Jen Manion is an associate professor of history at Amherst College and the author of Liberty's Prisoners: Carceral Culture in Early America (2015), which received the inaugural Mary Kelley Best Book Prize from the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic. Manion is also a coeditor of Taking Back the Academy: History of Activism, History as Activism (2004) and has published nearly three dozen essays and reviews in U.S. histories of gender and sexuality. Manion is the recipient of over a dozen fellowships, including one from the National Endowment for the Humanities for research at the American Antiquarian Society on a current project about transgender histories in the long nineteenth century. Prior to joining the faculty of Amherst College, Manion worked for ten years at Connecticut College as a faculty member in the history department and the founding director of the LGBTQ Resource Center. Manion is committed to the advancement of LGBTQ history and participates in numerous projects to that end, currently serving on the steering committee for the Boston Seminar on the History of Women, Gender, and Sexuality at the Schlesinger Library / Massachusetts Historical Society, the advisory board of the University of Pennsylvania LGBT Center History Project, and the editorial board of www.OUTHISTORY.org. Previously, Manion served on the governing board of the Committee on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender History (an American Historical Association affiliate) from 2008 to 2011 and as an adviser on the pioneering 2014 exhibition, That’s So Gay: The Not-So-Hidden History of Gayness in Early American Culture, at the Library Company of Philadelphia.
The penitentiary system in early America exploited racist ideologies, gender norms, sexual desire, and antipathy towards the poor to justify its existence and expansion. The use of incarceration grew as women, enslaved people, and indentured servants—those previously with no legal standing— increasingly claimed their own right to life, liberty, and happiness. In this pattern, we see a precursor to the dramatic growth of the US prison system in the last forty years.