Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Sammy the Scoundrel

     A few months ago while looking at census records for my maternal grandmother's father's side, I discovered that her father (my great-grandfather) was a student at the Boys' Industrial School in Lancaster, OH.  The 1900 U.S. Federal Census has Samuel G. Davis, age 15, at the Lancaster Reform School.  I couldn't believe my eyes.  Did I read "Reform School"?  It was hard to read that writing.  I guess penmanship wasn't a priority for some enumerators back then.
     I checked the internet for reform schools in Lancaster,OH.  I found the history of this reform school which was actually called the Ohio Reform School and later named the Boys' Industrial School.  According to the Ohio Historical Society's website, the school was founded in 1857 by the Ohio government.  This was a reformatory for boys between eight and eighteen years of age.  The boys arrived with a certain number of demerits based on the severity of their crime.  Once they reached zero demerits, the boys were sent home (on parole I think).  In 1884, the Ohio Reform School became known as the Boys' Industrial School.  The boys spent half the day in school and the other half learning a trade in one of the vocational buildings.  This school utilized the "open system". They lived in cottages, not cells. This system worked so well that by 1901, twenty-eight states adopted this same system for their juvenile prisons.
     The Ohio Historical Society's website also has a database with the names of the students who were referred to as 'inmates'.  I'm sure that the 'Samuel Davis' who I found is my great-grandfather because the age range is the same and it stated on the census that he was at the reform school in 1900.  I called the Ohio Historical Society in Columbus,OH to inquire about ordering school records.  Yesterday, I mailed my check for $7.00 along with identifying information such as inmate name and number, parents names, the volume and page number along with the volume date which is 1897-1900.  I asked the librarian at the archives what the school record will contain. I was told that it will have the name and date of birth of the student, parents names, date of admission, reason for being admitted and the release date.  It will take 4-6 weeks to arrive and I can't wait.  I wonder why he was sent there?
     I came across another site with a history of the school and school records for some of the students.  My great-grandfather's record is not listed because he was there in 1900 and these records are dated 1860's - mid 70's.  Most of the children were sent there for incorrigibility.   hmmmmm....
     I wonder if Samuel Davis was an 'incorrigible' inmate?    

Ohio History Central >


  1. I can hardly wait for death certificates and this is so much more exciting!

  2. I wonder what behaviors constituted
    "incorrigibility." I look forward to your follow-up story on this one.

  3. I can't wait to see these records. I forgot to mention that the librarian I spoke to also mentioned that if the boy was a smoker then that was put in the records as well. If children today were sent away for 'incorrigibilty' just imagine how overcrowded the schools would be...