New York City’s mayoral election of 1913 swept a young reformer, John Purroy Mitchel, into office as the candidate of the Fusion Party. His police commissioner, Arthur H. Woods, pledged to solve the crime problem and quell public disturbances by instituting a series of police reforms based on the progressive principles of “scientific management.” However, one of these initiatives—use of a police wiretapping unit for the clandestine gathering of information—led to a public scandal and contributed to the downfall of the reform movement in New York City.
During the two centuries before 1865, the U.S. South was governed by and for slaveholding planters. Southern law gave these enslavers almost total authority over the lives of enslaved people. The Civil War, however, destroyed the legal institution of slavery and, with it, the legal power of the slaveholder. Southern states faced the question of how to maintain the cotton economy without slavery. Their solution was to transfer the legal power over Black Southerners that had been held by slaveholders to the state.
In 1912, journalist Ida Tarbell wrote an admiring article about Katharine Bement Davis, the first superintendent of New York’s Reformatory for Women at Bedford Hills (commonly known as Bedford Reformatory). In keeping with the aims of women’s reformatories, Tarbell explained, Davis had made Bedford a site of rehabilitation rather than retribution. With “Good Will to Women” and “an apparently exhaustless source of cheerful energy,” Davis had instituted a program of schoolwork, physical exercise, domestic chores, religious instruction, and “a varied program of dances and entertainment.”
Between August 14 and August 19, 1908, the Pennsylvania Training School for Feeble-minded Children at Elwyn admitted seven new “inmates,” part of the yearly influx of new arrivals before the school year began. They ranged in age from seven to twenty and received diagnoses at the highest (“high grade imbecile”) and lowest (“excitable idiot”) ends of the classification scale used by Elwyn’s superintendent, Dr. Martin Barr. During their time at Elwyn some of them learned woodworking, floor scrubbing, laundry, or chicken keeping. Their unpaid labor was crucial to the maintenance of Elwyn’s budget and staffing levels, both of which were stretched impossibly thin. Other “inmates” were deemed “helpless.”
Professionally known as Belle Holmes, between 1905 and 1916 Benzecry led the Society’s efforts to rid New York City of unlicensed medical practitioners. In the words of one newspaper feature, Benzecry investigated “fortune tellers with wonderful charms, unguents, herb teas, and lucky pieces; prophets with direct messages to go a-healing from the blue empyrean itself; practitioners of strange cults, with names especially coined for the occasion; practitioners who are shielding their own irregular practices by the dishonored cloak of graduate physicians.”