The Social Museum Collection



Unidentified Artist

Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum

Drawing connections between social disorganization, insanity, and crime, the prison reform advocate Philip C. Garrett, writing at the turn of the twentieth century, echoed the sentiments of his peers when he argued that “if inherent depravity is to be regarded as disease then induced depravity is also probably the result of morbid physical condition,” rooted in poverty, intemperance, and “reckless indifference to conventional ideas of propriety” [1]. Garrett argued that criminals were being made “at a ruinous rate by needlessly committing young men to jail for the careless faults of youth,” and he advocated a more differentiated and restrained approach to correction that included the spread of reformatories, houses of detention, hospitals for the criminally insane, and “penitentiaries for the incorrigible class” [2]. Francis Greenwood Peabody, a resolute advocate for correction reform, prided the Social Museum for the way it allowed students to compare “various systems of detention, discipline and maintenance” [3] in many countries. The treatment of wayward youth was of particular concern to Peabody, who endorsed the model treatment of juvenile delinquents in American reformatories by state-run agencies such as the Massachusetts Truant Schools and privately financed enterprises including the George Junior Republic, a self-governing citizenship community established in rural New York for neglected city children. Even so, while reformers promoted ameliorative measures within the society, immigration officials sought to stem the alarming rise of undesirables using the Bertillon system of criminal identification (by means of physical measurements) to access the mental and moral suitability of those seeking entry to the United States at Ellis Island.

1. Philip C. Garrett, On the Necessity for Radical Prison Reform (n.p., 1897?), 5, 6. The Making of Modern Law. Gale. 2012. Gale, Cengage Learning. Accessed February 8, 2012.

2. Ibid., 6, 14.

3. Francis G. Peabody, The Social Museum as an Instrument of University Teaching. Publications of the Department of Social Ethics in Harvard University, no. 4 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University, 1911), 5.