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Race and Runaways: Public Perception of Kawailoa Training School for Girls Escapes 1938-1939

Semester: Summer 2023


Presentation description

From the mid-19th to mid-20th centuries, several states opened reformatories for "delinquent" children. White middle-class reformers believed that education on white middle class norms and low paying manual labor would transform "bad" children (people of color, English language learners, poor, etc.) into "good" Americans. Though reformers viewed reformatories as distinct and better than prisons, judges sentenced children to the institutions and superintendents spent considerable effort preventing escapes. In 1929, Maunawili Training School for Girls (later renamed Kawailoa Training School for Girls) opened on Oahu, Hawaii. Kawailoa Training School continued a legacy of forced industrial education for "deviant" (nonwhite, poor, usually sexually active or perceived to be) girls in Hawaii. The superintendent and white public hoped that commitment to Kawailoa would turn "deviant" girls of color into "good" young women, ready for marriage and domestic life.

Using papers from the Hawaii State Archives, census data, and newspapers, this poster explores how varying perceptions of escape and escapees at Kawailoa Training School represented people of color as criminals. Though Miss Field, superintendent from 1938-39, challenged the perception of Kawailoa girls as a threat to society and therefore escape being the highest crime at the reformatory, her framework for Kawailoa gained little support. Public and governmental backlash led to her ouster in late 1939. In the tension between Field and the white public's perceptions of Kawailoa escapes is the assumption that Kawailoa girls were dangers to the public. Since few if any of these girls were committed for violent crimes, the white public concern over their escape is rooted in fear of sexual activity producing more "delinquent" children of color.

Presenter Name: Callie Avondet

Presentation Type: Poster
Presentation Format: In Person
Presentation #1
College: Humanities
School / Department: History
Research Mentor: Maile Arvin
Date | Time: Thursday, Aug 3rd | 10:30 AM