Rooted in Reform

The Seward House Museum proudly presents "Rooted in Reform," our new exhibit for 2023. The exhibit explores the often complicated relationship between the Miller & Seward family and the Auburn Prison (now known as the Auburn Correctional Facility).  Judge Elijah Miller played a crucial role in founding the prison, which was constructed the same year that Miller had this house built on South Street.  Just one generation later, Miller's daughter Frances and her husband William Henry Seward advocated for prison reform and spoke out against what they viewed as the cruelty of the "Auburn System," which had been adopted by other prisons across the country and around the world. 

Visitors can journey through time, from the very beginning of the Auburn Correctional Facility up through the present day, looking through the lens of the family and the prison reform movements that shaped them and the generations that followed. The narrative reconsiders the William Freeman trial, a tale which reveals much about Seward the man and his values. Fittingly, Seward’s criticism of the criminal justice system of the 1840s draws similarities to our still flawed and discriminatory practices. "Rooted in Reform" uncovers difficult and often disturbing stories as viewed from those both on the outside and the inside of Auburn Prison.

The Seward House worked with other organizations such as the Cayuga Museum of History & Art, the University of Rochester, and the New York State Museum in Albany to borrow a variety of collections objects and images for this exhibit. 

The Museum also recently partnered with the Correctional Association of New York (CANY). Founded in 1846, it is the only private organization in New York with largely unrestricted access to prisons and has remained steadfast in its commitment to inform the public debate on criminal justice for nearly 175 years. The two organizations worked together and received a Humanities New York Post-Incarceration Partnership Grant. The grant will be used for projects in Auburn which will examine the changing landscape of places and relationships affected by incarceration through a multifaceted approach. This project combines CANY’s prison oversight and engagement with diverse stakeholders who are impacted and implicated by incarceration and the Seward House Museum’s exploration of the legacy of incarceration. Programming will underscore that the true nature of incarceration can only be fully understood by illustrating the full scope of all constituencies who are affected by it.