State Farm Head for 21 Years, She Hasn't Seen Dozen Bad Women

Miss Munger Finds Way to Give Hope to Unlucky

[Lani Jones, Source unknown, 1947]


"There are very few women criminals," according to Elizabeth Munger, recently retired supervisor of the Connecticut State Farm for Women in Niantic.

"The vicious ones, like the villainesses of radio programs, that I've met in my entire career, I can count on the fingers of my own two hands."

Miss Munger retired July 1 from her position at the institution, after 21 years as supervisor. She started her work during Gov. Trumbell's administration.

"Usually women offenders," Miss Munger said this week "have been led astray by men with whom they were infatuated."

"Their willingness to do anything the men suggest leads to their own self-destruction. That is the misdemeanor most frequently committed by women - not the destruction of others, but the destruction of themselves.

"Of course there are women here who have been committed for theft, and they are more difficult to deal with because the mercenary instinct in their makeup must be considered.

"However most women are sent to the institution for alcoholism, adultery or other types of delinquency. We have very few professional prostitutes.

"Several years ago, the women's division of the Wethersfield prison was transferred to the State Farm in Niantic. This is rather unfortunate, because women in the prison are more serious offenders than women in the correctional part of the institution.

"The stigma attached to prison is felt by girls who are here only for guidance and help."


Dreary and Drab

Miss Munger started her career as assistant supervisor at a girl's school in Trenton, N.J. She then became executive secretary of the National Committee on Correction and Training of Delinquent Girls.

While she was with the committee she arranged a conference of the country's detentional institutions for women. Making arrangements gave her the opportunity to see all U.S. institutions.

This conference gave Miss Munger her first introduction to the farm in Niantic.

"It was a very sad looking place," she said, "and there was a kind of hopelessness about it that was completely discouraging.

"The roads leading in were muddy and almost impassable, and there were only five houses - all frame buildings - not a brick structure had been built."

After that depressing first view of the Niantic farm, Miss Munger went back to Trenton where she assisted Dr. Mary B. Harris in planning for a new federal institution for women.

During her stay at Trenton, she was impressed and disturbed by the forlorn hopelessness of the prisoners.

"The women just came and stayed until it was time for their parole. They had no chance to have their cases reviewed or for any hearing of their requests. They were just there," she recalls.

"It seemed utterly heartless to me, being young and idealistic at the time. The good girls were particularly pathetic because they slumped in their ruts and went on from day to day, forgotten."


New System

"One girl especially struck me as being a tragic example. She seemed to be deteriorating under the stigma and oblivion. She'd been there since she was a child, and her record was excellent.

"Well, I went to the head of the institution and asked if it were possible for a group to get together and study the complete case history of every person there.

"The arrangements were made and a small board drawn up," said Miss Munger, completely omitting all the work she must have done to bring this to pass.

"Then we reviewed the case of everyone there, making suitable recommendations for each case.

"This system gives the good girls a chance. The bad ones are always before your attention, but the good ones, who cause no disturbance and have no families to draw attention to them, are usually ignored."

That was the beginning of the classification system which is used now in all the modern and improved detentional establishments. It is in effect in N.J., and the installation of the system was the first thing Miss Munger did when she was appointed supervisor of the Niantic institution.

"It's not human to operate without it," she stated, "it gives the girls hope and incentive."

"I've been criticized for the classified system of course. Some people think it's hard on the women. You see, we examine every possible record and take each girl individually, so we can understand her individual problems.

"These classification sessions come up about every two weeks - and the girls look forward to them. They put up their hair the night before and are extremely particular about their appearance."


Cooling Off

Explaining the method of discipline she practised with problem cases, Miss Munger said "The most important fact a supervisor must remember is to try to be understanding and to feel a real interest in each person."

"Women can't be regimented, they're too individual, so it's always necessary to be on the lookout for new quirks and actions.

"When a matron had some serious trouble with one of the girls, the girl would walk up to see me. It's a good long walk.

"By the time she arrived, she'd had time to cool off a little. Then I'd start in a round about way by asking her how long she'd been at the institution, when her parole was coming up, what her record had been, and so on.

"When we'd gotten through all that, she was usually ready to see her troubles in perspective and take a long view of the situation."

The success of Miss Munger's administration is obvious to anyone who tours the institution.

Instead of just the five frame buildings that had to serve for every purpose when she came, there are many handsome brick buildings.


Better Quarters

One of the first things the new supervisor did when she arrived 21 years ago was to try to brighten up the quarters, which were dingy and drab beyond description.

Next she got appropriations to build a hospital for babies. Women with children under one year can bring their babies with them, and there is a delivery room for expectant mothers.

All the babies are housed in one large brick building where there are nurseries, playrooms and all the facilities for taking care of very young children. The mothers look after the children themselves.

Gruadually the Conn. State Farm for Women was built up. Through Miss Munger's efforts a laundry was built, and a recreation hall, which also houses a sewing room where the women make their own dresses, sheets, pillow cases, diapers, and even blankets for calves.

In the new admittance building there is an infirmary for the sick and quarantined. The prison is a well-equipped brick building, with pleasant single rooms for the inhabitants.

A cannery, where all the food is canned for use during the winter, dairy barns, dormitories and offices are in the other buildings.

The farm is situated on a tract of 1,008 acres of land, encloses [several] lakes, and produces enough food to be self-sufficient.

Men are employed to do the heavy farm work, but women weed the fields and tend the dairy. Most of the women doing farm work are newcomers who are run down from alcoholism and venereal disease.

The course of work is varied so when internees are paroled they have some working experience to help them. Cooking, canning, housekeeping, carpentry and laundry work are some of the trades taught.


Guard Against Future

"Keeping the women occupied," explained Miss Munger, "makes it easier to maintain discipline and is better for them.

"Most of our trouble, though, comes from the defective delinquent group, which are often psychopathic cases and are subject to sudden tantrums.

"As far as the girls who are here for having illegitimate children are concerned, they have been committed for training and for protection against themselves.

"After all, having a baby is no crime, but our forefathers wrote laws which make it possible to imprison women for sins, rather than for crimes.

We try to help these girls, who have never learned to be careful, or to discriminate between men who are insincere and men who are honorable. But women are gullible.

"The penalty for fornication for women seems rather severe, when you realize that even a man who confesses his share of the guilt is dismissed with a fine or suspended sentence. The woman serves three years at the state farm."

Miss Munger's successor as supervisor of the institution is Elsie A. Shearer, who was with Miss Munger in Trenton, and has been her assistant for almost 21 years.