Rippin, Jane Deeter (1882–1953)

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Rippin, Jane Deeter (1882–1953)

American social worker who founded the first women offenders' detention home and was named national director of the Girl Scouts. Born Jane Parker Deeter in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, on May 30, 1882; died in Tarrytown, New York, on June 2, 1953; daughter of Sarah Emely (Mather) Deeter and Jasper Newton Deeter; Irving College, B.S., 1902, A.M., 1914; married James Yardley Rippin (an architect and contractor), on October 13, 1913.

As an advocate for women and children, Jane Deeter Rippin played an important role in developing court systems geared to women and in organizing programs aimed at steering them away from delinquency. She was born Jane Parker Deeter in 1882 in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. By example, the five Deeter children discovered early on that women could be as independent as men; fed up with housework, their mother Sarah Deeter hired servants and earned money to pay them by giving private voice lessons. At the same time, Jasper Deeter sent only his sons to private school, while Jane and her sisters attended the local public schools. Rippin's oldest sister, Ruth , raised geese in order to earn enough money to send Jane to Irving College in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. She earned a bachelor of science degree in 1902 and began work as assistant to the principal of Mechanicsburg High School.

Six years later, Rippin switched careers and took a position as assistant superintendent of Meadowbrook's Children's Village, a Pennsylvania foster home and orphanage. In 1910, she became a caseworker in Philadelphia for the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and the next year founded the Coop, a cooperative boardinghouse, with five other women. A forerunner of modern cooperative living, the Coop soon allowed men to join as auxiliary members; one of the first male members was James Yardley Rippin, an architect and contractor whom Jane married on October 13, 1913.

The Rippins' marriage was a solid example of the principles of equality at work. When Rippin earned her A.M. degree from Irving College a year after the wedding and received an appointment as Philadelphia's chief probation officer, James fully supported her acceptance of such an important position. Her father, on the other hand, felt that her $5,000 annual salary was more than a woman was worth, and disowned her when she disobeyed his order to turn down the job. (Two years later, she nonetheless took him into her home to care for him as he was dying.) Rippin supervised probation work for five courts: domestic relations, women's court for sex offenders, petty criminal court for unmarried mothers, and the courts for juveniles and miscreants. Her innovation of psychological and social testing as well as the designation of an advocate social worker for each defendant contributed to the expansion of her staff from 3 to 365. Rippin continued fighting for social reform and, in 1917, opened the first detention home for female offenders. Unlike a traditional prison, the home offered testing and treatment, a court and an employment agency. Rippin believed that education was the key to rehabilitation. She also attempted to establish a center for alcoholic women (this was blocked by local authorities) and provided family courts with nurseries.

The same year the detention home opened, the War Department's Commission on Training Camp Activities asked Rippin to head up efforts to supervise women around southwest military bases in conjunction with the enforcement of liquor and prostitution laws. She not only enforced these laws, but also formed and directed centers which provided women with alternatives to crime. Her success was such that she became director of the commission's section on women and girls in 1918. Rippin and her staff worked with more than 38,000 "delinquent" women and raised more than half a million dollars in the course of her tenure as director.

A study on delinquency sponsored by Rippin had a two-fold effect: it later facilitated the establishment of the United Service Organization (USO), in 1941, and it awakened Rippin's interest in the importance of organizations specifically geared towards girls. As a means of keeping young girls out of trouble, she became closely associated with the Girl Scouts of America (GSA) with her appointment as national director in 1919. In the course of her 11-year service in one of the top spots in the GSA, she transformed the Scouts, which had been incorporated in 1915 by Juliette Gordon Low , into a well-run, up-to-date organization with a membership of over 250,000. She assisted in the development of the international World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts, and established a continuing tradition—the annual cookie sale. Rippin's failing health dictated the end of her tenure in 1930, although she would remain an active member of the GSA's National Advisory Council until close to her death.

In 1931, she began another career as a journalist and director of research for women's news for The Westchester County Publishers. However, a stroke partially paralyzed her five years later, and necessitated a long period of rehabilitation. Day by day she fought her way back to health by relearning words and sentence structure. She did at last overcome the paralysis and returned to her journalism career until a final stroke rendered her unconscious on March 13, 1953. She never regained awareness and died nearly three months later at her home in Tarrytown, New York.


Sicherman, Barbara, and Carol Hurd Green, eds. Notable American Women: The Modern Period. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1980.

Ann M. Schwalboski , teacher and writing specialist, University of Wisconsin-Baraboo/Sauk County