The Duchess of Bedford’s 1919 Committee of Enquiry into Medical Care in Holloway Prison

Rachel Bennett

Presentation at Inside Reform, Policy Event, National Gallery of Ireland, 2 June 2017 

Dr Rachel Bennett (University of Warwick) presented a paper entitled ‘Identifying and Advocating for Women’s Health: The Duchess of Bedford’s 1919 Committee of Enquiry into Medical Care in Holloway Prison’.

When it opened in 1852 Holloway Prison catered for male and female prisoners, however the closure of London’s Newgate Prison in 1902 and the increasing pressure for prison space prompted the decision to make Holloway a female only prison in 1903. This decision also facilitated the broader aim of achieving the absolute separation of the sexes. Holloway became the largest female prison in England but it was quickly faced with overcrowding and a new wing had to be added in 1906.

During the First World War the prison experienced shortages of provisions and medical staff and its wake the site became a site for inquiry and subject for debate over healthcare in prisons. The inquiry of 1919 was in part borne out of concerns that were being raised over the conditions of women being received into the prison.

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