Book Review

Document Type

Book Review

Publication Date



After missing an opportunity as a graduate student in the early 1970s to meet the aged Miriam Van Waters, whose distinguished career as a penal reformer spanned from the First World War to the launching of Sputnik, historian Estelle Freedman now attempts to capture her through biography. Freedman’s effort is a valiant one because Van Waters, a student of psychology, struggled with her own identity and sexuality, and repeatedly pushed away anyone who tried to get too close. One can only imagine how the intensely private Van Waters would have reacted to learning that her most personal conflicts would become the subject of history. She would have at least been relieved that her biographer approached her life with great care and wrote a splendid book that deserves a wide audience.

Publication Citation

17 Law & Hist. Rev. 636 (1999) (reviewing Estelle B. Freedman, Maternal Justice: Miriam Van Waters and the Female Reform Tradition, 1887-1974 (1996)).