Harris, Mary Belle (1874–1957)
Mary Belle Harris was renowned for her work as the head of several women's prisons in the first part of the 20th century. Throughout her career, she maintained that women's institutions must assist inmates to become self-sufficient through work training and education in a supportive, nonpunitive environment. As with other penal reformers of the period. Harris believed that most women's crimes were caused by their dependence on men—economically and psychologically—and thus only in institutions run by women for women, could offenders achieve the skills and strengths necessary for independence. Harris's work and ideas culminated in the development, design, and management of the first federal women's prison at Alderson, West Virginia, from 1925 to 1941. Mary Belle Harris, born August 19, 1874, was the oldest child of three, and the only daughter, of John Howard and Mary Elizabeth (Mace) Harris. Her mother died in 1880, and her father married Lucy Bailey, ...