Terry Emma: Amazing Girls' School Exhibit Opens July 22 at GHC

A photographic documentary by professional photographer and former Genevan Maggie Foskett of The Illinois State Training School for Delinquent Girls - best known as Geneva's Girls' School.

GHC is pleased to present “Who Was Sadie Cooksey?”—a traveling photographic documentary exhibit that originated in 1979 when professional photographer and former Genevan Maggie Foskett stumbled onto the cemetery on the former grounds of The Illinois State Training School for Delinquent Girls, best known as Geneva’s Girls’ School.

Located south of the railroad tracks on Route 25—now known as the Fox Run Subdivision—the Girls’ School was founded in 1894 with heavy pressure from Chicago women reformers to provide a refuge for wayward girls. Many girls were runaways rebelling against strict immigrant parents and as easy prey for prostitution many arrived pregnant or with venereal disease.

Girls worked manual labor or were paroled out as maids intended to strengthen domestic skills and prepare a girl for her future maternal role. The school closed in 1979 and all that remains today is the cemetery full of crumbling gravestones of the girls and their babies.

A student of Ansel Adams, Maggie was trained in documentary photography.

“My husband and I raised our family in Geneva from 1967-1984, and during that time I photographed town Landmarks. On a dreary fall day in 1979, after the building was condemned, I drove through the security gate, showed my credentials and began to explore a campus surrounded by high chain link fence with barbed wire on top.

Late in the afternoon, in an isolated corner of the fence, I stumbled onto the cemetery choked with weeds and fallen branches, no one had cared for it in a long time. I photographed what I could but never printed the negatives. Age has brought an increasing awareness of what is lost as the clock ticks, and in 2004 the headstones spoke to me, especially my favorite—Sadie Cooksey.”

The headstone photographs portray Maggie’s signature X-ray style and are incorporated in three-dimensional mixed media to reflect the environment the day she took the photos in 1979. 

The exhibit not only provides images of the school but adds historical commentary to give visitors the perspective of what it was like to be a resident.

“All girls are locked in their rooms at night after they have put their clothes outside their doors. The matron says goodnight to each girl and tests the bars on the windows.  Each girl has a room approximately 9 x 7 feet, furnished with an iron cot, a chair and desk.” —Illinois Youth Commission 1954.

GHC Curator, Jessica McTague has been working closely with Maggie to create the atmosphere to best portray her photographs.  Maggie currently lives in Maine.

“What is truly inspirational is Maggie's passion for the project. She offers insight into the school's history while weaving stories of a wayward girl's life and the social stigmas placed on her.  All this packaged in an artful and visually dynamic way”

“Who Was Sadie Cooksey?” is free and open to the public from July 22 through Nov. 5.  A special V.I.P. reception for members only will be held from 6-8 p.m. on Thursday, July 21 with special guest Kate O’Neil, the daughter of Maggie Foskett.  Another great reason to become a member today! ($25/individual or $35/family for an entire year)

A photo book of the exhibition is also available for viewing and purchase ($15.95) at http://www.blurb.com/books/2305281

A special lobby exhibit called "Then and Now" will open with the exhibit showcasing Geneva High School photography work inspired by "Who Was Sadie Cooksey?"

Several programs are also planned to coincide with the exhibit:

Troubled Girls, July 27, 7 p.m. with Author Michael Rembis and his book "Defining Deviance: Sex, Science and Delinquent Girls 1890-1960"

Through the Eyes of Fred Ullrich, August 9, 7 p.m.  A tour with photographer Fred Ullrich as he interprets GHC's current exhibits

Memories of the Girls' School, August 17, 7 p.m.  Former workers of the Girls School will share stories of their experiences.

Stop in and learn more about the Geneva Girls’ School and discover the answer to the question, “Who Was Sadie Cooksey?”

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Mary Bencini July 13, 2011 at 11:43 PM
I am so excited to see this new exhibit. I just ordered my photo book that tells about the exhibit.
Kyla Keime July 14, 2011 at 01:34 AM
Looking forward to this exhibit!
Brenda Moles December 06, 2012 at 11:57 PM
I wasn't at the exhibit in July 2011; however I returned to Geneva Illinois in August 2012 along with a former employee of the girl school. Both she and I found a lot of the imformation and photos we viewed at Geneva Historical Center to be incorrect. Some photos claimed to be of the school and it was clear they were photos of Dwight's women prison. I found a lot of the collected information at the Historical Center about Geneva Girls School to be false and when brought to the attention of the director she appeared unconcerned! I was an inmate of the school from 1967-1971 and saw very little of the TRUTH Geneva Historical Center claims to hold.


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