Tuesday, March 31

Women's Ward

Saturday My Handyman and I went on a tour of the Old Idaho Penitentiary. It's been years since I've been out there. It's hard to believe that it housed inmates until 1973..
It was a cool and rainy day but we had cabin fever and wanted out of the house. We drove around town and finished a few errand we needed to do. We were driving down Warm Springs Avenue when we drove past the Penitentiary sign. I suggested it to My Handyman and since there was a tiny patch of blue sky and temporarily no rain we decided to stop.

The women were housed with the men... They were kept on the 4th floor at the farthest corner so that there wasn't much traffic in front of them. From 1870 - 1973 the Penitentiary housed 215 women convicts. After one of them got pregnant.... they built the separate Womens Ward. It has its own stone walls built around it with a grassy yard and flowers. Inside the cells are very tiny. I could stand against the wall and reach to touch the bunk bed and reach about 1/3 across the bed. The mattresses were large cotton bags stuffed with tall grass that was cut from the foothills just outside the walls of the Penitentiary.


The most famous woman inmate was Lyda Southard, known as "Idaho's Lady Bluebeard." She entered the Old Penitentiary in 1921, just after her 29th birthday. She had been married five times, and her first four husbands all died shortly after marrying Lyda and taking out life insurance policies at her request. An investigation of the death of her fourth husband, uncovered evidence of arsenic in the remains of all four husbands and her first husbands brother. She apparently boiled flypaper containing arsenic, and then added the poison to the food she served. She was sentenced to ten years to life, and her fifth husband divorced her shortly thereafter. In 1931 with the help of an ex-convict, Lyda escaped over the wall of the Woman's Ward. Once free she deserted her friend and married her sixth husband. Lyda was eventually captured and returned to the penitentiary in August of 1932. She was released on probation in 1941 and received a final pardon in 1942.

I'll post more pictures of the Old Penitentiary in a few days. You can visit the state site HERE.

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Cherie said...

It is a really interesting place. I always look at the pictures of the women and I get kind of a chill.
Those mattresses definately look uncomfortable ;D

Pam Speidel said...

How interesting! It makes me want to know more. :)

Roger said...

10 years! what a slap on the wrist for 5 killings lol! I have toured the old Pen too, but never had a camera on me so cool that you did! :D

Maria said...

Great photo, Michelle and interesting story. Boy the 5th and 6th husband got off lucky! LOL!!


Gattina said...

Very exciting to read, but what a horrible place ! Apparently the sixth husband survived ? lol !