Who was Julia Tutwiler?

Julia Tutwiler

Julia Tutwiler

By now, you have probably heard about the problems within Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women. A recent Department of Justice report points out systemic sexual abuse and sexual harassment at the hands of the male guards.  The report asserts that the inmates’ Eighth Amendment right to be protected from harm is being violated. “Tutwiler has a history of unabated staff-on-prisoner sexual abuse and harassment. The women at Tutwiler universally fear for their safety,” the report states.  (The 36-page report can be read here.)

Investigation into the prison, which is located in Wetumpka, will continue, according to the DOJ.  Wetumpka is located about an hour and thirty minutes south of Birmingham.

Who was Julia S. Tutwiler?

According to the Encyclopedia of Alabama, Julia Strudwick Tutwiler was a writer, prison reformer and an outspoken advocate of education for women. Tutwiler worked with others to establish institutions that became the University of Montevallo and the University of West Alabama.

She was born to John and Julia Tutwiler. He was the University of Alabama’s chair of ancient languages, and she was the daughter of the university’s steward or business manager, in 1841 in Tuscaloosa. Tutwiler’s father believed in intellectual equality between men and women; he sent his daughter to a boarding school on the East coast.  During the Civil War, Tutwiler returned home to teach at a school her father had since started.

After the war Tutwiler attended Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., but had to drop out due to lack of money.  She eventually studied privately with professors at Washington and Lee and earned a teaching certificate.

After years of traveling and studying abroad, Tutwiler returned to Alabama where she advocated for the education of women.  In 1892, she persuaded University of Alabama trustees to admit women.

“Angel of the Stockade”

Tutwiler organized the TBA during 1879 and 1880 so like-minded women could work on reforming conditions at Alabama jails and prisons.  She and her team pushed to separate hardened criminals from less violent ones, and men from women; she also believed that literacy and religious training would lessen recidivism.  Tutwiler also worked to end the practice of leasing convicts to businesses. (The book “Slavery by Another Name,” by Douglas A. Blackmon, sheds great light on this horrific system.) Because of her actions, she earned the nickname as “Angel of the Stockade.”

But Tutwiler had her share of detractors. In 1881, Tutwiler became president of Livingston Normal College (which is now the University of West Alabama), but the school was placed under state control in 1907. She was criticized for mixing personal money with the school’s money and poor record-keeping. She was also accused of being impulsive and hard to work with.  She was eventually replaced in 1910. Tutwiler was also criticized for not speaking out against the segregation of blacks and whites in the classroom.

On March 24, 1916, Tutwiler died in Birmingham.  The state prison bearing her name was opened in 1942.

Tidbit: Tutwiler Hotel, located in downtown Birmingham, is named after Julia Tutwiler’s uncle, Edward.  Edward Tutwiler, who built the hotel, was the founder of Leeds.

Did you know?

Tutwiler’s poem, “Alabama,” became the state song in 1931. Here are the lyrics:

Alabama, Alabama, We will aye be true to thee,
From thy Southern shores where groweth,
By the sea thy orange tree.
To thy Northern vale where floweth,
Deep blue the Tennessee,
Alabama, Alabama, we will aye be true to thee!

Broad thy stream whose name thou bearest;
Grand thy Bigbee rolls along;
Fair thy Coosa-Tallapoosa
Bold thy Warrior, dark and strong,
Goodlier than the land that Moses
Climbed lone Nebo’s Mount to see,
Alabama, Alabama, we will aye be true to thee!

From thy prairies broad and fertile,
Where thy snow-white cotton shines,
To the hills where coal and iron
Hide in thy exausted mines,
Strong -armed miners -sturdy farmers;
Loyal hearts what’er we be,
Alabama, Alabama, we will aye be true to thee!

From thy quarries where the marble
White as that of Paros gleams
Waiting till thy sculptor’ss chisel,
Wake to life thy poet’s dreams;
Fear not only wealth of nature,
Wealth of mind has no fee,
Alabama, Alabama, we will aye be true to thee!

Where the perfumed south-wind whispers,
Thy magnolia groves among,
Softer than a mother’s kisses,
Sweeter than a mother’s song,
Where the golden jasmine trailing,
Woos the treasure-laden bee,

Alabama, Alabama, we will aye be true to thee!

Brave and pure thy men and women,
Better this than corn and wine
Make us worthy, God in Heaven
Of this goodly land of Thine.
Hearts as open as thy doorways.
Liberal hands and spirits free.
Alabama, Alabama, we will aye be true to thee!

Little, little can I give thee,
Alabama, mother mine.
But that little – hand, brain, spirit.
All I have and am are thine.
Take, O take, the gift and giver.
Take and serve thyself with me.
Alabama, Alabama, we will aye be true to thee!

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