Mississippi State Penitentiary (Parchman) Photo Collections...

In January 1901 the state of Mississippi purchased land in Sunflower County for a prison. The Mississippi State Penitentiary, also known as Parchman Farm or simply Parchman, became the main hub for Mississippi's penal system. Parchman Farm was in many ways reminiscent of a gigantic antebellum plantation and operated on the basis of a plan proposed by Governor John M. Stone in 1896. By 1917, Parchman was separated into twelve male camps and one female camp, and racial segregation was considered of paramount importance.

The convicts worked ten hours a day, six days a week, and slept in long, single-story buildings commonly called "cages" that were constructed of bricks and lumber produced on site. Most male prisoners were employed in farming, but some also worked in the brickyard, sawmill, cotton gin, and prison hospital. The female camp produced clothes and bed sheets for the entire farm. On Sundays, the convicts would attend religious services and often formed baseball games between opposing camps.

Because of the remote location and vast size of Parchman Farm, a sophisticated system of walls and fences was considered unnecessary. Prison officials would employ convicts they considered trustworthy as armed guards. These prisoners were known as "trusty guards" or "trusty shooters" and were separated from the general prison population.

These two photograph collections, designated PI/1996.0006 and PI/PEN/P37.4, showcase photographs taken at the Mississippi State Penitentiary in the early twentieth century. They document Parchman facilities and activities from 1914 to the early 1940s.

Collection Description General & Tech Data

Collection Description

Almost all of the photographs in PI/1996.0006 appear to have been taken in 1914, and the ones in PI/PEN/P37.4 date to the late 1920s through early 1940s. PI/1996.0006 features sixteen photographs of buildings and facilities, including the women's camp, the #5 camp, and the superintendent's residence. PI/PEN/P37.4 features seventy-five photographs (duplicate prints were not scanned) of prisoners engaged in their regular activities: having a meal in front of a residence "cage," playing baseball, washing clothes, plowing with mules, and hoeing cotton, all under the watchful eye of the armed "trusty guards."

Image Description

All of the photographs were described by the curator. An unknown person wrote notes on many of the prints in PI/PEN/P37.4; these appear in quotation marks. Descriptions may be accessed through keyword search on the Web site and by subject headings through the MDAH online catalog.


PI/1996.0006 was donated to MDAH in 1996 by Pam Gladney of D'Lo, Mississippi, who reported the photographs were originally owned by James Franklin Thames of Mendenhall, Mississippi (superintendent of the penitentiary at Parchman 1935-1939). Provenance for PI/PEN/P37.4 is unknown.


Cooley, Ruby E. 1981. A History of the Mississippi Penal Farm System, 1890-1935: Punishment, Politics, and Profit in Penal Affairs. M.A. thesis, University of Southern Mississippi.

Oshinsky, David M. 1996. "Worse Than Slavery": Parchman Farm and the Ordeal of Jim Crow Justice. New York: Free Press.

Parchman Collections PI/1996.0006 and PI/PEN/P37.4 Control Folders, Image and Sound Section, Archives and Records Services Division, MDAH.