NASW Foundation National Programs
NASW Social Work Pioneers®
Jessie Donaldson Hodder (1867 - 1931)
Photo printed with permission from Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University.
Jessie Donaldson Hodder was a pioneering reformer in the areas of child welfare, medical social service and criminal justice. She was best known for her innovative contributions to the welfare of incarcerated girls and women as superintendent of the Massachusetts Reformatory for Women from 1911-1931. While there, Hodder embraced significant reforms in education, social service delivery, scientific management and legislative advocacy.
Hodder arrived in Boston in 1906 and became a house mother (or matron) at the Industrial School for Girls in Lancaster, Massachusetts. She helped change the school into a model of progressive reform in housing young women charged with delinquency and vagrancy and defied prevailing customs that required the institutionalization of illegitimate children. She also took the innovative stance that fathers should be sued for child support.
In 1907, Hodder served as an outpatient counselor at Massachusetts General Hospital. She was appointed Superintendent of the Massachusetts Prison and Reformatory for Women in 1911. During her tenure, she shortened the work day to allow for creative and therapeutic activities. She also valued the contributions of sociology and psychology to understand delinquency and formulate effective and humane policies.
The institution remains open and is known as the MCI-Framingham.
Significant Achievements and Awards
Jessie Hodder frequently delivered papers at the conferences of the National Conference on Social Welfare and the National Prison Association. In 1921, she visited and wrote about her impressions of European women’s prisons and reformatories.
In 1925, Hodder served as a delegate to the International Prison Congress, held in London. She was appointed to the National Crime Commission in 1927 by President Calvin Coolidge and to the Wickersham Commission on Law Observance and Enforcement in 1929 by President Herbert Hoover.
Hodder, J. D. (1909). What is being done for girls who go wrong. The Pedagogical Seminary, 16(3), 361-366.
Hodder, J. D. (1920). Indenture of Prisoners: An Experiment. Journal of the American Institute of Criminal Law and Criminology, 29-32.