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.

Image One  |  Image Two  |  Image Three  |  Image Four

18 responses to “Family Tree: The Indiana Girl’s School”

  1. Antionette Callander says:

    I am 54,years old and ran away from INDIANA Girls School at 12 or 13. I was caught once. I ran again and was never caught.
    I looked older with make up and older clothes, yet very young with none of the trappings.
    I spent a lot time in Adult Jails from 13 to 18. At 18!in California someone FINALLY acknowledged my youth and for the first time I was put in a Juvenile Facility.
    The System FAILED ME and SO MANY OTHERS. They “the Police” KNEW OUR AGES and some even USED THIS TO ENJOY THEMSELVES. The men, well you guess , but the Female Officials (the rookies) how they loved to just BEST THE CRAP out of us and call us things I wil NEVER FORGET (Chicago was the Worst).
    I am looking for photos and paperwork on myself .
    I have some since I remember being published .
    I wrote poetry (still have it) and my picture was taken . I also have a picture of myself in the chapel.
    I would like to find any files and /or pictures that might still be Archived somewhere.
    I remember so many great house mothers and a FEW counselors.
    But it was the Teachers that I remember the most.
    I am rambling now. If you can help me I would appreciate it.
    In the records should also be the names of Family and My Grandparents ❤️.
    Thank you ,
    Antionette Callander
    Formerly Annette Mast DOB 07/06/1963

  2. Madonna Wise says:

    My aunt, Mary “Mollie” Widner was in the Indiana Industrial School for Girls. She was there from age 11 years of age in 1908 with a discharge date of October 1, 1917. I wrote to the Department of Corrections and found that she was prisoner number 1759. I asked for a photo of her, and they could not seem to find one. She had a baby named Jean while she was there and she was there for ten years.
    I followed Mollie’s life and I would like to write a historical novel about her. She led an incredibly difficult life. She was a rum runner and the wife of two different saloon owners during Prohibition.
    I believe with all my heart that she was a terrible victim of this institution. I’ve spent most of my career as a counselor and I have no doubt that she was victimized. Although in her obit, I find she lists the child born while she was in captivity, the child appears to have been taken from her. In the one letter that the institution sent me that she wrote to her mother describing the birth, she talks about their unwillingness to take her to a hospital for delivery.
    I can only imagine the horrors of an imprisonment without education from 1908 until 1917. How truly terrible. The family has no photo of her and I would like to obtain one.
    A niece, Madonna Jervis Wise

  3. Tiffany Benedict Browne says:

    Wow, that is an incredible story and it sounds plausible to me. I wish I knew how to help you find a photo, but alas I do not. Have you tried the Indiana Archives? That would be my only suggestion at this point. Best of luck!

  4. David Cannon says:


  5. Angela Coss says:

    I am now 45 yrs old and i was locked up in the indiana girl school on girl school rd. At the age of 15 i was in and out until i was 17 yrs old the year was 1990 to 1992 i was there for not going to school i was assigned to group 8 my first time then cottage 3 for individual counseling and my last time i was in group 6 with mrs Stidd . my group did a video about the facility but i had lost my copy i would like to find a copy of that video it was on a vhs tape. I would also like to know about the C.O.’s that worked there at the time where are they now. I would like to at least thank one of them for teaching me the the things i know now. That place taught me how to respect myself and others and made me a better person. I have really missed being there and the people i met there . it really helped me change my life turned my life around. ❤

  6. Nycole Brooks says:

    My name is Nicole and I was sent to the Indiana Girls School in 1997 for truancy. I only spent 3 months there. The least amount of time a girl could do. I turned 16 there. Got sent to cottage 3 and had a roommate named Misty James. To this day, I’d love to know how she’s doing and how her life turned out.

  7. Kim Smith says:

    I was at the Indianapolis girlschool in 1989. I was sent for truance.
    I spent 8 months there, I was In group 11 cottage 6. I met alot of people who said they would keep in contact, but I haven’t heard from them since. I was14 and turned 15 there, I’m now 46. So I’m hoping I could possibly find them here. Their names were Heather Smythe and Jenny fries. Hopefully I hear from them. We went through alot together. The good times and the bad times.

  8. Pat Atkinson Kamuda says:

    I was there 1951-1953. Cottage 1 was the last. I tried 30 years ago to find friends but nobody responded. I was Pat Atkinson. Mrs. Adams was my favorite house mother. We were always sent back to our abusive homes. I was supposed to stay for 4 1/2 years but the new governor had me released. My crime? Running away to my Aunts. Pat

  9. christina smith says:

    I was there from the age of 13 to almost 17. I was in Group 13 for most of my stay. After my father passed away I was moved to cottage 7 and locked down. Positive Peer Culture should be outlawed.
    I remember Mr Robinson, my group counselor
    I also remember every one from my group.
    However my best memory of IGS is the talent show. Group 13 did “wild wild west”
    Even though I protested by not participating — I will never forget watching my group up on the stage!!
    I still think its funny that they were allowed to use that song !!
    I used to live downtown!!!!!

  10. Roslyn Riall says:

    Hi Angela. I worked as a CO from 1990 to 1993. My name was Adams at that time. I am happy you have good things to say about it. I quit because I didn’t like how the girls were treated. Not all of course but I disagreed with much of it. Hope you find who you are looking for.

  11. Roxa Dee Corn says:

    I was in Indiana Girls School in the middle 80s, I was in the most aggressive group on campus, I remember Karen Jarmin most of all, Dennesa, and some others, Mamma Gill was my favorite, she told me when I was first sent there for diagnostics that I would be back and back I was sent…Indefinitely! Per the Judges order, PPC program had been something that for the most part made girls worse not better, I believe I was in group 8. We had 13 problems on a problem sheet, you would have to get released through the group first then the staff then whoever else. It was a bad deal being there but I had my moments. Anyone there from around that time? My name is Roxa they called me DeeDee

  12. Christina says:

    I was there during that time. I was in group 13, so we were in different cottages.

  13. Belinda Brown says:

    I was at the Indian Girl School from 1972 to 1977 off and on cause I ran away from there a lot . I inherited the nickname rabbit. I can not find any information on the records of school pictures or any kind of pictures or that matter at least you used to be able to see pictures of the campus but now you can’t even find them so good luck people.

  14. Ruth Daniels says:

    Do you remember me from there Naomi Daniels (ruthie)

  15. Coni says:

    I would like to find information on the time my mother was sent there. She too has since passed and I am looking for the dates and or people who may have known her.
    Linda Darlene Whirledge my best guess is she was sent there is 1957-1960.
    She was from Goshen Indiana

  16. Cammy Overmyer says:

    I was at indiana girls school I think in 1990 the first time & the 2nd time was 1991 i believe. Mrs Bloss was my counselor and I was in cottage 5 the 2nd time I was there it was cottage 1. I did meet some really cool girls while i was there. I wish I could connect with some of them now. I hated it there and cried alot the 1st time. I was 15. Skipping school and I stole a pack.of cigarettes is why I was there. Well my mom said I was I corigiable. But we did do a lot fun stuff there. We camped , we even had a dance with the Rockville boys school. Haha crazy. If anyone sees this and remembers this email me if u can. I’d love to hear from anyone who was there when I was.

  17. Roxa Dee Corn says:

    What a place to be! I remember some of the cottages; I think cottage 9 was for the worst of us who wouldn’t follow the rules. The cafeteria! Each cottage had its turn helping cook for the entire school. I had my share of fights and was negative. At the end of the day, we grow up and realize that there isn’t any place worse than the prison we put ourselves in with our minds.

  18. Kathryn Neal says:

    I was in girls school in 1990-1991 I was in cottage 3. Mr Rob was my counselor I believe we moved cottages too after a bit I can’t remember why. I remember our groups having to rake that huge place.. standing in the med line, always worrying about possible getting sent to lock down.. because of a possible fight that could happen. I was there for about 9 months. I remember having desk a lot. I have some people that I had connected with .. however I look at that time in my life it’s kinda crazy like another life.

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