Graduation Year


Document Type

Open Access Senior Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts


Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies

Reader 1

Piya Chatterjee

Reader 2

Jih-Fei Cheng

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Rights Information

© 2019 Emma J. Stammen


This thesis aims to connect and analyze primary sources that contain untold histories and experiences of people incarcerated in women’s prisons in the US and Britain, from the Victorian period to the modern era. By exploring, compiling and sharing various secondary and primary texts as evidence, I hope to contribute to a better understanding of the historical and ideological constructions of the American women’s prison as we know it today. In this thesis, I argue that analyzing and understanding the historical and ideological constructions of the modern women’s prison are critical practices for theoretical and activist frameworks that seek prison abolition. Religion, benevolence, and early 19th century ideals of white femininity and womanhood produced a powerful discourse, even a guise, under which the processes of gendering and racialization, and the criminalization of queer, working class, and “unhealthy” bodies became institutionalized in the US prison system. Furthermore, recounting and analyzing historical and contemporary acts of resistance by queer inmates of color in New York and Washington State women’s prisons further exposes carcerality’s foundation in (hetero)normativity. I focus on these histories in order to challenge and deconstruct modern ideologies of carceral feminism, gender-responsive prisons, benevolent feminism, and other reform efforts that work to maintain the presence of women’s prisons and the power of the overall carceral state.