From prisoners to jailers' wives to one who famously ministered at the jail, women were part of the essential history of the 1859 Jail in Independence.
Savannah Lore's presentation Monday to an interested group at the Independence's Palmer Senior Center, “Women of the 1859 Jail,” highlighted that aspect of the story of one of the area's most historic structures. Lore is the archives and education director of the Jackson County Historical Society, which owns and maintains the 1859 Jail and Marshal’s Home Museum.
Perhaps most famously, there’s Mary Bugler, wife of the jailor Henry Bugler, who assisted her husband in tending to prisoners while living at the adjacent Marshal's Home, then promptly assumed his duties for several months after Henry was murdered in 1866 by supporters of an inmate whom they tried to free.
“She did not get a salary for what she did (with her husband), but I think they paid her for when she was finishing his term,” Lore said.
When the jail closed for good in 1933 – it had been open and closed over many prior years due to poor conditions and budget constraints, Lore said – the building was repurposed in part for sewing and canning operations by the Works Progress Administration in the midst of the Great Depression. The women made hundreds of articles of clothing in a month, using space that formerly held several rear cells.
When General Ewing issued Order No. 11 in 1863, several women ended up in jail because they refused to swear loyalty to the Union (in addition to not moving off their land), including 55- and 48-year-old widows, records showed. They were listed – perhaps unfairly, Lore said – as “female prisoner, violent rebel.”
Of one of the widows, Lore said, “She shot at them; she held her ground.”
“Perhaps she felt like she had nothing to lose.”
Over the years, some crimes listed for jailed women speak for themselves, such as larceny or “running a bawdy house.” Others, not quite as clear, such as “using a public highway for immoral purposes” or “parking on private property.”
“It's a very vague record for what women were doing,” Lore said.
One jailed women, Lulu Sullivan, got put behind bars behind multiple times, Lore noted. Her crimes included “disturbing the peace, street walking and public indecency.” Another woman was jailed for blackmailing when she witnessed a crime and tried to get hush money from the assailant.
Some women were sent to the Jackson County Poor Farm, now part of the Truman Medical Center-Lakewood site, to work off part of their sentences, Lore said.
Finally, there's Rev. Mother Mary Jerome Shubrick, who founded the local local Sisters of Mercy community of nuns in the late 1800s. She decided her calling was to minister to prisoners – taking them food, reading to them, writing dictated letters for them.
“She visited so much they gave her her own key,” Lore said, “so she could visit prisoners at her leisure.”
After Mother Shubrick died in 1894, her gravestone at Independence's Woodlawn Cemetery is the epithet “The prisoners friend.”