In my last post, “Young in Years – Old in Crime”, I am afraid I may have left you, dear readers, with the impression that J.W. Johnson’s life of crime was the result of an inadequate upbringing and hellish treatment in his teens at the Boys’ Industrial School in Lancaster, Ohio. I can’t comment on his upbringing, but after researching the school, I no longer lay the fault for his incorrigible behavior on them.
The school began as the Ohio Reform School in 1858 a reformatory for boys between eight and eighteen years old. In 1884, the name was changed to the Boys’ Industrial School.
I confess that my image of reformatory schools in the late 19th century was Dickensian: miserable inmates enduring harsh treatment inflicted by cruel guards and matrons. However, according to the sources I cite at the bottom of this post, the Boys’ Industrial School at Lancaster was nothing like that.
The school used an “open system” where the boys lived in cottages and moved freely about the grounds. They spent their mornings in class, and afternoons working on the school’s farm, or learning a trade.
Although it probably was not a bed of roses,
the school was not a hell hole, either. Bob Hope spent time there as a boy, and from what I understand, he turned out okay. Later in life, he donated a substantial amount of money to the school, so apparently he had fond memories of the place.
Long story short, in my humble opinion, J.W. Johnson’s life of crime cannot be laid at the door of the Boys’ Industrial School. Whether it was the result of his early upbringing, I cannot say. I have no idea what who his parents were or what kind of life they gave him, no more than I know if he reformed his ways in later years. Perhaps some day, I will look into his heritage, and his life post 1907. If you know anything about him, dear readers, please let us know in the comments below.
That’s it for the saga of J.W. Johnson–for now. Here are links to the previous two posts in this series, if you’d like to catch up.
Boys’ Industrial School at Lancaster, Asylum Project:
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