Explore how CDCR has adapted to incarcerate women, ranging from the days of the first prison ships to building the California Institution for Women.
Originally housed at San Quentin State Prison, the Women’s Ward went through many changes until the state’s first female prison was activated in 1933 as the California Institution for Women. In honor of
Women’s History Month, Inside CDCR takes you inside California’s first women’s prison.
Learn more about the
state’s prison history.
By Don Chaddock, Inside CDCR editor 1930s: First women’s prison gets underway
San Quentin Women’s Ward Matron Josephine Jackson turns a shovel of dirt at the site of California Institution for Women in 1931. (Photo: California State Archives.)
California Institution for Women, 1933. (Photo: UCLA.)
California Gov. James Rolph addresses the crowd at the 1932 dedication of California Institution for Women at Tehachapi. (Photo: UCLA.)
Dedication at California Institution for Women, 1932. At right is San Quentin Warden James “Big Jim” Holohan. (CDCR file photo.)
The original entrance to California Institution for Women, circa 1932. (CDCR file photo.)
The original Culver Hall at California Institution for Women at Tehachapi, circa 1931. The caption reads, “Note that Briggs Hall hadn’t been built yet. Also note the size of the trees then.” (CDCR file photo.)
From left are CIW Deputy Warden Uriah A. Smith and Guard Archie Thornton in 1933. (Photo: UCLA.) Note: Correctional Officers were classified as Guards prior to 1944.
Garbage detail, 1937, CIW Tehachapi.
An inmate works a printing press at CIW, 1938. The inmates wrote, edited and printed “The Clarion,” a newspaper about the institution. (Photo: Los Angeles Public Library.)
Photograph caption dated Sept. 24, 1938 reads, “Here is a view of the Tehachapi fair, showing the gaily decorated entrance to the compound. Each prisoner was given $2 in homemade money to spend at the various booths and concessions. They had a gay day eating popcorn, cakes and other dainties they had made themselves, and in watching vaudeville acts, Punch and Judy shows and playing bingo games.” (Photo: Los Angeles Public Library.)
Inmates play tennis at CIW-Tehachapi, circa 1939. (CDCR file photo.)
Myrtle Elder, who oversaw 15 female inmates working the farm at CIW, holds canned goods made by the inmates. 1938. At one time, she served as the acting Warden. (Photo: Los Angeles Public Library.)
CIW Warden Florence Monahan judges baked goods for the 1938 Tehachapi fair. Helen Wills Love won the contest. (Photo: Los Angeles Public Library.)
Matron Alva M. Brittain shows off the new cottage concept in this 1933 newspaper photo taken at the California Institution for Women at Tehachapi. (Photo: UCLA.) 1940s: Inmates help with war effort
CIW staff show off the work of inmates who sewed U.S. flags and mosquito nets as part of the war effort in 1943. (CDCR file photo.)
Much like the men’s prisons in California, inmates at CIW pitched in to help with the war effort. “Patriotic fervor runs extremely high in most correctional institutions for women,” according to the 1944 report by the U.S. War Production Board. “Special mention might be made of the manufacture of mosquito bed nets and pillow cases at the California Institution for Women at Tehachapi.” As shown in the above photo, CIW inmates also made U.S. flags.
1950s: Turning point for CIW
Female inmates watch TV in Culver Cottage, CIW, 1950. (CDCR file photo.)
An inmate works the loom at CIW, circa 1950. (CDCR file photo.)
Inmates were moved to tents for their own safety after the 1952 earthquake.
An earthquake in 1952 forced CIW’s inmates to be temporarily housed in tents. Later that year, they moved to their new prison at Corona. (Photo: Los Angeles Public Library.)
In 1954, the library at CIW in Corona held 5,000 books. (Photo: Los Angeles Public Library.)
The CIW honor cottage also housed inmates were pending parole release, 1954. (Photo: Los Angeles Public Library.)
California Institution for Women in Corona’s industrial sewing room, 1954. “Among the many items they make are their own clothes and also clothes for men at San Quentin and Chino prisons. Other buildings house ceramics shops, laundry and school classrooms.” (Photo: Los Angeles Public Library.)
“The California Institution for Women in Corona has its own printing plant. Here, women publish the monthly newspaper, ‘The Clarion.’ They set the type by hand and run it off on a flat-bed press. They also print high school commencement programs, invitations, etc. Photograph dated July 10, 1954.” (Photo: Los Angeles Public Library.) 1960s: Rehabilitation continues
Art classes help inmates express emotions in non-violent ways, such as this CIW inmate in the late 1950s or early 1960s. (CDCR file photo.)
“Inmates learn how to do hairdressing at the California Institution for Women in Corona, March 24, 1962.” (Photo: Los Angeles Public Library.) 1970s: Learning job skills
The cosmetology program at CIW teaches inmates skills they can use to acquire jobs after release. (CDCR file photo, circa 1970s.) 1980s & ’90s: Technology catches up with incarceration
Educational programs offered at CIW in 1991 included PLATO, a “computer-based education program focused on the three basic areas of math, reading and language. … Students can access (the) terminal display screen which is similar to an ordinary television screen,” according to a CIW booklet produced at the time. (CDCR file photo.)
Simply identified as “Connie Fillon, CIW Education Supervisor, January 1991.” (CDCR file photo.) 2000s: Modernized facility offers education, job training
Modern computer classes are offered at CIW. (CDCR file photo.)
Today’s inmates at CIW learn job skills to help them succeed when they are released. Here, inmates learn Building Maintenance. (CDCR file photo.)
Female inmates learn job skills at CIW. (CDCR file photo.)
Educational classes allow inmate students to earn GEDs, diplomas and degrees. These are in addition to trade certificates and job skills. (CDCR file photo.)
California Institution for Women, as it stands today.
California Institution for Women has evolved from its early days as the Women’s Ward Department at San Quentin to its current rehabilitative model. (CDCR file photo.)
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