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Auburn Prison Ledgers

An inventory of the collection at Syracuse University

Finding aid created by: MRC
Date: 25 Mar 2008

Biographical History

The correctional facility in Auburn, New York opened in 1817. "The Auburn System" was intended as a new (i.e. tougher) approach to prison, and included policies such as flogging, isolation, lockstep marching, striped uniforms, and rigorously enforced silence. Auburn was the first prison to turn a profit by leasing the labor of its convicts to local manufacturers (products that came out of the Auburn prison factory included nails, barrels, clothing, shoes and boots, carpets, buttons, carpenters' tools, steam engines and boilers, combs, harnesses, furniture, brooms, clocks, buckets and pails, saddle trees, wagons and sleighs, threshing equipment, rifles, and -- at one point -- silkworms and silk). Auburn also has the dubious distinction of being the first prison to install and use the electric chair.

Women prisoners at Auburn suffered particularly dire conditions and were not exempt from physical punishment. In the early days, women prisoners at Auburn were relegated to the dark and airless attic; a matron was not hired until 1832, and even then the legislature refused to appropriate funds to pay. In 1838 all women prisoners were transferred to the new female unit opened at Sing Sing, but they returned in 1894 when the Auburn Asylum was closed and converted to a women's prison. The Auburn Prison for Women remained in operation from then until 1933, when a new maximum-security wing opened at Bedford Hills.

Flogging at the Auburn facility was outlawed in 1847 and convict contract labor in 1894. In 1913 Thomas Mott Osborne, mayor of Auburn, was appointed to the newly created State Commission for Prison Reform and, after an undercover stint as an inmate, introduced numerous reforms -- including inmate self-government -- that were later adopted at many other correctional facilities. The prison operates today as the "Auburn Correctional Facility."

[Portions of this background adapted from the brochure "Both Sides of the Wall," published by the Cayuga Museum.]

Scope and Contents of the Collection

The Auburn Prison Ledgers consists of two volumes. The first volume is a financial ledger, detailing purchases and expenditures including rations, furniture, salaries, and other financial matters pertaining to the women's prison. The second volume includes reports, charts, statistics, and other material. Much of this second volume pertains to the men's prison.


Access Restrictions:

The majority of our archival and manuscript collections are housed offsite and require advanced notice for retrieval. Researchers are encouraged to contact us in advance concerning the collection material they wish to access for their research.

Use Restrictions:

Written permission must be obtained from SCRC and all relevant rights holders before publishing quotations, excerpts or images from any materials in this collection.

Subject Headings

Corporate Bodies

Auburn Prison.


Prisons -- New York (State)
Women prisoners.

Genres and Forms

Ledgers (account books)


Prison administration.

Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Preferred citation for this material is as follows:

Auburn Prison Ledgers,
Special Collections Research Center,
Syracuse University Libraries

Acquisition Information

1904-1905 volume purchased with funds from the Blackman Fund, 2008. 1920 volume purchased, 1989.

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