Date of Award


Document Type

Thesis - Open Access

Degree Name

MA in Women's History


Women’s History Graduate Program


“From a Whisper to a Rebellion” examines the history of the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility in Bedford Hills, New York. It is not a chronological history. Instead this thesis is intended to wedge open spaces in the study of carceral institutions within the United States. Bedford’s past as a model reformatory cum maximum-security prison for women charts the expansion and transformation of the penal system within the United States during the twentieth century. I examine three specific themes in an attempt to situate the current discussion of mass incarceration within a broader history of penal institutions. These include: the spatial and temporal components of punishment; the phenomenon of interracial same-sex coupling; and riots, prison protests, and resistance. By contextualizing Bedford’s place in the annuals of penology and penal practices, we begin to see the ways in which gender, race, and sexuality construct carceral spaces. In addition, by examining histories of rebellion within these spaces, we can attempt to map both the growth of the modern prisoners’ rights movement and its successes or failures. Most importantly, this work is intended to re-center the experiences of individuals forced to make a home out of a nightmare. Their voices and histories merit investigation.