Document 3: Hannah Kent Schoff to Cora Bussy Hillis, 11 January 1902, Cora Bussey Hillis Collection, Ms. 72, Box 1, State Historical Society of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa. Excerpted from Hazel Hillis, "Securing the Juvenile Court Law in Iowa," Annals of Iowa Volume XXIII, 1941-42, 3rd Series, pp. 161-188.

Introduction

       This letter to Cora Bussey Hillis from Hannah Kent Schoff is a prime example of information sharing within the National Congress of Mothers and the juvenile court movement.

       Hannah Schoff was a founding member of the National Congress of Mothers in 1897 and was elected vice president of the National Congress in 1898. She organized the Pennsylvania chapter of the Congress of Mothers in 1899 and served as its president until 1902, when she was elected president of the National Congress of Mothers. She served in that post until 1920. From her vantage point as president Schoff was able to oversee a large array of social reforms as well as direct the juvenile court movement in Pennsylvania. This letter, written shortly after Pennsylvania passed its law, reflects upon the lessons Schoff learned in the process. Schoff's letter to Hillis demonstrates just how careful reformers were to include particular language and intent in their laws. For example, Schoff directs Hillis to the word "incorrigible" which is not defined in this context, but encompasses "'deliberately and consistently unmanageable 'children" and according to Anne Meir Knupfer's analysis allowed parents as well as the court more latitude in disciplining children.[17] It is also interesting to read this text next to the actual law that was passed in Iowa to see some areas where advice was heeded.

   
   
The National Congress of Mothers
                                                                

January 11, 1902

My Dear Mrs. Hillis,

       The judge of the juvenile court sent me your letter to the Court, saying he knew of no one who could reply as well as I.  My desk is so piled up with letters, that I sighed when I knew the reply would take an hour--though of course I am so glad you are working to get the law.

       There are one or two points you must make clearer than ours. Be sure to have the word incorrigible added to dependent and delinquent, because some are trying to make out that the law does not apply to incorrigible children, and that on complaint of parents magistrates may still commit children to reformatories.  This is one of the greatest abuses we have to deal with.  Parents wishing to be rid of the support of their children send them to a reformatory, in many cases wishing to put their support on the state until they can earn money.  Parental responsibility is not encouraged by such a course and it is positively wicked to put innocent children in a reformatory. If you could only see great big men and women swear that a six year old is incorrigible, you would see the absurdity and injustice of such a system, as I do.

       The jurisdiction of all children’s cases should be given clearly to the Juvenile Court and not to Magistrates.  

       I think if I were drawing a new bill I would include in it the provision for the house of detention for untried juvenile offenders or at least state definitely that every county should provide rooms away from the prison where children awaiting trial would be kept. 

       There must be definite provision of this part, and it must be mandatory.  Do not use the word "May"--. Put "must or shall".  Permissive laws amount to very little.  If you send me an outline of your bill when drawn, I will give you any suggestion I can about it.

       The Juvenile Court in Phila is slowly getting into running order. 

       We have rotation in our judges and it will take longer on that account to get them all educated to its best working.  

       Those Judges who have sat in the Court appreciate its importance and value.  We have not yet sufficient probation officers, but those we have give reports of great good done under the new system.  They report improved homes and their visits are welcomed by parents and children.

       Our Children’s Aid Society has acted as a House of Detention until the city can provide one.  It has since July, taken 400 children awaiting trial and at no expense to the city.  These are the children who would otherwise have been kept in police stations or prisons.  This Society has rendered most valuable aid in carrying out the law. 

My committee in the New Century has been authorized to raise a fund of eight thousand dollars for the support of twelve probation officers.  We have districted the city, and as soon as possible shall put a responsible person in each district.

       Already the commitments of children to reformatory institutions have been decreased fifty percent.

       A member of the Maryland Legislature called on me yesterday for suggestions and information. It is his purpose next week to introduce a bill similar to ours in the Maryland Legislature, and to give his undivided attention to putting the measure through.  It is most interesting to see the idea spreading, and we must do all we can to push it everywhere.

       New Jersey is deeply interested.  I have spoken in Trenton and Camden to large and enthusiastic meetings and I think there is little doubt it will be adopted there.

       I understand the Governor of Indiana is personally pushing the subject.

       Iowa is such an intelligent and progressive state you should get it easily there.  St. Louis has such a court and New York is trying hard to get it.

       I have but one copy of my address to the Senate.  I don’t believe you want mine.  I spoke to the House, using no paper, but giving, in the fewest words possible, the reasons for passing such a law.  Facts and briefness is what is appreciated by such a body.

       Another thing: you should have your bill introduced by a man of prominence.  One who is with the dominant party, and who can carry what he undertakes.  You can help by requesting every women’s organization in Iowa to write to their Senator and Representative urging them to vote for the bill.  The Women’s Club of Des Moines should be a help in the work.

       I hope your State Congress will be most successful.  I think you will find it advisable to work on lines pursued by other states, grouping the Parents’ Associations about the public schools.  Uniformity of work will strengthen the National movement.

       I hope you are quite well by now, and that this letter will help you.

*       *       *

Previous
Document
Document
List
Next
Document

| Documents Projects and Archives | Teacher's Corner | Scholar's Edition | Full-Text Sources | About Us | Contact Us |