Document 20: "Battle of San Quentin," San Francisco Chronicle, 7 July 1940, "This World" magazine section, p. 5.


        In 1938, newly elected California Governor Culbert G. Olson, inherited one of the nation's most oppressive penal systems in the nation. O'Hare, who had moved to California that same year with her second husband, Charles Cunningham, soon became Assistant Director of Penology under Director John G. Clark. Clark appointed O'Hare because, although she was not formally trained, she was recognized as an expert within the field after nearly twenty years of prison-reform activities. With her acceptance of the position, O'Hare expanded her circle of influence into the mainstream polity where she would have significant impact. During her tenure, California's penal system was overhauled, and when Olson left office four years later, California's prison system was one of the most progressive in the nation. This article described the turmoil at San Quentin and the long-term reforms planned for the prison and the entire state's penal system. It cited Kate Richards O'Hare as "the brains behind the grandiose reform scheme." O'Hare had advocated all of the long-term reforms planned for San Quentin and the California state prison system described in this article in In Prison, written in 1923 (see documents 18A-G). O'Hare's impact on the California prison system was substantial. In 1943, Governor Earl Warren recognized O'Hare's contribution to the field, and invited her to sit in on the State Crime Commission sessions. Kate O'Hare attended these sessions regularly until her death in 1948.

Battle of San Quentin

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        The trouble [at San Quentin] began last July. John Gee Clark, pint-sized Democratic State chairman during Olson's campaign, had been awarded the job of chairman of the Board of Prison Terms and Paroles and later took on the additional post of Directory of Penology. He filed charges with the Governor against the Board of Prison Directors, following several food riots in San Quentin Prison.

        In October a series of hearings within San Quentin's walls began. The Governor, as presiding officer, heard guards testify that 41 convicts had been beaten for refusing to remain silent and motionless on the 22-inch circles in the prison's solitary confinement in "Siberia." . . . .

        Last week Governor Olson acted by announcing the appointment of a new Prison Board. . . . Next Friday the new Prison Board is to hold its first official meeting. Even before the meeting a new deal for felons was under way. The famous spots in "Siberia" were ordered abolished. California newspapers will be allowed to enter the prison. . . . The dinner hour was set [an hour later], so convicts will not suffer hunger pangs before breakfast.

        Even before the new directors had met, a program for California's prisons was announced. The brains behind the grandiose reform scheme were those of Kate Richards O'Hare, assistant to Clark. Kate O'Hare, known to old-timers as "Red Kate," has long been a student . . . of prison reform. She underwent a period of first-hand experience with penal institutions during the last war, when she served 14 months in Federal Penitentiary for publicly denouncing the draft. . . .

        Kate O'Hare has become well acquainted with the evils of the present California penal system. . . .

        The new plans for California's prisons include a long-range program for separation of the 9000 felons into different criminal types. San Quentin will house 3000 convicts (present population 5360) and will also serve as receiving ward for all prisoners. Incorrigibles and "tough guys" will be sent to Folsom, which will be maintained as a maximum-security prison. Youthful first offenders will be routed to Chino, the new prison now under construction east of Los Angeles. . . .

        In addition, it was announced that a cafeteria will be shortly installed at San Quentin, substituting nutritive foods for the rations that have been labeled "unfit for human consumption" by the Department of Public Health.

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