|Prisoner Petition to Governor Reynolds|
The Missouri State Penitentiary was the second largest in the nation. It opened in 1836. The first woman sentenced to prison as a result of attempting to poison her husband was Rebecca Hawkins in 1841. Although she failed to kill Mr. Hawkins, he was murdered by another and Rebecca was immediately pardoned as she was the sole care giver of the eight children. Rebecca was never sent to the penitentiary. Researchers will find that many of their female ancestors were pardoned for various reasons.
Another woman unfortunate enough to be sentenced to the penitentiary was simply placed in a cell with three men. She was forced to wear a dress vividly dyed half yellow and half white that identified her as a convict. During the day she worked in the wash house. While in her cell, the door was kept unlocked so that any prisoner or guard could "visit" her as he wished” (Rasmussen).
But by the turn of the century, prisons were being built for women. The Renz Women's Penitentiary in Missouri opened up in 1926, and operated as a prison farm, where more than 500 female inmates raised chickens and grew produce. These types of work prisons were popular at the turn of the century.
1-2-3 Begin Your MO. Prison and Pardon Research
There are several key repositories and collections available for the Missouri researcher. Keep in mind, however, that Missouri was one of the largest prisons resulting in inmates from across the nation being housed at the Mo. State Penitentiary.
- State Penitentiary
History and Newspaper Research
Missouri State Penitentiary: Women in Prison
The Mo. State penitentiary: 170 Years inside “The Walls” - Women Prisoners Who Changed the Walls form the Inside Out, Jamie Pamela Rasmussen.
- MO. State Archives.
This is a good place to begin your search is with the State Archives. Hopefully your State Archives will hold as rich of a collection as the Missouri State Archives. (Be sure to also check the Midwest Genealogy Center for their microfilm collection of Penitentiary records).
- Register of Inmates Received, 1836--
- MO State Penitentiary Register
- Records of Pardons 1836
- Circuit Court (usually catalogued by counties if available)
- Original copies of sentences and judgment papers from the Court
- List of Prisoners As They Sit at the Table
- Prisoners’ Complaints
- Accounts List
- MO. State Historical Society