Unlocking History

Photo Timeline: California Institution for Women

Drawing of California Institution for Women in 1930.
The caption reads, "California Institution for Women. State Department of Public Works, Division of Architecture, Sacramento." The Alfred Eichler sketch shows early plans for CIW at Tehachapi, 1930. (Photo: California State Archives.)

By Don Chaddock, Inside CDCR editor
Office of Public and Employee Communications

From the days of the first prison ships, CDCR has adapted to incarcerate females sentenced to state prison. 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. In honor of Women’s History Month, Inside CDCR takes you inside California’s first women’s prison.

1930s: First women’s prison gets underway

1940s: Inmates help with war effort

Two female inmates hold a large U.S. flag.
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

1960s: Rehabilitation continues

1970s: Learning job skills

Three women practice hair styling skills on three other women at California Institution for Women.
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

2000s: Modernized facility offers education, job training