Saturday, March 28, 2015

The Superintendents & Their Legacies

Preston School of Industry, Ione, CA-
In previous blog posts and also mentioned within my book "Behind The Walls," I touch on the subject of mistreatment to the wards, under the supervision of the acting superintendents.

The first superintendent. E. Carl Bank, was accused of mistreatment only after he fired some of his employees at the school. There really wasn't enough evidence to prove the case, so nothing was done.  Bank was booted out of his position in favor of Edward Stephen O'Brien, for sheer political reasons, leaving many to wonder if the accusations of mistreatment were just a farce to soil his reputation.  Unfortunately, the era of actual abuse and mistreatment was just about to begin at Preston. The second superintendent, E.S. O'Brien ruled with an iron fist and it was his reputation that brought such reproach to the school that it was dubbed, "The Preston School of Scandal." His methods of torture and abuse was unfathomable, making his role at Preston, not that of just a superintendent, but that of a tyrant as well.  (To read about E.S. O'Brien, click here.)

Even after several affidavits to the authorities from not only wards, but staff and doctors who had good standing in the community, nothing seemed to happen. Even the Governor himself couldn't touch O'Brien. It seemed he had some friends in really high places, which kept him out of reach for any sort of disciplinary action.  Eventually though, the media attention he was getting must have got the better of O'Brien, so he resigned from his position, but not before threatening everyone that if he was continually smeared any further in the papers, that he would sue them.

The next superintendent to take on the job was D.S. Hirshberg. His time at Preston, January 1, 1898 up to December 15, 1900, was not without its share of scandals.  According to the Preston School of Industry's Biennial Report for 1896-1898, the "Corporal Punishment" section reads:

 “When low or base things are practiced , it becomes necessary to resort to vigorous punishment, which, however, is inflicted with discretion.”
 It goes on to say:  “Punishment is never inflicted without knowledge or authority of the Superintendent, and always in his presence, but never by him.”

On his watch, there was the ingenious escape of  Robert Byrd, and also the death of Joseph Morgan, a ward who was killed while attempting to escape. Those events alone brought so much unwanted attention, along with Hirshberg's open view of corporal punishment, making it necessary for him to resign his post and pass the torch to yet another superintendent.

C.B. Riddick entered the scene on December 16, 1900.  During Riddick's time at Preston there was only one reported death of a ward, June 24, 1902.  The young man's name was John Lawne, and his cause of death was reported in the Biennial Report as tuberculosis. The feat that Riddick managed to hold down his post at Preston for nearly four years without any sort of scandal was impressive, given the reputation of his predecessors. The Amador Ledger spoke of this accomplishment in an article mentioning Riddick's resignation in 1903.

"Superintendent Riddick Resigns-- The San Francisco Chronicle says that J.B {sic} Riddick, who for the past four years has filled the responsible position of superintendent of the Preston Reform school at Ione, has sent in his resignation, to take effect in December next. With many who desire the welfare of the institution, this action on the part of the superintendent will be regretted. The place is an arduous one; not every good man can manage a reformatory of this kind with credit. It must be admitted that under Dr. Riddick's care the school has been free from the rumors of scandal and mismanagement  that have marked it in previous years.The boys have been contented and happy; the attempts to escape have been few. That he has not pleased everyone is not to be wondered at.  That feat is beyond human accomplishment. Public interests will be well served if his successor proves as capable and efficient in the management of the school as the retiring superintendent has proved himself."----- Amador Ledger, September 25, 1903

When I wrote my book, "Behind The Walls," I hadn't been able to find a lot of information in regards to the fifth superintendent, W. T. Randall.  The only story I found at the time Randall was superintendent, was a story about a ward, Joe Pires, who claimed to have been wrongfully committed. He stated that he never had a trial, but instead was forced to plead guilty to petty larceny to a Justice of the Peace in Santa Barbara and immediately shipped off to Preston. He filed a petition on the basis of habeas corpus, but I was unable to find any outcome of this young man's case. In my past research, the only other information I found was that Randall retired in 1909, claiming that he wished to devote  more time for educational work at Berkeley, but I have found that couldn't have been further from the truth. An article in the San Francisco Call, enlightens the subject with more detail as to the real reason why Randall retired from Preston. 

"Sacramento, November 19.--- Dr. William T. Randall, former superintendent of the Preston School of Industry at Ione, did not resign of his own accord to pursue educational work in the bay cities, but gave up his position under pressure following an investigation held by the governor and the trustees of the reform school.

Mistreatment of the boys under him was one of the charges brought against Doctor Randall. Another was that he favored the Free Methodist sect in the appointment of teachers on the school staff. These charges by Dr. J.K. McLean of Oakland and Rev. Charles A. Ramm of San Francisco, were kept secret by the investigators by agreement. Secretary of the Board of Examiners Deming  admitted that pressure had been brought to bear in Doctor Randall's case.

"Doctor Randall's conduct of the school was above reproach," said Deming. "The only thing that could be said against him was that he was a little too severe with some of the boys. The worst thing he did was to imprison one boy for 90 days in a room in an attic. There were other things not quite so severe.  We did not suspect any of this until the state board of charities and corrections investigated complaints that had been sent to it. Its charges were in turn investigated by the governor and the trustees, and it was agreed that Doctor Randall should resign. He would not agree that he was wrong, and that was the only course left open to him."--- San Francisco Call, November 20, 1909.

The horror stories would not stop with Randall's resignation. No, the Preston School of Industry would continue to carry on its reputation for scandal and mistreatment for many years to come....

(© Copyright 2012-2015, J’aime Rubio, Originally published either on blog “Dreaming Casually” by J’aime Rubio, on my Facebook Page or in the book “Behind The Walls- A Historical Exposé of The Preston School of Industry” by author, J’aime Rubio.)  All rights reserved. No part of this blog may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means without prior written permission by the author/publisher, J’aime Rubio. 

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