The Girls’ Industrial School

February 28, 2010 at 6:50 pm (Uncategorized)

In Central Ohio’s Historic Prisons, the Girls’ Industrial School (aka Scioto Village School for Girls) is, regrettably, mentioned only in passing. There simply wasn’t enough space to do it justice.  It is the authors’ hope that they will be able to incorporate something of the history of the institution into a future book.

Founded in 1869 on the west bank of the Scioto River, GIS occupied as much as 189 acres, including the former site of White Sulfur Springs, a health resort.

C.M. Ginther of the Dayton News wrote in 1920 that: “When the school was established fifty-one years ago, its purpose was misunderstood. Its founders had a definite aim, but, unhappily, the public obtained a perverted notion about it. The idea gained credence that it was a place of punishment where girls from 8 to 21 years of age were incarcerated for disobedience or wilfulness. Apparently no shred of the truth reached the public mind that it was a school in which the best theories of modern education were followed. Girls admitted to the place were, by the very fact, ostracised and given a character which bordered on depravity. When they left the school the public regarded them with suspicion.”  And, yet, the very next year, the school was officially described as a place for “the instruction, employment and reformation of evil-disposed, incorrigible, and vicious girls.”

The picture at right shows the Administration Building.  When I went to work there in 1980, it still looked much the same.  One of my coworkers had taken a job as a teacher at GIS upon graduating from college and moved into living quarters in the Administration Building.  She remained there until she retired some thirty years later and, only then, had to find somewhere else to live.

The buildings that I worked in, although old, were mostly second generation.  Some of the original, even more ornate structures had been destroyed by fire.  A small hospital on the grounds provided routine medical care for the girls.  In fact, many children were born there since it wasn’t unusual for a pregnant girl to be committed to the institution.  On one occasion, I met a teenage boy who had been born at GIS and was later sentenced there when it was (briefly) a co-educational facility.

Not far from the hospital was a small cemetery.  Many of the headstones bore the same date because a number of girls had died during the influenza epidemic in the early part of the 20th century.  As was true of the Boys’ Industrial School, many youth who wound up at GIS simply had nowhere else to go.  When they stopped accepted “status offenders” (i.e. girls who were doing things that were only considered crimes because they were underage), the population shrank dramatically.


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Are there any “Black Sheep” in your family?

February 7, 2010 at 6:01 pm (Uncategorized)

Last week, I picked up a handful of mug shots at a local flea market because the price was right.  I didn’t expect to find any big name criminals in the group and, as far as I have been able to determine, I didn’t.  What I did get was a bunch of guys who were picked up in various towns around Ohio for such things as drunk and disorderly, theft, and vagrancy.  It could be that this was the only time in their lives they got in trouble with the law.

Years ago when I first started researching my own family tree, I discovered that one of my uncles had stolen a car when he was 12.  I wouldn’t have expected it of him given the high regard in which he was held in his community.  But there it was, written indelibly into the court records.  If anyone remembered it, I am sure they chalked it up to a youthful indiscretion and never held it against him as an adult.  (And, given his age and the size of the town, I doubt they took any mug shots.)

When Mike Harden of The Columbus Dispatch interviewed me about my book, Central Ohio’s Historic Prisons, he mentioned that he was in the process of researching a book he planned to write about his uncle who had been a bank robber by trade.  I would expect that his uncle’s chosen profession had once been an embarrassment to the family, but the fact that Mike intends to write a book about him suggests that our views on “black sheep” have changed.

I know I like to mention that I had an aunt by marriage whose cousin was Charles Makely of the Dillinger Gang (Makely was the one who was shot to death while trying to escape over the wall of the Ohio Penitentiary).  However, he wasn’t a blood-relative.  On the other hand, my grandfather made the newspapers at one time for having discovered Dillinger’s getaway car after he broke out of the Lima jail.

Now, if I had a dollar for everyone who has told me that they had a great-grandfather who was an axe murderer, I would have at least $5.  I don’t know what it is about claiming kinship to an axe murderer as opposed to other types of murderers, but I am a little skeptical.  It’s just that the numbers of axe murderers is rather small in proportion to all the other kinds.

Among my group of mugshots, there is only one who had a prior offense listed. I checked them all out on and, but with little success.  I might have turned up social security death records on two of them, but there wasn’t enough information to confirm it.  I also was unsuccessful in locating any of their graves, although most if not all of them are certainly dead by now.  If I were related to one of these guys, I would probably like to have a copy of the mug shot for my files, but other than getting arrested at least once, they seem to have left few traces behind.

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I’m Just A Black Sheep

February 3, 2010 at 2:47 am (Uncategorized)

When he was a “guest” at the Ohio Penitentiary, Harry Ainsworth Dawson was better known as inmate number 54763.  However, that all changed in 1929 when his song, “I’m Just A Black Sheep (A Real Prisoner’s Song),” was published by Joe McDaniel Music, Chicago and New York.  Dawson, who played guitar, sax, and cornet, had teamed up with fellow inmate, Roy Stout, as Harry & Roy.  At first they performed exclusively for the other prisoners and staff, but soon they were heard over WAIU radio in Columbus on the “Prisoners Program.”  Presumably, a local music publisher caught one of their broadcasts and arranged for the initial publication of Dawson’s song.

Originally from Lorain County, Dawson was sentenced to the Ohio Penitentiary in 1925 to serve 15 years for robbery.  He was a former carnival and circus man and played the part of a Jewish comedian in the prison Christmas minstrel show.  He also sang in the International Four and played sax in the saxophone quartet, both inmate groups.  Dawson was paroled in 1929 (just before the 1930 fire) with the hope that he would be able to make a successful career in music.  The same year, his short story, “The Bindlestiff’s Revenge,” was published in issue number one of Smokehouse Monthly.

As the sheet music (at right) shows,  Jack Jackson, the Strolling Yodeler, recorded “I’m Just A Black Sheep” on the Columbia label.  So did the ubiquitous Carson Robison Trio and John L. White, the Lonesome Cowboy.  Bill Dalton played a chorus of the song on the console organ at Loew’s Ohio Theatre.  At the time, Dawson had two other songs performed: “You Didn’t Know or Care” and “When We Meet in the Palace of Dreams.” However, they do not appear to have been published.  Before departing Columbus, he had also composed “The Charity Newsies Song.”

Not much else is known about Dawson’s subsequent career, although he was still writing songs as late as 1938 when Joe McDaniel Music issued, “Only A Broad Along Broadway.”

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