Kansas State Industrial School for Girls
|Kansas State Industrial School for Girls|
|Building Style||Cottage Plan|
The Women's Christian Temperance Union established the school in 1889 and it was later acquired by the state. The purpose of the school was to reform economically or socially disadvantaged girls between twelve and sixteen years old. The school taught sewing, weaving, cooking, gardening and horticulture, wood carving, clay modeling, and the general duties of the household. The film showcases the following programs and activities: healthcare and hospital, housework, laundry, sewing, bakery, cooking, religious instruction, student government, dancing, table tennis, roller skating, Independence Day parade, flag drill, folk dance, track and field, and patriotic instruction.
The most infamous superintendent was Lula Coyner, whose cruelty caused the girls to march to the sheriff’s office and demand an investigation. In 1935 and 1936, Coyner undertook a campaign of forced sterilization after becoming enamored with an international movement known as eugenics, a philosophy also popular among the Nazis that sought to prevent those deemed mentally disabled or otherwise genetically inferior from having children. During her tenure, 62 girls — almost half of her charges — were transported about 175 miles away to the Women’s Prison Hospital in Lansing to have their fallopian tubes removed.The reason: Coyner wrote in a 1936 report that girls who “asked to be sterilized” had “serious physical or family handicaps,” such as venereal diseases, insanity, epilepsy and illegitimacy. She later defended her action, writing that it was “the finest service to society the Girls’ Industrial School has ever contributed.” A torrent of negative news stories presented it differently, and Coyner’s replacement, Blanche Peterson, told a reporter girls lived in terror of the operations, which were performed for “absurd” reasons.
Beloit became a training ground for workers from the Topeka-based Menninger Clinic, which became known internationally for humanizing treatment of the mentally ill. The therapy provided a means for the girls to finally talk openly about the abuse many of them had experienced. There was usually at least one young murderess at Beloit, generally sent there for killing an abuser.
The environment began to change because of a federal law passed in the mid-1970s that sought to end the incarceration of status offenders — those whose offenses wouldn’t be a crime if committed by an adult. The practice wasn’t fully eliminated in Kansas until 1983. Over the past decade, more low-level offenders were placed in less-expensive and, research suggests, more appropriate community-based programs.
The Beloit facility averaged just 21 girls in the just-ended 2009 fiscal year, down from 103 in 1999; because of the low numbers, the state was spending an average of $200,000 a year on each girl. In the midst of a deep recession that has caused massive budget cuts in Kansas, like most other places, the expenses for Beloit became just too high. After more than 120 years, it closed in August.
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