Founded in 1978 as the Immigrant City Archives, the mission of the Lawrence History Center is to collect, preserve, share, and interpret the history and heritage of Lawrence and its people.

Documented During Their Detention: Initial Findings and Research Opportunities Using the Lawrence History Center’s Essex County Jail Records, by Bernard Trubowitz


Bernard Trubowitz (right) is a student at University of Massachusetts Lowell who conducted the research for his Directed Study (under the guidance of Professor Robert Forrant) at the Lawrence History Center in June 2014.

I’d like to thank everyone at the Lawrence History Center, in particular Amita Kiley, Kathleen Flynn, and Susan Grabski for their support and invaluable assistance. They opened every archive to me and proved invaluable sources of direction and information.

Essex County Jail and House of Correction, Receiving Officer's Memorandum
February 9, 1912

Joseph J. Ettor
(IWW Strike Leader)

There is no such thing as “too much information” when studying history. Every document or artifact tells a story or fleshes out a previously studied period, person, or event. Sometimes, however, a set of documents offers up so much information as to overwhelm a researcher. This is the case of the Essex County Jail Record collection, a massive store of documents saved at the jail’s closing. In attempting to learn more about the 1912 Bread and Roses Strike using the records, I answered some questions while coming away from the efforts with even more questions about the strikers and role of the legal system during the strike. Here, I describe the collection, the sorting process I used, and discuss some of the information that can be gleaned from the documents.

Located at what is now the corner of Auburn and Hampshire Streets in Lawrence, the Essex County Jail was built in 1853. The second-oldest jail in the country, with a distinct octagonal design and three three-story wings facing North, East, and West, housed 237 inmates at its peak. Demolished in the late 1980s, the site is now the soccer field for Central Catholic High School. Importantly, from 1853 until its closing, every single file, form, and receipt relating to the functioning of the jail and its prisoners was saved. Despite rumors of incineration, the massive trove of documents was unceremoniously dumped into black garbage bags and given to the Lawrence History Center. The documents were never completely studied. They were boxed up and put into storage, and while over the years a few attempts at sorting the documents by date were made, very little information was drawn from them.

When I began my directed study, I was stunned by the sheer number of documents; there are well over 100,000 prisoner files alone, not counting the repair bills, commissary receipts, pay slips, guard time-clock disks, and hundreds of other forms and files. In addition, there are over 200 record ledgers and books. To even consider studying a specific time period (in this case the 1912 strike), an effort had to be made to sort these documents. The primary type of document is a “Mittimus”, a Latin term for an arrest warrant. Every single prisoner who entered the jail had a mittimus filled out, a tri-fold document roughly 8 x 3 ¼ inches in dimensions when closed. While the attached documents and specific details of the form varied over the decades, they all contained basic information regarding the inmate, crime, and any legal proceedings. By 1912, a standard mittimus included an additional form glued inside, which contained the officer’s writ and a typed form documenting the prisoner’s information. This is called the “Receiving Officer’s Memorandum”.

LHC summer program, "History Alive for Lawrence Youth", is underway!


Thanks to the Betty Beland Greater Lawrence Summer Fund (GLSF), students from the Greater Lawrence Technical High School and YouthBuild are currently participating in the Lawrence History Center summer program, History Alive for Lawrence Youth!

Led by LHC archivist Jennifer Williams with assistance from Lesley University intern Andy Scott, the summer program supports LHC's efforts to link the rich history of Lawrence to current local, regional, and nationally themes in order to create more fulfilling lives for students and residents; to propel them forward toward greater accomplishment.

Students are being supported in documenting their life stories as they relate to the broader history of Lawrence. Their stories will be expressed not only through text, but also artwork. They will do this by writing a timeline of their lives, conducting interviews with family members and research using primary source materials in our archive. They will have the opportunity to take photographs of important people and places in their lives, and create original artwork that they feel represents their story. The result will be a poster detailing their history, as well as a presentation of that poster in front of their families and friends.

Through this program students are gaining valuable knowledge about themselves, their families, their culture, and the city in which they live. As they progress students will analyze this knowledge and integrate it into a coherent narrative of their lives; they will creatively express their interpretations and feelings regarding this knowledge; and they will improve their writing, researching, and public speaking skills.

Nearly half way through the program, students and staff are enthusiastic and engaged. We look forward to hearing about their discoveries!!

ECCFLogo_grantee_web.jpg"History Alive for Lawrence Youth" is partially funded by the ECCF Betty Beland Greater Lawrence Summer Fund (GLSF).

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