Miriam Van Waters

Superintendent of the Framingham Women’s Reformatory & Feminist Social Worker

Libby in front of the decaying Superintendent’s house on the grounds of MCI Framingham.

Libby in front of the decaying Superintendent’s house on the grounds of MCI Framingham.

Superintendent Van Waters (1887-1974) instituted many progressive reforms aimed at rehabilitating inmates and preparing them for life after prison. Since she believed her task was to educate the women in how to live after their release, she called them “Students.”

Wearing a 1940s dress and hat, Franck as Van Waters in 1949 discusses her programs and theories of rehabilitation. As superintendent, Van Waters instituted programs to let incarcerated mothers take care of their children on prison grounds. She also developed educational courses, a drama club, a newspaper and recreational opportunities for prisoners. To broaden inmates’ cultural horizons, Van Waters invited Robert Frost to read his poetry in prison and staged an all-women performance of Thornton Wilder’s play “Our Town.”

Eleanor Roosevelt and Miriam

Eleanor Roosevelt and Miriam

In 1949 Van Waters survived an attempt to fire her for her controversial programs and some concerns the “prison was a hotbed of homosexuality.”

Franck, who has lived “just around the corner” from the prison for many years, has toured with this show, including a performance for women currently incarcerated at MCI Framingham. The Framingham History Center commissioned her to research, write and perform this piece.