Hastings Hornell Hart (1851-1932): Prison Authority, Children’s Advocate and President the National Conference of Charities and Correction in 1893
By John E. Hansan, Ph.D.
Introduction: In 1884 the Minnesota Board of Corrections and Charities submitted its First Report to the Legislature. It was compiled and written by Hastings Hornell Hart, the Secretary of the Board. After his appointment in 1883, Hart inspected each of Minnesota’s 55 jails and even toured public facilities in other states. He set forth his findings and recommendations in “The Jail System of Minnesota” that was intended to shock the Board and Legislature into reforming the jail system. A superb writer, he skillfully wove anecdotes into his descriptions of county jails to demonstrate their deficiencies. Hart was secretary for 15 years and developed a national reputation in penology. In 1893, Hart was elected President of the National Conference of Charities and Correction. In his presidential address, Hart said:
“…Those who are engaged in a great work are often too impatient of the time and labor necessary to make full and accurate records of their work; yet it is these records by which we are able to avail ourselves of the experience, and to avoid the mistakes of our predecessors. It is painful to see well-meaning people expending their strength and their resources in repeating mistakes which might have been avoided by a knowledge of what others have done before them; to see bad organizations, wasteful systems, defective buildings, whose faults might easily have been remedied. It is unnecessary, therefore, to offer an apology for the programme which is presented to you.
“The reports of the several committees will present a topical review of the work in each of the leading departments of charity and correction, and the reports from the several States will show what has been accomplished locally.
“…I believe that it may be said, without exaggeration, that no other twenty years in the world’s history have witnessed such advances in the care of the unfortunate and the treatment of delinquents. Other like periods may have done as much to originate new ideas and formulate new principles; but in this generation we have seen the rapid spread of these principles from institution to institution and from State to State, until reforms are accomplished in five years that would formerly have required forty years, and the danger sometimes is that the newer methods will be introduced before the people are sufficiently educated to make them efficient….”
Biography and Career: Hastings Hornell Hart was born in Brookfield, Ohio December 14, 1851. His parents were Albert G. Hart and Mary (nee Hornell) Hart. Hart attended the Cleveland Institute and graduated in 1867. He later received an A.B. (1875) and an A.M. (1885) from Oberlin College. His first job was as a clerk in the U.S. Indian Service in South Dakota (1875-1877). Hart resigned to return to school and become a Congregational minister. Toward this end he enrolled and graduated from Andover Theological Seminary in 1880 and was ordained in 1881. He assumed pastoral duties in Worthington, Minnesota. In 1883, Hart was offered the position of Secretary of the Minnesota State Board of Charities and Corrections.
Hart was secretary for 15 years and developed a national reputation in penology and prison reform. Among his many contributions: he drafted a law reorganizing the state prison system; he designed a model jail; and he condemned the use of “third degree” in extorting confessions from prisoners. During his career, Hart visited many state prison systems including those of Alabama, Mississippi, South Carolina, West Virginia and Virginia. These explorations and investigations convinced Hart to oppose the “convict leasing system” used so extensively in the South. Under this arrangement, private contractors leased the convicts’ labor from the state, simply another form of slavery.
In his role as Secretary of the Minnesota State Board, Hart was a regular participant, office holder and contributor to the annual meetings of the National Conference of Charities and Correction, for which he was recognized by his election as President of the Conference in 1893.
As a result of his knowledge and reputation in penology, Hart was also elected President of the American Prison Association (1921-1922) and served two five-year ters as American Vice President of the International Prison Congress in 1925 and 1930.
Hart left the Minnesota State Board in 1898 to become superintendent of the Illinois Children’s Home and Aid Society. Later, when employed by the Russell Sage Foundation, he published many articles and books on juvenile delinquency and prison reform. Hart was married several times and fathered seven children. Hart’s first wife was Mary Prosser whom he married in 1880 and she died in 1881; his second wife, Laura E. Love, whom he married in 1886 and died in 1900; his third wife was Josephine M. Newton whom he married in 1902.
Hastings H. Hart died in 1932 at age eighty-one.
Minnesota Legal History Project
Biographical Dictionary of Social Welfare in American, Walter I. Trattner, Editor (1986), Greenwood Press, Westport, CT.
Dictionary of American Biography, Supplement 1 (1944).
Proceedings, National Conference of Charities and Correction (1893). http://www.hti.umich.edu/n/ncosw/
How to Cite this Article (APA Format): Hansan, J.E. (2012). Hastings Hornell Hart (1851-1932): Prison authority, children’s advocate and president the National Conference of Charities and Correction in 1893. Social Welfare History Project. Retrieved [date accessed] from https://socialwelfare.library.vcu.edu/eras/civil-war-reconstruction/hart-hastings-h/