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The Eugenics Survey of Vermont: Participants & Partners


Rutland, Vermont

LENA C. ROSS, Superintendent, 1921-1936

Lena Ross, born in Rutland in 1866, devoted her entire life to education and social reform. She taught the primary grades in the Rutland schools for twenty-four years before becoming a deputy probation officer and field worker for the State Board of Charities and Probation in 1918. In 1921, Lena Ross became the first superintendent of the women's reformatory. Over the next fifteen years, she instituted progressive programs for the rehabilitation of women offenders, most of whom, she believed, had never experienced love, respect, or a decent home life. She had the bars removed from the windows of the former "House of Correction" and converted the facility into a sort of group home for wayward women, a tradition that her successors continued over the next four decades. In 1931, Vermont authors Dorothy Canfield and Sara Cleghorn celebrated Lena Ross's rehabilitation program in "Miss Ross' Girls."

The majority of women at the Rutland Reformatory during the inter-war years were serving time for "crimes against morality." Of those, nearly all had been imprisoned for adultery or cohabitation (17 of the 53 inmates in 1929 had been serving time for adultery or breach of parole from previous adultery charges).

Lena Ross was a member of the Eugenics Survey Advisory Committee and the Sub-committee on Care of the Handicapped for the Vermont Commission on Country Life. The Eugenics Survey's 1929 study of the women at the Rutland Reformatory was evidently suggested by Lena Ross.

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