Feminist Legal Studies

, Volume 18, Issue 2, pp 115–136 | Cite as

Dr Mary Louisa Gordon (1861–1941): A Feminist Approach in Prison

  • Deborah Cheney


This article discusses the work of Dr Mary Louisa Gordon, who was appointed as the first English Lady Inspector of Prisons in 1908, and remained in post until 1921. Her attitude towards and treatment of women prisoners, as explained in her 1922 book Penal Discipline, stands in sharp contrast to that of her male contemporaries, and the categorisation of her approach as ‘feminist’ is reinforced by her documented connections with the suffragette movement. Yet her feminist and suffragist associations also resulted in the marginalisation and dismissal of her work, such that Mary Gordon and Penal Discipline are virtually unknown today. Nevertheless, her insights into the position and needs of women prisoners retain a striking contemporary relevance.


Corston report Mary Louisa Gordon Prison Commission Prison inspection Suffragettes Women prisoners Women’s Social and Political Union 


  1. Bailey, Victor. 1997. English prisons, penal culture, and the abatement of imprisonment 1895–1922. Journal of British Studies 36: 285–324.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Barnes, Harry Elmer. 1924. A review of Penal Discipline. Journal of Social Forces 2: 604–607.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Breckinridge, Sophonisba P. 1923. Review of the English Prison System by Evelyn Ruggles-Brise. The Journal of Political Economy 31: 759–762.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Brown, Alyson. 2003. English society and the prison: Time, culture and politics in the development of the modern prison 1850–1920. Suffolk: The Boydell Press.Google Scholar
  5. Camp, John. 1974. Holloway prison: The place and the people. Devon: David & Charles.Google Scholar
  6. Campbell, Harry, Francis Hare, Bedford Pierce, F.S.D. Hogg, G. Basic Price, John Q. Donald, Radclyffe A. Walters, and E. Forsyth. 1906–1907. Critical communications on Dr Mary Gordon’s paper on “The drug treatment of inebriety”. British Journal of Inebriety IV: 154–166.Google Scholar
  7. Chesterton, George Laval. 1856. Revelations on prison life with an enquiry into prison discipline and secondary punishments. London: Hurst & Blackett.Google Scholar
  8. Corston, Jean. 2007. The Corston report: A review of women with particular vulnerabilities in the criminal justice system; the need for a distinct, radically different, visibly led, strategic, proportionate, holistic, woman-centred, integrated approach. London: Home Office.Google Scholar
  9. Forsythe, Bill. 1993. Women prisoners and women penal officials 1840–1921. British Journal of Criminology 33: 525–540.Google Scholar
  10. Geddes, Jennian F. 2008. Louisa Garrett Anderson (1873–1943), surgeon and suffragette. Journal of Medical Biography 16: 205–214.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Geddes, Jennian F. 2009. The doctor’s dilemma: Medical women and the British suffrage movement. Women’s History Review 18: 203–218.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Gordon, Mary. 1906–1907. The drug treatment of inebriety. British Journal of Inebriety IV: 137–153.Google Scholar
  13. Gordon, Mary. 1914. The inebriate derelict: The problem in relation to women. In Human derelicts, ed. Theophilus N. Kelynack, 117–134. London: Charles H. Kelly.Google Scholar
  14. Gordon, Mary. 1919. Venereal disease: The prophylaxis controversy. Paper read before the International Conference of Medical Women. New York, October.Google Scholar
  15. Gordon, Mary. 1922a. Penal discipline. London: George Routledge & Sons Ltd.Google Scholar
  16. Gordon, Mary. 1922b. Prevention of venereal disease: A scheme of modified notification. London: Women’s Printing Society.Google Scholar
  17. Gordon, Mary. 1936. Chase of the wild goose. London: The Hogarth Press.Google Scholar
  18. Green, Barbara. 1997. Spectacular confessions: Autobiography, performative activism, and the sites of suffrage 1905–1938. London: Macmillan.Google Scholar
  19. Harrison, Barbara. 1996. Not only the ‘dangerous trades’: Women’s work and health in Britain 1880–1914. London.: Taylor & Francis.Google Scholar
  20. HM Chief Inspectorate of Prisons. 1997. Women in prison. London: Home Office.Google Scholar
  21. HM Chief Inspectorate of Prisons. 2001. A follow-up to women in prison. London: Home Office.Google Scholar
  22. Hobhouse, Stephen, and Fenner Brockway. 1922. English prisons today: Being the report of the prison service enquiry committee. London: Longmans, Green.Google Scholar
  23. Hood, Patrick (Mary Gordon). 1907. A jury of the virtuous. London: Hurst & Blackett.Google Scholar
  24. Lytton, Constance, and Jane Warton. 1914. Prisons and prisoners: Some personal experiences. London: William Heinemann.Google Scholar
  25. Martindale, Hilda. 1938. Women servants of the state 1870–1938. London: George Allen and Unwin.Google Scholar
  26. Martindale, Hilda. 1944. From one generation to another. London: Allen & Unwin.Google Scholar
  27. Morley, Edith.J. 1914. Women workers in seven professions: A survey of their economic conditions and prospects. London: Studies Committee of the Fabian Women’s Group.Google Scholar
  28. Mayhall, Nym, and E. Laura. 2000. Defining militancy: Radical protest, the constitutional idiom and women’s suffrage in Britain, 1908–1909. Journal of British Studies 39: 340–371.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Pankhurst, E.Sylvia. 1911. The suffragette: The history of the women’s militant suffrage movement 1905–1910. London: Gay & Hancock Ltd.Google Scholar
  30. Purvis, June. 1995. The prison experiences of the suffragettes in Edwardian Britain. Women’s History Review 4: 103–133.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Purvis, June. 2002. Emmeline Pankhurst: A biography. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  32. Quinton, Richard Frith. 1912. The modern prison curriculum. London: Macmillan & Co.Google Scholar
  33. Ramsbotham, David. 2003. Prisongate: The shocking state of Britain’s prisons and the need for visionary change. London: The Free Press.Google Scholar
  34. Ruggles-Brise, Sir Evelyn. 1921. The English prison system. London: Macmillan & Co.Google Scholar
  35. Scougal, Francis (Felicia Skene). 1889. Scenes from silent world: Or, prisons and their inmates. Edinburgh & London: William Blackwood & Sons.Google Scholar
  36. Sim, Joe. 1990. Medical power in prisons: The prison medical service in England 1774–1989. Milton Keynes: Open University Press.Google Scholar
  37. Smalley, Herbert. 1902. Prison hospital nursing, being a manual of first aid and nursing for the prison hospital staff. London: HMSO.Google Scholar
  38. Zimmeck, Meta. 1984. Strategies and stratagems for the employment of women in the British Civil Service 1919–1939. The Historical Journal 27: 901–924.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Kent Law SchoolUniversity of KentCanterburyUK

Personalised recommendations