1.   Historical note

2.   Scope and content

3.   Provenance

4.   Processing note

5.   Inventory

6.   Subjects

    List of finding aids

    R.I.H.S. Library page

    R.I.H.S. home page

 Rhode Island State Institutions Records

 Prison, workhouse and almshouse, Cranston, R.I.

 Records, 1839-1968 (bulk 1885-1944)

 Size: 6.5 lin. ft. (35 vol.)        72 Year Rolling Restriction

 Catalog number: MSS 231, SG 1

 Processed by: Rick Stattler, March 1995

©Rhode Island Historical Society

Manuscripts Division


Historical note:

Restrictions on use:

            As these records contain sensitive information regarding persons who may still be living, they are closed for a period of 72 years after their creation; this parallels the schedule for release of federal census information. The unrestricted portions of volumes which also contain restricted data may be viewed under close supervision of the manuscripts curator. Scholars who desire statistical information from the records may be, at the discretion of the curator, permitted to view the later volumes, though no notes may be taken regarding names of inmates.

Materials listed with bold lettering on the inventory are restricted in whole or in part.

            The Rhode Island State Institutions, a group of correctional and charitable facilities located in the town of Cranston, have had a complex history under many different jurisdictions. The state's central prison buildings, however, have always been a common thread.

            Although various forms of town and county jails were in operation in Rhode Island from the early colonial times, the first state-operated prison was not built until 1838, in Providence. This building quickly proved to be unsuitable, and the state purchased land in the Cranston village of Howard in 1869. This land, known as the State Farm, was managed by the Board of State Charities and Corrections until circa 1920. Several institutions were built there, including: the State Workhouse and House of Corrections; the State Hospital for the Insane; the State Almshouse (renamed the State Infirmary in 1917); the State Prison and Providence County Jail (managed jointly); and the State Reform Schools (the Sockanosset School for Boys, and the Oaklawn School for Girls).

            The State Workhouse and House of Corrections building held men and women; it was also the home for the women's county jail and state prison inmates. The male workhouse inmates were phased out, and it became the State Reformatory for Women in 1924. It was closed circa 1968.

            The State Prison and Providence County Jail in Cranston was built in 1878; it eventually evolved into the Adult Correctional Institution, which remains in operation today. Federal inmates have also been kept in this facility over the years.

            The governing body for the State Institutions changed over the years, becoming variously the State Public Welfare Commission, the Department of Public Welfare and the Department of Social Welfare. Though some of its inmates have been under federal or county jurisdiction, the institutions seem to have always been operated by the state of Rhode Island. The titles of Keeper of the State Prison and Warden of the County Jail were held jointly by the same man.

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Scope and content:

            This collection contains inmate records for several of the State Institutions from 1839 to 1968. The records are far from complete, and do not include any of the policy-making documents of the institutions. There are, for example, no minute books, correspondence or memos from prison management. One exception is a volume of notes from state prison inspectors, 1839-1912. Other than this volume, the collection contains only specific inmate information, and daily statistical recapitulations.

            The bulk of the records relate to the State Workhouse, and its successor institution, the State Reformatory for Women. There are detailed entries for each inmate (Records of Commitment) for 1888-1936, indexed by volume; as well as daily lists of inmates admitted and discharged (Intake/Release Ledgers) for most of the period 1895-1968; the earliest of these ledgers also include information on the Hospital for the Insane, and the State Almshouse. There is also a workhouse visitor register, 1916-1924; and two discharge books, 1885-1896 and 1918-1924.

            Other records include detailed Records of Commitment for the State Prison and County Jail, 1919-1932; the Almshouse, 1907-1910; the Federal Reformatory for Women, 1925-1928; the State Farm, 1871-1872.

            The records are organized into four series, as follows.

Series 1: Records of commitment, workhouse building, 1871-1936

Series 2: Intake / release ledgers, workhouse building, 1895-1968

Series 3: Miscellaneous, workhouse building, 1885-1929

Series 4: State Prison and County Jail, 1839-1943.

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            This collection seemed to have been removed from the records of the Dexter Asylum, a home for the destitute and mentally ill operated by the City of Providence which closed its doors in 1957. According to R.I.H.S.L. Manuscripts Curator Harold Kemble in his annual report of 1986, "The collection that was treated for years as the records of the Dexter Asylum yielded up the records not only of that institution but a Federal Prison, three state institutions and three additional Providence institutions (Dexter Asylum; State Workhouse, Almshouse, Insane Asylum and Prison, and the Reformatory for Women)." This collection was apparently donated on October 4, 1957 by the Dexter Asylum; the accession register reads only "Records", and no inventory has been done until now.

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Processing note:

            This collection was separated from the Dexter Asylum records and labelled in 1986. It was organized and relabelled in 1995.

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Series 1: Records of Commitment, workhouse related.

1. State farm, 1871-1872

2. Almshouse, 1907-1910

3. Federal reformatory for women, 1925-1928

4. Workhouse and house of corrections, 1888-1891

5. Workhouse and house of corrections, 1891-1894 

6. Workhouse and house of corrections, 1894-1896

7. Workhouse and house of corrections, 1897-1899

8. Workhouse and house of corrections, 1899-1901

9. Workhouse and house of corrections, 1901-1904

10. Workhouse and house of corrections, 1904-1906

11. Workhouse and house of corrections, 1906-1908

12. Workhouse and house of corrections, 1908-1911

13. Workhouse and house of corrections, 1911-1914

14. Workhouse and house of corrections, 1914-1916

15. Workhouse and house of corrections, 1916-1919

16. Workhouse and house of corrections, 1919-1936

Series 2: Intake and release ledgers, workhouse building

17. 1895-1898. Includes:

            Workhouse... (male and female)


            County jail (female)

            Hospital for the insane (male and female)

            Almshouse (male and female, including children)

            Daily recapitulation (statistics, including all of the above).

18. 1904-1908. Includes:

            Workhouse... (male and female)

            County jail (female)

            State prison (female)

            Almshouse (male and female, including children)

            Daily recapitulation

19. 1913-1940. Fragile. Includes:

            Workhouse..., 1913-1925 (females only)

            Women's reformatory, 1925-1939

            State prison and county jail, 1913-1940 (female)

20. 1918-1927. Includes:

            Workhouse..., 1918-1924 (male and female)

            Women's reformatory, 1925-1927

            Parolees and escapees, 1918-1923 (male and female)

            State prison and county jail, 1918-1927 (female)

            Daily recapitulation, 1918-1926

21. 1927-1944. Includes:

            State reformatory for women, 1927-1944

            Federal reformatory for women, 1927-1929

            State prison, 1928-1940 (female)

            County jail, 1927-1944 (female)

            Daily recapitulation, 1927-1944

22. 1944-1946. Includes women's reformatory, state prison and county jail, and

                        federal inmates (all female).

23. 1946-1948 "

24. 1948-1951 "

25. 1951-1955 "

26. 1955-1960 "

27. 1960-1965 "

28. 1965-1968 "

Series 3: Miscellaneous, workhouse building.

29. Visitors' register, workhouse... 1916-1924

30. Discharge book, workhouse..., 1885-1896 (indexed)

31. Discharge book, workhouse..., 1918-1929 (not indexed)

Series 4: Rhode Island State Prison and Providence County Jail.

32. Record of Commitments, 1919-1932

33. Record of Commitments, 1932-1943 ("Vol. 3")

34. Inspector's weekly visit book, 1839-1912

35. Intake/release ledger, 1939-1941

            (includes scattered mention of female prisoners)

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Almshouses - Rhode Island

Hospital for the Insane, Howard, R.I.

Howard, R.I. - Prisons

Institutional care

Jails - Rhode Island

Prisons - Rhode Island

Providence County Jail, Howard, R.I.

Public Welfare - Rhode Island

Reformatory for Women, Howard, R.I.

Rhode Island, State of - Prisons

State Farm, Howard, R.I.

State Prison and County Jail, Howard, R.I.

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