Daily Life at Bridgewater

Inside the walls of the Bridgewater State Farm, inmates classified as defective delinquents followed a rigorous and demanding schedule. They would wake up at six in the morning to do military drills. They would then go to work for six hours, most likely on one of the prison farms, and at five in the afternoon they would be sent back to their cells. Lights would be shut off by eight at night. Along with having to follow a tight schedule, inmates were also not fed well. An inmate at the State Farm called Wilferd E. Besner, said “the food was often spoiled.” Additionally, the inmates were rarely given time to celebrate holidays or enjoy any entertainment. Even James H. Brennan, a member of the Governor’s Council which oversaw state prisons, said that Bridgewater State Farm could be described as a “hell hole.” Inmates in the institution were often physically abused by the guards and relationships between the guards and inmates were strained. The media, however, described the institution in a whole different way. News sources from the 1920s and 1930s painted a different portrait of life at Bridgewater. In 1925, the Boston Globe, described the Bridgewater State Farm as an institution where people would work, were provided with three meals a day, and where good behavior was reinforced. The article did not mention any of the difficulties inmates faced in their day-to-day lives

The image above of the Bridgewater State Farm was taken in the 1900s. The Bridgewater State farm housed inmates classified as defective delinquents, which were mentally ill inmates considered a threat to society. People of all ages were admitted and forced into the institution by judges and the legal system, where they were treated poorly.

“At Bridgewater, defective delinquents were known disparagingly as ‘DDs’ or ‘blue boys,’ the latter term derived from the color of the prison made military-style uniforms that consisted of gray-blue tunics, pants with a single dark blue stripe and visor-less caps”

(Historian Michael J. Maddigan).

The season wheel shows some of the farm work inmates in Bridgewater State Farm did throughout the seasons. For example, during the fall, they would do regular farm work like take care of the cows; in the winter, they would shovel snow; in the spring, they would harvest potatoes, and in the summer, they would collect hay. The inmates did other work; however, these are some examples.

An Uprising Exposes Conditions at Bridgewater

In 1942, at the Bridgewater State Farm, fourteen inmates planned an escape from the institution. During their escape, the inmates destroyed a whole corridor, as seen in the image to the left, and killed three guards. Two inmates were convicted of the murder. They wrote letters explaining the facility’s conditions and how the guards favored and protected specific prisoners. The state investigation regarding the escape attempt and murders mentioned that overcrowding in the institution played a role in the escape. The injustice and the bad conditions at Bridgewater is what led the fourteen inmates to retaliate.

“Two of the boys... wrote letters criticizing conditions in the facility and making allegations about guards protecting favorites among the prisoners, and about prisoners buying favors from guards”

(Historian Michael J. Maddigan).

How to treat people classified as defective delinquents under detention was often unclear throughout the country. The letter above was written by Carl J. Jackson, Director of the Annex for Defective Delinquents at the St Cloud Reformatory. It was written only a few years after the deadly escape attempt at Bridgewater. The author expressed concern with the possibility of inmates categorized as defective delinquents escaping but also worried that guards would use lethal force against them in the way they might against a convicted felon. In both Minnesota and Massachusetts state officials were increasingly concerned with the treatment and status of those designated as defective delinquents. The letter shows that over the years people in charge of defective delinquents units were becoming more concerned about conditions and how to treat people labeled as defective delinquents

Conditions at Bridgewater - Early 1900’s

“Standards of care and accommodation at Bridgewater [were] lower than in state facilities run by the Department of Mental Health”

(Historian Michael Maddigan).

In 1912, an inmate categorized as a defective delinquent at Bridgewater State Farm named Charles P. Navers was killed by two guards. He was beaten horribly, suffering from two broken ribs and a punctured lung, and eventually dying of pneumonia brought on by his injuries. Shortly after Navers’ death, the two guards, Fred J. Sears and John Leather were arrested and charged with assault and battery. They remained in the local jail until November, when they were put on trial and convicted, receiving a sentence of eighteen months in the House of Correction. This incident is one example of how inmates at the State Farm were treated

“[the inmates] are cared for entirely as prisoners”

(Historian Michael Maddigan).

Here is a men’s ward at the Bridgewater State Farm in the 1900s. At Bridgewater, males who were deemed defective delinquents all slept together in one room and were provided with little to no privacy. At the time, the institution was used as a space to send people who could not contribute to society, so inmates were treated carelessly and not treated as individuals

History of Bridgewater

State Almshouse - the State Alms-house was established as a place for the poor to live.

State Farm / State Prison - in 1890 the State Farm gained the name, State Prison, since older mentally and physically infirm inmates were admitted.

State Farm / State prison - the institution was divided, and a new unit called the Satte Asylum for Insane Criminals was established

The Defective Delinquint law was passed

A new unit for females classified as defective delinquints was added to the insitution.

In 1942, at the Bridgewater State Farm, fourteen inmates planned an escape from the institution.

1854 - 1872




1926 - 1954


1869 - 1948






State Workouse - still called the State Workouse, beginning in 1869, the institution also accepted juveniles.

State Farm / State Prison - admissions were limited to the criminals

State Asylum for Insane Criminals - in 1909, the institution was made up of two units, the State Farm and the State Asylum for the Insane Criminals. The State Asylum for the Insane Criminals was renamed Bridgewater State Hospital.

A new unit for males classified as defective delinquents and drug addicts, both female and male, was added to the institution.

The female drug addicts unit closed

The defective Delinquent unit closed

The State Almshouse at Bridgewater, Massachusetts was established in 1854. The almshouse was a place for the poor to live, and only housed people for short periods of time. As time went on, more units were added to the institution. The Bridgewater State Hospital, a unit for men and women addicted to drugs, and those classified as defective delinquents and drug addicts and then, in 1922, a unit for people classified as defective delinquents. People were often detained here for long and often in-

determinate periods of time. Society had concluded that those designated as defective delinquents, were a burden and a danger to society and needed to be held in custody indefinitely. As Bridgewater shifted from short-term almshouse to a detention center where people were some-times kept with no definite release date, conditions worsened and many people began to see it as the worst institution in the Commonwealth