elisa_rolle (elisa_rolle) wrote,

Geraldine Thompson & Miriam Van Waters

Miriam Van Waters (October 4, 1887 – January 17, 1974) was a noted early American feminist social worker and served as superintendent of the Massachusetts Reformatory for Women at Framingham (1932–1957). Estelle Freedman wrote a biography of Van Waters in the mid-nineties, and provided historical and social context for her professional work as social worker and prison superintendent in her earlier social history of women's prisons. Van Waters was also a closeted lesbian during this period, and in fact, it was a 'moral panic' against 'prison lesbianism' that almost led to her dismissal as a superintendent in 1949. At this time, her successful female networks were to prove indispensable in prompting widespread protest from Episcopal, Jewish and Catholic clergy, the Massachusetts State Federation of Women's Clubs, Massachusetts Council of Churches, National Council of Jewish Women and Americans for Democratic Action.

However, Van Waters herself eluded 'outing' although she sacrificed mementos of her past, such as two decades-worth of romantic letters from her lifelong companion, Geraldine Thompson (1872–1967). Given strong public support, she weathered this storm. It was to be another eight years before she entered well-earned retirement after her life of public service. Van Waters and Thompson remained together 40 years and Miriam adopted a little girl named Sarah. When Geraldine died on September 9, 1967, she had lived for ninety-five extraordinarily full years, almost half of them as Miriam van Waters' "Dearest Love" and protector. As a small, final tribute, Van Waters wrote an obituary for Thompson in the Framingham News. Geraldine Morgan Thompson met Miriam Van Waters in the mid-1920s; Thompson was the owner of Brookdale, a 800-acre estate in Red Bank, New Jersey.

Miriam Van Waters (October 4, 1887 – January 17, 1974) was a noted early American feminist social worker and served as superintendent of the Massachusetts Reformatory for Women at Framingham. Geraldine Thompson met Miriam Van Waters in the mid-1920s; Thompson was the owner of Brookdale, a 800-acre estate in Red Bank, New Jersey. When Geraldine died in 1967, she had lived for ninety-five extraordinarily full years, almost half of them as Miriam van Waters' "Dearest Love" and protector.


Miriam Van Waters was a liberal mainline Protestant Christian, daughter to a member of the clergy, Rev. George Browne Van Waters, an Episcopalian priest. She was a practitioner of the "Social Gospel" associated with that current of Christian faith, and believed in prisoner rehabilitation as an important element within a broader context of social reform. She earned a doctorate in anthropology from Clark University, then went on to work as a probation officer at the Boston Children's Aid Society. With other female social reformers, she developed a number of specialist juvenile rehabilitation and reform facilities in California, such as the Frazer Detention Home (Portland, Oregon) and El Retiro School for Girls (Los Angeles), which sought to assist girls to develop self-esteem and embark on the road to rehabilitated social behavior. She also served as a referee at the Los Angeles Juvenile Court.

In 1932, Van Waters began a long-term appointment as superintendent at the Massachusetts Reformatory for Women at Framingham, succeeding Jessie Donaldson Hodder. She served as superintendent of that institution for the next quarter-century. Most of the inmates were serving time for prostitution, extramarital sex, or alcoholism. Her feminist principles led to an emphasis on rehabilitation during her period as superintendent, and are reflected in her active staff recruitment programmes. She developed a donor base amongst female philanthropists, including Eleanor Roosevelt, Jane Addams, Margaret Mead, Ethel Sturges Dummer, and Frances Perkins.

While inmates worked on industrial concerns like manufacturing clothing and flags, or working in the kitchens and prison farm unit, Van Waters also developed educational opportunities for the inmates, such as an art and crafts course, literary class, drama class, prison newspaper, hikers club and a parole club, which networked with other Massachusetts social reform and rehabilitation agencies outside the prison. She also pioneered separate accommodation for younger inmates as well as nursing mothers, who were allowed to keep their children with them until the latter were fostered out at two years of age. When the state legislature tried to separate infants from nursing mothers, Van Waters successfully lobbied against the proposed legislation.

After her retirement, Van Waters moved into an apartment with two former inmates and staff members from the Massachusetts Reformatory. According to her biographer, Estelle Freedman, she did not slow down in retirement, and tirelessly still campaigned for greater prison reform, civil rights, and abolition of the death penalty, which she abhorred. She respected Martin Luther King, but muscular dystrophy and a hip fracture meant that she was unable to personally participate in the cause of civil rights as much as she, a lifelong anti-racist, would have liked. This did not prevent her from participation in the Community of the Holy Spirit, a reform-minded Episcopal women's social service ministry, during the sixties.

As time went on, however, her friends began to pass away. Van Waters and Geraldine Thompson remained lovers, and participated in joint social activities like membership of the Audubon Society. Sadly, Thompson predeceased her, and died in 1967. In 1972, Van Waters experienced a minor stroke, but her remaining friends and associates were concerned at what it might mean. In January 1974, Miriam Van Waters died. Although Estelle Freedman relates that her former onsite superintendent’s house is still there, it has not fared well in a harsher and more punitive penal environment.

Geraldine L. Thompson was the wife of Lewis S. Thompson, who established Sunny Hill Plantation in 1913. Thompson was a resident of Red Bank, New Jersey. His father was William P. Thompson, an oil man from West Virginia had become treasurer of Standard Oil under John D. Rockefeller. Lewis was a prominent Republican in New Jersey and was a delegate to Republican National Convention from Brookdale, Essex County, N.J. Thompson was also a member in good standing with the Boone and Crockett Club founded by Theodore Roosevelt. Having inherited much of his fortune, Thompson enjoyed outdoor activities of marksmanship, hunting, fishing, and raising dogs. Lewis Thompson died in 1936. Lewis' wife, Geraldine Livingston Thompson co-owned Brookdale Farm, a thoroughbred horse training facility in Lincroft, New Jersey. Brookdale became Thompson Park in Monmouth County. Mrs. Lewis hosted Ava Alice Muriel Astor as a guest. Miss Astor was the daughter to John Jacob Astor IV who died during the sinking of RMS Titanic in 1912. Mrs. Thompson was also active in Republican politics and was a member of the Republican National Committee from Monmouth County, New Jersey and alternate delegate Republican National Convention from New Jersey in 1940, 1948, and 1952. Geraldine died September 9, 1967 and was buried at St. James' Churchyard, Hyde Park, New York.

Source: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miriam_Van_Waters

Days of Love: Celebrating LGBT History One Story at a Time by Elisa Rolle
Paperback: 760 pages
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; 1 edition (July 1, 2014)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1500563323
ISBN-13: 978-1500563325
CreateSpace Store: https://www.createspace.com/4910282
Amazon (Paperback): http://www.amazon.com/dp/1500563323/?tag=elimyrevandra-20
Amazon (Kindle): http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00MZG0VHY/?tag=elimyrevandra-20

Days of Love chronicles more than 700 LGBT couples throughout history, spanning 2000 years from Alexander the Great to the most recent winner of a Lambda Literary Award. Many of the contemporary couples share their stories on how they met and fell in love, as well as photos from when they married or of their families. Included are professional portraits by Robert Giard and Stathis Orphanos, paintings by John Singer Sargent and Giovanni Boldini, and photographs by Frances Benjamin Johnson, Arnold Genthe, and Carl Van Vechten among others. “It's wonderful. Laying it out chronologically is inspired, offering a solid GLBT history. I kept learning things. I love the decision to include couples broken by death. It makes clear how important love is, as well as showing what people have been through. The layout and photos look terrific.” Christopher Bram “I couldn’t resist clicking through every page. I never realized the scope of the book would cover centuries! I know that it will be hugely validating to young, newly-emerging LGBT kids and be reassured that they really can have a secure, respected place in the world as their futures unfold.” Howard Cruse “This international history-and-photo book, featuring 100s of detailed bios of some of the most forward-moving gay persons in history, is sure to be one of those bestsellers that gay folk will enjoy for years to come as reference and research that is filled with facts and fun.” Jack Fritscher

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Tags: activist: miriam van waters, days of love, eccentric: geraldine thompson

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