Women in Convict Camps

Female prisoners were doubly burdened, performing domestic duties in prison camps and in the homes of white families in addition to strenuous manual labor alongside male prisoners. They cooked, cleaned, and washed and mended clothes. Even while performing demanding and dangerous tasks like breaking rock, shoveling and hauling wet clay, and baking brick near extremely hot kilns, female prisoners were expected to wear “female clothing.”

Georgia was not only one of the first states to use female convict labor for railroad construction; it also built the first all-female convict camp in 1885. Located in Atlanta, the camp housed female convicts who were required to make the 40,000 odd bricks used to build the adjacent Fulton County Almshouse. In another female camp, the Bolton Broom Factory, women produced brooms. The number of Black female prisoners far surpassed the number of white female prisoners. While large numbers of Black men were arrested for vagrancy, many Black women were charged with minor offenses such as arguing or using profane language in public.

These women lived in constant fear of sexual assault. Men and women, Black and white, were often chained together at night and slept in the same bunks. In an attempt to mitigate sexual relations and sexual assaults between inmates, and to curb the high pregnancy rate, the state adopted new rules for the penitentiary companies. These rules did little to protect female prisoners from sexual abuse by wardens, however.