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San Quentin Wardens

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1880 to 1951

Note: Wardens prior to 1880 see Founding

1880 to 1883 - Warden J. P. Ames.

The first official warden named. Under him, some semblance of a workable prison system began to take shape. This period witnessed the beginning of use of "Magnetic Telegraph", the teletype of its day... in spreading notice of escapes.

The 1881 Legislature authorized an appropriation of $219,000 for erection of a jute mill, machinery equipment, etc. The latter was imported from Leeds, England; raw jute came from India. The famed mill was the scene of harsh "Task" system for many years. Operations frequently went on a 24 hour schedule. Products: burlap cloth, grain and bean sacks were shipped everywhere.

1883 to 1888 -Warden Paul Shirley.

During his tenure, famed "Black Bart", notorious Wells-Fargo Stage bandit arrived at San Quentin.

In 1883 prison population was 1,220...about 60% Chinese, Mexicans, Indians and other "Foreigners."

1888 to 1891 - Warden John McComb.

He supervised a motley parade of femininity, representing the "Gun Moll" types of the era, during San Quentin's adolescent years.

1891 to 1899 Warden W. E. Hale.

Several riots and escape attempts occurred during his administration. First water mains were laid, and fire protection established.

1899 to 1903 Warden M. G. Aguirre.

He introduced the straight-jacket for punishment, but recommended abolition of coal-oil lamps, in cells, and the old-style arc-lights in the jute mill, replacing them with modern incandescent electric globes.

San Quentin's population, June 30, 1903, was 1529, Increasing demand for grain bags required expansion of warehouse space.

1903 to 1906 Warden T. G. Tompkins.

More guard towers were erected at strategic locations on the Reservation due to rapidly increasing population.

Old style guns were replaced by new type weapons and ammunition.

1906 to 1907 John C. Edgar.

During the great earthquake, in 1906, all prisoners then held in San Francisco jails were bound and shackled, loaded upon the S.S. Caroline and ferried across the bay to San Quentin.

1907 to 1913 Warden John E. Hoyle.

A new mess hall and kitchen were built during his administration. Construction began on new south block, housing 2000 men.

1913 to 1925 - Warden James A. Johnston.

Additional buildings were completed; guards uniforms changed from blue to khaki; prisoners clothes from stripes to grey; first road camps were established. Johnston later became warden of Alcatraz.

1925 to 1927 - Warden Frank Smith.

West block was completed; "Crazy Alley was abolished; new female department was started as well as other improvements.

1927 to 1936 - Warden James B. Holohan.

Extended walls, built a new arsenal, guard towers, fire department building, visitors' room, laundry, etc., were completed.

1936 to 1940 - Warden Court Smith.

Was an administrator at Folsom Prison before being appointed warden at San Quentin.

1940 to 1951 - Warden Clinton T. Duffy.

A Biography written by William J. Duffy, Jr., his brother.

Clinton T. Duffy


A Biography written by Charles B. White, a lifelong friend.

Clinton T. Duffy

Author: William J. Duffy, Jr.

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Last Revision March 2001