Madeleine Z. Doty, Prison Reformer and Alpha Omicron Pi

Although Alpha Omicron Pi was founded on January 2, 1897, its Founders’ Day celebration begins on December 8, Founder Stella George Stern Perry’s birthday. I wrote a post about AOPi on December 8. If you missed it, see

One of AOPi’s early members was Madeleine Zabriskie Doty. In 1900, she earned a B.L. from Smith College. She then enrolled in law school at New York University. There she became a charter member of the NU chapter of Alpha Omicron Pi.

The members of AOPis Nu Chapter. Doty is the second from the left in the top row.

The charter members of AOPi’s Nu Chapter. Doty is the second from the left in the top row.

In posts in To Dragma, in the alumnae notes section of Nu Chapter at NYU, she is identified as Madeleine Z. Doty ’02. One early post stated that she was writing under the pen name of Otis Notman for the New York Times Saturday Book Review Supplement. In addition to freelance writing, she also practiced law.

I found her in the May 1916 To Dragma, the Social Service edition, in an article which appeared in the April 1916 Good Housekeeping magazine. The article was reprinted in its entirety. Its title,  Wanted – a Mother, seemed nebulous. Here is the introduction to the article, written by William Frederick Bigelow, Editor of Good Housekeeping.

Once upon a time a young woman took her law sheepskin as a license to open an office and offer her services in getting people out of trouble. The usual number of clients came to her, and she was satisfied until it occurred to her that she was doing only what a man could do and probably do better. In other words, her womanhood was counting for nothing. So she decided to turn her attention and energies in a direction where the fact that she was a woman and knew women could count. She chose prison reform. As a beginning she served a voluntary week in prison and came out hating the prison system with an intensity that fired her with an unquenchable zeal. A few weeks ago, Warden Kirchwey of Sing Sing introduced her to a thousand convicts as the best friend the man behind bards ever had. Many of those convicts knew her personally; she had won their confidence and held secrets of their lives that no one else knew. To her they had admitted things that they had lied to keep from judges and officers of the law. One of these things was that the majority of inmates were “old” offenders, that two-thirds of them had, as children, been in reformatories. This being true – and she verified the stories – the best place to work for prison reform was seen to be in the institutions which took young and essentially innocent young boys and gave them criminal tendencies. The beginning of this work was in this magazine last month. Madeleine Z. Doty hopes by the grace of God and the help of good women of America to open the doors of reformatories, to break the connection between them and  the prisons. Will you join her?  

Doty wrote several articles and books about her experiences and spent her life as a reformer. Here is a National Humanities Review review of one of her books:

An epoch making book on prison conditions has just come from the press of The Century Co. in Society’s Misfits.  A member of the Commission on Prison Reform Miss Madeleine Z. Doty, with a friend, spent a week as a convict in the state prison at Auburn, NY. Her description of the treatment of women prisoners equals the account left by O. Henry. The everlasting nagging of the matrons, the unyielding system which took all life and enthusiasm out of the prisoner, the threat of the cooler or dungeon in which women were thrust for the slightest infraction of rules and left for hours, possibly days, on bread and water. All these things emphasize the fact that prison reform is just in its infancy. Miss Doty made a study of 1,700 records and 200 stories gathered from the convicts of Auburn and Sing Sing Prisons. After gaining the prisoners’ confidence, she asked them why they were there. A study of these records and the verification of the stories led her to state that two-thirds of those confined in prison had been as children in some sort of juvenile institution. The pitifulness of the stories told made plain why so many reformatories do not reform. Physically, mentally, and morally, children in institutions were being abused. When not abused, the spirit was neglected. There was no love. Another study of the records reveals the fact that 50 percent of the two-thirds came from broken homes in which either the father or the mother died before the child was 15. Hundreds of lonely little children in institutions exist year after year unkissed, unloved, uncared for. The heart sickens without love the soul grows hard evil enters and society pays. Imagine a system which prevents a child from hearing from his mother more than once a month and not this often if he happened to be naughty in the meantime. Can you imagine a system which allows children eight and nine years age to be beaten to the point of unconsciousness, their wounds smeared over with iodine and then forced to kneel or stand in an awkward position for hours at a time in the sight of all the other inmates?

Doty died in 1963. Her papers are in the Sophia Smith Collection at Smith College. There is a file of correspondence from Dorothy Canfield Fisher, a Kappa Kappa Gamma.

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