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 Thomas Mott Osborne

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Thomas Mott Osborne

  • Birth 23 Sep 1859 Auburn, Cayuga County, New York, USA
  • Death 20 Oct 1926 Auburn, Cayuga County, New York, USA
  • Burial Auburn, Cayuga County, New York, USA
  • Plot Morningside; Lot 21-22, Grave 12
  • Memorial ID 15776062

Prison Reformer, Political Activist, Author. Best known as a passionate advocate of prison reform, in 1913 Osborne posed as convict "Tom Brown" to investigate conditions at New York's Auburn State Prison. The publication of his diary, "Within Prison Walls", caused a sensation and became the cornerstone of his life's work. The son of farm machine manufacturer David M. Osborne and the former Eliza Wright, a leader in the Women's Suffrage Movement, he was educated at Harvard and in 1886 inherited the family business. In that year he also wed Boston socialite Alice Devens, a happy union cut short by her untimely death a decade later. He never remarried, but remained close to their sons Charles, David, Lithgow, and Robert. In 1903 the merger of Osborne's company with International Harvester freed him to pursue his interest in government, and he entered politics as an anti-Tammany Democrat. Although his bid to become Lieutenant Governor of New York failed, he succeeded in becoming mayor of Auburn 1903-1905, and was later appointed Chairman of the New York State Commission on Prison Reform. During this time he conducted his famed undercover investigation, and soon became one of the nation's leading experts on corrections. Together with ex-convict Jack Murphy, he founded an organization, now known as the Osborne Society, which educates inmates to make a successful transition to the outside world, and also provides assistance to those who have been released. In December 1914 Osborne was appointed warden of New York's notorious Sing-Sing Prison, and during his tenure there became a model of compassionate authority. In 1917 he resigned to conduct an undercover investigation of American Naval Prisons at the request of the Secretary of the Navy. Commissioned a Lieutenant Commander, he subsequently served as Superintendant of Portsmouth Naval Prison, where his sometimes controversial reforms were endorsed by Franklin D. Roosevelt, then Assistant Secretary of the Navy and a key ally in Washington. In 1920 Osborne resigned from the Navy to devote himself to the activities of the society which now bears his name. When he died six years later at age 67, he was buried next to his wife in the large Osborne Family plot. A champion of prisoners to the last, he went to his grave wearing a Portsmouth Naval Prison uniform following a funeral service held at Auburn State Prison chapel.

Bio by: Nikita Barlow


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  • Maintained by: Find A Grave
  • Originally Created by: Nikita Barlow
  • Added: 16 Sep 2006
  • Find A Grave Memorial 15776062
  • Find A Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed ), memorial page for Thomas Mott Osborne (23 Sep 1859–20 Oct 1926), Find A Grave Memorial no. 15776062, citing Fort Hill Cemetery, Auburn, Cayuga County, New York, USA ; Maintained by Find A Grave .