Our Mission and History
The Corporation’s purpose (and hence its Mission) is to honor the work of Hannah B. Chickering, who in the 19th Century dedicated her life to female prisoners and their children. Accordingly, the Corporation shall provide financial support to programs and organizations that address the needs of women and children in crisis, thereby furthering the Corporation’s goal of helping women and children gain health, safety, independence and self-sufficiency.
Hannah B. Chickering
July 29, 1817- July 3, 1879
Dedham Temporary Home for Women and Children
Hannah B. Chickering was born in Dedham, Massachusetts, on July 29, 1817, the youngest of seven children, three of whom were sons and four daughters. She was brought up in the Unitarian belief but early in life became a member of the Episcopal Church from conviction and preference. Active in church and parish work, she had great success in the instruction of children in her Sunday School Classes.
Miss Chickering early recognized the importance of establishing a separate prison for women, where the officials should all be women and a regular system of reformatory and religious instruction should be provided. To this end she directed her endeavors. She invited a number of works for prison reform, and other interested persons, to attend a meeting at St. Paul’s Chapel, Dedham, on November 27, 1869, for the purpose of informing the public of the need of a separate prison for women.
A committee consisting of five men and two women was appointed to take the necessary measures for the establishment of such an institution. The committee members worked zealously for many months and on February 10, 1871, there was a brief hearing at the State House before the Massachusetts Legislative Prison Committee. A full hearing was held on February 24, 1871, and a plan for the new prison presented. Petitions were circulated by a newly formed league and signatures collected from residents of all the counties of the State were presented to the Legislature. The bill for the establishment of a separate prison for women was several times defeated, but finally was carried in 1874. Miss Chickering entered with interest into every detail of the building plans and selected the location of a suitable site.
With the opening of the Reformatory of Women at Sherborn in 1877, Miss Chickering’s immediate work ended. Her strength was failing and it became necessary for her to lay down one thing after another , secure in the knowledge that willing and capable hands had been found to carry on her projects. She passed away on July 3, 1879.
Temporary Asylum for Discharged Female Prisoners
The temporary Asylum for Discharged Female Prisoners came into being as the reality of a dream of its founder Hannah B. Chickering.
While visiting in Philadelphia in the early 1860's Miss Chickering was invited by a friend to accompany her on a weekly trip to comfort and console the female prisoners at the State Penitentiary. Miss Chickering became greatly interested in the work and returned to her home to Dedham, Massachusetts determined to attempt a similar project in the prison in her own town. She became a self-appointed visitor, librarian and chaplain to the women of the Dedham Jail.
Miss Chickering’s experiences in the Dedham Jail made her see the great need for rehabilitation after discharge from prison, as at the that time no attempt was made to prepare inmates for their return to society. She was firmly convinced that because of lax conditions in jails, the women when discharged often were wiser and more hardened in crime than on their admittance. Through her efforts and enthusiasm, she secured the support of many for this new and quite revolutionary undertaking, and the Temporary Asylum for Discharged Female Prisoners was incorporated on April 30, 1864.
Miss Chickering proceeded to inform herself of what had been accomplished elsewhere in reformatory work and corresponded actively with prison workers both at home and abroad. A farm was purchased in Dedham (at what was described an unprecedented low price), consisting of a house, large barn, several good outbuildings, and 25 acres of land. After months of hard work on the part of Miss Chickering and other interested persons, the Asylum was formally opened as a Christian home on November 15, 1864, its initial inmate being discharged woman prisoners from the Dedham Jail. The first annual report of the Asylum contained the following description of the opening:
“A pleasant company of friends interested in the object were assembled, and words of sympathy, encouragement, and God-speed were spoken.”
Thus officially began an unique experiment and the commencement of the Chickering House’s years of service to the community.
©1969 Chickering Fund
James Johnson, Principal James Consulting