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Title page for ETD etd-10132015-131643

Type of Document Master's Thesis
Author Hayden, Erica Rhodes
URN etd-10132015-131643
Title Philadelphia's Eastern State Penitentiary: The Darker Side of Good Intentions in Criminal Punishment
Degree Master of Arts
Department History
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Richard Blackett Committee Member
Ruth Rogaski Committee Member
  • slave rebellion
  • Eastern State Penitentiary
  • criminal punishment
  • slave punishment
Date of Defense 2009-03-27
Availability unrestricted
With its opening in 1829, Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, ushered in a new era of criminal punishment. Inmates of Eastern State entered a world of austerity, silence, isolation, labor, religious teachings, and a lack of corporal punishment. Quaker reformers contended that this 'Pennsylvania System' of discipline provided a better way to punish criminals by having inmates reflect on the errors of their past misdeeds without physical punishment. Within five years of the opening of the penitentiary, Eastern State was under state legislative investigation for cruel and unusual punishment towards inmates who broke the institution's rules. Using this investigation as a gateway, this paper examines the struggle between reformers, prison officials, and inmates in understanding the purpose of punishment and administering discipline at Eastern State. This study explores how inmates rebelled against the institution's procedures and argues that while the way that officials retained their control over inmates came close to torture, ultimately officials could justify their actions in relation to the reformers' goals of practicing "humane" punishment. To examine these struggles over power and intention, this paper utilizes prison records and official reports, visitor accounts, and papers from the legislative committee organized to investigate Eastern State's cruelty charges in 1834-1835.
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