The Federal Reformatory for Women at Alderson, West
Virginia in the 30’s, 40’s and even the 50’s stressed the notion of a
normal family life in their life skills training. The definition of
“normal” was, of course that of the definer, and may have borne little
resemblance to the life needs of the inmate.
In any event, “Home-Making Skills” were for many inmates deemed to be a
need in the treatment program of, and a family atmosphere was a vital part
of the early institution life.
Each group of two or three Cottages had one cottage with a Kitchen and a
Dining Room to serve the others. Meals were eaten at tables for four
persons, proper table manner and decorum were required of the diners, and
even cloth napkins were used! Food was prepared on a large coal-burning
stove that had to be lit each morning using kindling wood and paper to
ignite the coal!
The Officer in the Cottage was required to rise at 5:30 AM, (they had
spent the night in the cottage in the room and bath provided for them),
and light the fire in the cook stove, put on a pot of coffee and awaken
her kitchen workers. They would then prepare breakfast for the rest of the
women residing in the cottages.
Since the officers assigned to the kitchen cottages were not required to
be good cooks and because many of the inmate were little better, an
indispensable item in all of the Kitchens was a well-used, much
food-stained copy of Rombauer and Beckers, “The Joy of Cooking”!
In the late 50’s or early 60’s a central kitchen and dining facility was
built and the days of the Kitchen Cottages were over! With the large steam
cauldrons and ovens now being used, there was little need for a two-quart
sauce pan in the modern era of correctional food service. Old faithful
pot, pans, skillets, ladles and serving dishes were stored in the Old
Chicken House at the Farm, (with other reminders of the past), there they,
like “Little Boy Blue”, waited!
Cletis Shawver and I liberated most of the tattered copies of the “Joy of
Cooking” and made gifts of them to the officers who had spent much time in
those kitchen cottages. My wife Pearl, although she was never in Food
Service, has a copy, tattered and torn, a poor excuse for a book. For
Christmas in 1973, I bought her a copy of a newer addition, but her old
copy has the place of honor among the several feet of cookbooks on her
kitchen shelf! Several years later, the surplus kitchen items stored the
farm were finally offered for sale as junk. I bought all the smaller
kitchen and serving pieces as a lot from the Junk Dealer, (Surplus Navy
silver -plate, au gratin dishes, bowls, sugar bowls and creamers, tea pot
and cocoa pots galore for $5.00)! I enjoyed giving the pieces to those who
knew the history of what they were. I remember I gave “Sis” Simmons a
large covered cream pitcher; she kept it on her coffee table.