In 1869, Indiana established the first detention facility in the country that was exclusively for females. Originally named the Indiana Reformatory Institution for Women and Girls, it was located just east of downtown (on Randolph St., between Michigan and New York) and housed both juvenile (ages 10 to 18) and adult offenders. In 1899 the two groups were separated since it was believed that the women were a bad influence on the girls, and in 1907 the girls were moved to a new set of buildings west of the city, on what is now Girls School Road. It was at that time that the name of the facility was changed to the Indiana Girl’s School.
Girls were committed via court order. The reasons for commitment included truancy, using bad language, incorrigibility, intoxication, immorality, and smoking cigarettes.
Once there, the girls were assigned a course of training by a committee. The available training programs varied over the years and included such things as home management, needlecrafts, foods, clothing, waitress training, beauty culture, and nursing. Most girls stayed at the facility at least a year. Once they completed their program satisfactorily, they were released on probation, which lasted another year. Once that was completed they were typically allowed to return to their families.
The records for all of the inmates are currently held at the Indiana State Archives. They maintain a searchable online index of all females admitted through 1935 (privacy laws prevent them from making the names of those admitted after 1935 available online). If you think you might have a relative who spent time at the Indiana Girl’s School, the searchable index is the best place to start. There you’ll find the name of each inmate along with the date and county in which they were sentenced. Once you have that information you’ll need to contact or visit the Archives to gain access to the full file for that individual.
The individual files are full of interesting information. They may include genealogical information, such as the inmate’s mother’s maiden name, as well as personal information about the girl, such as the program she completed, the reason for her commitment, the books she read while there, and possibly even a photograph. All of this information will help you put together the pieces of your ancestor’s story and help you to build a better, more complete family tree.
The Indiana Historical Society has a collection of images of the facility available for viewing online. You can see them at the links below.