Fighting for Justice Since 1845

What about women?

As the nation's first organization for systems-involved women, WPA has invented the nation’s most innovative programs, been at the forefront of groundbreaking advocacy efforts, and promoted forward-thinking strategies that always ask, “what about women?” As the need for WPA remains and even grows, we are steadfast in our commitment to empower women as they redefine their lives in the face of injustice and incarceration.

Artist: J. Cameron Ringness
Artist: J. Cameron Ringness
Artist: J. Cameron Ringness
Artist: J. Cameron Ringness

2020 is WPA's 175th Anniversary

In 1845 an abolitionist named Abby Hopper Gibbons saw how incarcerated women were mistreated and created WPA to do something about it. For nearly two centuries we have fought alongside women who have been marginalized by violence, poverty, racial bias, and systems of oppression.

2020 marks WPA’s 175th anniversary. A tremendous milestone, but also a reminder of the long history of injustice in this country. Join us to celebrate the thousands of women who have partnered with WPA over the years and honor the women redefining their lives today.

A Legacy of Innovation

1845

Abby Hopper Gibbons, a fervent abolitionist, establishes the female department of the Prison Association.

WPA becomes the first systems-involved women’s rights organization.

“I have seen with my own eyes, and have heard with my own ears, what they are subjected to; and I know of a truth there are abuses and outrages in all of these prisons, that should never be permitted.”

– Abby Hopper Gibbons

1847

WPA opens the nation’s first halfway house for girls and women released from prison.

1861

Abby Hopper Gibbons volunteers as a nurse for the Union Army during the American Civil War.

“Our regular supplies have been somewhat diminished the past year by the fact that the necessities of our military hospitals force the stream of charity into one channel.”

– 1862 Annual Report

1887

Police Matrons Bill is signed into law, after decades of ceaseless lobbying by WPA, to address rampant abuse of incarcerated women.

1913

WPA publishes “The Modern Way,” a feminist pamphlet designed to expose the conditions of state prisons for women.

1929

WPA becomes one of the first integrated social service agencies in New York.

1931

WPA employs the first psychologist at the House of Detention to prioritize the mental health of women.

1933

Despite an unprecedented economic downturn, WPA remains open during the Great Depression.

“The exigencies of [the Great Depression] have brought their added problems to WPA. Extreme poverty is having its effect upon the groups we work with as well as upon the rest of the community. Shoplifting, by those who have never done it before, now comes more often to our attention. Disaster has come through lack of [job] openings and consequently of self-respect.”

– 1933 Annual Report

1945

WPA turns 100. With World War II happening, the Centennial is commemorated modestly.

“We have, as always, had a warm meal or a clean bed for the girl who needed it. Our services have been extended to as many as we could take care of and we believe that the value of our contacts has deepened. We are proud that we have never, in our long history, discriminated because of race, religion or color. The tranquil association of all in our home has been a tradition with us.”

– 1945 Annual Report

1972

WPA offers an alternative to prison via a court diversion program.

“The people we work with are adults. We treat them that way. We do not make decisions or plans for them. We do not attempt to take responsibility for their actions. We do help to guide in decision-making by providing resources.”

– 1972 Annual Report

1992

WPA becomes the first community partner to AIDS Counseling & Education (ACE): a peer-based program created and facilitated by women incarcerated at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility in New York.

1994

WPA opens Sarah Powell Huntington House, New York State’s first family reunification program for formerly incarcerated women experiencing homelessness.

2012

WPA opens the nation’s first home-based alternative to incarceration program for women. 

2019

WPA launches the Survivor’s Advocacy Project to support survivors of trafficking and intimate partner violence on Rikers Island. WPA advocates for the release of survivors, connects them to services, and trains other providers in identifying signs of trauma and trafficking.