, 1968; and Lewis, 1970), the nature of this transformation is clear enough. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • A full archive of books and articles related to this one
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Out of Time: The Curtis-Wells Anomaly and the History of American Corrections
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

    Already a member? Log in now.