Tales of Terrible Cruelty

Adrian Industrial School for Girls ~ courtesy of University of Michigan digital collection

This is the third and final post based on a cabinet card identified as Inez Swartz “Adrian Home girl” which was a term used to reference residents living at the Adrian Industrial School for Girls. If you’d like to read my earlier posts, they are Adrian Home Girl and As If Their Little Hearts Would Break.

Adrian Industrial School for Girls ~ Cottage System

The Home for Girls was founded in 1879 to provide care and training for girls seven to twenty years of age.  It was based on the cottage system which employed the use of family-style dwellings instead of reformatory prisons.  Girls were housed together with an authority figure which was supposed to emulate a family atmosphere. Unfortunately, the system did not prevent cruelty.

1899 Aug 15 OSBORN Martha AHfG Detroit Free Press MI
Aug. 15, 1899 ~ Detroit Free Press (MI)
1903 Mar 20 VANCOURT Lettie AHfG Owosso Times Owosso MI
Mar. 13, 1903 ~ Owosso Times (MI)
1893 Dec 6 ADRIAN HOME The Times Herald Port Huron MI
Dec. 6, 1893 ~ The Times Herald, Port Huron (MI)
1893 Mar 29 BALDWIN Martha AHfG The Times Herald Port Huron MI
Mar. 29, 1893 ~ The Times Herald, Port Huron (MI)

If you haven’t read my previous posts you might be wondering how Inez, or any girl for that matter, ended up at this institution.  Take a moment to read the stories above of Martha Osborn, Lettie Van Court, Gussie Krager,  and Martha Baldwin and you’ll see there was a multitude of reasons.   These included being orphaned, poor home environment, truancy, or committing any behavior that was considered unbecoming.

Inez Swartz

I spent a lot of time searching for the sitter featured in my cabinet photo.  As I addressed in my earlier posts, I came up with only theories as to her identity.  During my original searches for Inez, I was focused on finding a girl whose race was recorded as Black or Mulatto because it seemed clear to me that she wasn’t white.  I later realized that I was wrong to assume that Inez wouldn’t have identified as white, but I decided not to let my initial research go to waste.

In June of 1900, there were 301 residents at the Adrian Home and seven of those girls were Black: Victoria Clark, 13; Gertrude Smith, 14; Maud Gough, 14; Jennie Hawkins, 15; Kittie Jackson, 14; Lydia Berry, 11; and Jennie Fredrick, 13.  I’m going to share what life had in store for these seven girls but first, let’s wrap our heads around what it was like for them as wards of the state.

May 27, 1899 ~ Detroit Free Press (MI) ~ Click on image to view full article
s1899 May 31 ADRIAN HOME CRUELTY The True Northerner Paw Paw MI
Click on image to view full article

During the time the girls lived at the school there were reports of floggings, scaldings, and other assaults.  If you have the stomach for it I urge you to click on the images above and read the full articles that detail witness accounts of the cruelty. It’s heartbreaking to imagine what abuses these girls might have suffered at the hands of those who were supposed to be providing care.

1899 May 30 ADRIAN SCHOOL FLOGGINGS Detroit Free Press MI
May 30, 1899 ~ Detroit Free Press (MI)

No matter what the reasons were for a girl being sent to the Home, most of which were no fault of their own, it’s clear that they were all thought of as “sinners” and “refractory” (unmanageable) and it surely affected the level of action people were willing to take in regards to stopping the abuses being perpetrated.

July 3, 1899 ~ Detroit Free Press (MI)

Even with all of the first-hand accounts of horrendous abuses perpetrated by Mrs. Lucy Sickles, superintendent of the Adrian Home for Girls since 1891, she continued her charge of the girls through 1911.  Mrs. Sickles then moved to Beaver, Iowa where she was superintendent of the Iowa State Industrial School for Girls.  It’s infuriating to me that no one stopped this woman and that she faced no consequences for her actions.

So what became of the seven Black girls living at the Adrian Industrial School in 1900?

Sentenced to the Adrian Home for unknown reasons in January 1899, Jennie May Hawkins was about five months shy of 14 which means she was facing more than seven years of incarceration.

1899 Jan 24 HAWKINS Jennie SENT TO ADRIAN Detroit Free Press MI
Jan. 24, 1899 ~ Detroit Free Press (MI)

I’m not sure how Jennie managed it, although I suspect telling a simple lie sufficed in the times before computers, but the institution recorded her age as 17 in 1900.  This meant the very clever young woman shaved two years off her sentence. At the age of 37, Jennie succumbed to pneumonia, an illness that also stole the life of her mother Mary (Legee) in 1915, her 4th husband Cornelius Turner in 1922, and her brother, Horace Kendrick Hawkins Jr., not even one month after Jennie passed.

smGOUGH Maude 1883 to 1911 Adrian Home Girl
George and Maud Gough ~ about 1893; Image courtesy of Find A Grave memorial contributor Karen Jenter 

Maud Gough’s mother committed suicide in 1894 by ingesting rat poison.  Upon her father’s accidental death in 1899, she and her brother were orphaned and Maud found herself sent to the Adrian Home for Girls.  Maud’s life was not only filled with adversities, but it was also brief, as she succumbed to tuberculosis in 1911 at the age of 28 years.

Victoria Clark remains a mystery, turning up just once after her stay in Adrian. In 1910 she was a 24-year-old young woman living in Detroit with two lodgers; a 27-year-old hotel porter named George Turner and a young woman named Estelle Devers.  I can only hope that Victoria’s disappearance is due to a marriage that’s eluded me and not something more sinister or tragic.

Already motherless since 1892, Jennie Fredrick was orphaned when her father, William Henry “Hal” Fredrick, died of exhaustion on March 9, 1900.  At twenty-one years old, which was the age most girls were released from the Home, Jennie married Steve Morton, a porter at a barbershop and the couple had five children.  She later married Herman Scott.  Jennie died in 1956 at the age of 69 years.

Tuberculosis separated Katherine “Kittie” Jackson from her family, either during her mother Mary’s battle with the disease or upon Mary’s death in March 1900.  Kittie’s father, Theodore, was left to care for six children. After her stay at the Adrian Home, up until her 1921 marriage to Isiah Rigney when she was 33, Kittie’s life is a mystery.  And she evaded me again after 1942 when she and her fourth (known) husband, Hindu Luty, were living in Ypsilanti, Michigan.  Based on her sibling’s obituaries, Kittie died sometime before 1963.  An interesting side note; In 1939, Malcolm X was placed in foster care in Lansing and his foster mother was Kittie’s sister, Mrs. Mable Gohanna.

Gertrude LaPearl Smith married at least four times before she died of heart failure in Cleveland, Ohio in 1952 at the age of 67 years.  Records indicate Gertrude worked as a dressmaker and a maid.  I wasn’t able to locate death records or much of any information about her parents, William and Leatha (Banks) Smith, so the cause of Gertrude’s stint at Adrian remains unknown.

When Lydia Berry was born on June 28, 1888, in South Haven, Michigan, her mother Etta (Calloway) was 13 years old and her father, Ruben Berry, was at least 53.  I hoped that I had Lydia’s mother’s age wrong but I found her on the 1880 census when she was recorded as 5 years old, so tragically she was indeed just a child when she gave birth.  In 1900, Lydia’s father was found dead in his bed, cause of death unknown.  Her mother had already moved on in 1896, marrying 23-year-old Chester Wyres.  Unlike others who found themselves sentenced to the home, Lydia was out long before her twenty-first birthday.  She married twice; first at the age of 16 to Norman Brown and then to Harry Sanford.  She and Harry raised a son, Harold, who appears to have been her husband’s nephew.  Lydia died July 3, 1961, in South Haven where she lived her entire life.

I’m disappointed that I wasn’t able to solve the identity of my cabinet card sitter, Inez Swartz, but I feel like I’ve honored her memory by sharing these stories of the other girls who, like her, found themselves wards of the Home for Girls at Adrian.

Census records
Find a Grave
Juvenile Delinquency: Historical, Cultural & Legal Perspectives, pub. 2001
Michigan Birth Records
Los Angeles Times (CA) ~ Lucy Sickles Obituary
Malcolm’s Lansing
In the Archives: Criminal Girls
State Industrial School for Girls
“Early Adrian”, presented by the American Association of University Women, Adrian, Michigan, 1964, Swenk-Tuttle Press, revised 1973.

8 thoughts on “Tales of Terrible Cruelty

  1. How appalling that Lucy Sickles got away with that horrifying level of abuse. She was a sick, depraved woman. Thanks for bringing this story to light and for all your excellent research into these lives you’ve featured.

    Liked by 2 people

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s