A Little Bit of Prisoner Knitting: Pre-1920

Over the years, I’ve amassed quite a large collection of craftivist, activist, and therapeutic craft photos, essays, and resources from various searches online. Many of them I’ve shared here, but not all by a long shot. It’s photos like this that truly pique my interest in what we can do with craft. The links below need more research, but nonetheless, I wanted to share them, as they are definitely exciting!

On the Library of Congress>website, this is filed under “Prison education.” And I wonder, what was the greater plan here?

Don’t get me wrong, I highly value knitting and the skills it brings. However, were they planning on doing custom work like the incredibly talented inmates who work with Fine Cell Work? Or was this mislabeled under “education?”

The photo above is the twine plant at Wisconsin State Prison in Waupun, Wisconsin. As you can see below, this was clearly dedicated as a source of revenue, and, it an incredibly different type of activity than knitting by hand. However, a “knitting industry” is mentioned below, too.

“1862 – A cabinet shop is opened in the prison. In the next ten years, the prison will add a shoe shop, a tailor shop, a wagon factory, and an expansion to the cabinet shop for other furniture and chairs. By 1878, the revenues will be sufficient to allow the prison to run without drawing appropriations from the state’s treasury. A knitting industry is added in 1893, a twine plant in 1912, a cannery in 1915, a license plate operation in 1917, a print shop in the early 1920s, and a laundry in 1940. The laundry, license plate, wood and metal furniture, printing and signage, silk-screening, and tailoring operations survive to this day at the prison.”

Going further back in history, check out this, which needs further research for sure:

“The First Poor-House Erected: In 1734, the first poor-house was erected on the site of the present county court-house. It was forty-six feet long, twenty-four feet wide, and two stories high, with a cellar, all of gray stone. It was furnished with spinning-wheels, leather and tools for shoemaking, knitting needles, flax, etc., for the employment of the inmates. All paupers were required to work under penalty of mild punishments, and parish children were taught the three “R’s” and employed at useful labor. The house was also used for the correction of unruly slaves. A vegetable garden was laid out near the house, and the inmates cultivated it for the use of the institution.”

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