N.C. Department of Correction--Correction News--June 1998

Elizabeth McCubbin Remembered

HILLSBOROUGH — At a time when North Carolina’s prisons were run by men, the lone female voice in prison management was that of Elizabeth McCubbin. She served the state for 18 years, most of that time as superintendent of the North Carolina Correctional Institution for Women.

McCubbin died April 26th following a prolonged period of declining health.

Elizabeth McCubbin A native of Delaware with a social work degree, McCubbin moved south from Washington, D.C., to Charlotte after World War II.

She became superintendent of the state’s only prison for women in July 1955.

Hope was an essential part of McCubbin’s reform philosophy.

Many who may not recognize her name may remember her as the butterfly lady. She used the symbol of the butterfly to encourage imprisoned women. She argued they could change their lives just as caterpillars change into butterflies. Improved behavior was rewarded with a butterfly pin.

"Anybody listening to me might say, she does talk a beautiful line, but those people, those people...and it's not that way at all," McCubbin said in an earlier interview.

"Fundamentally, you've got to believe that there's some good in everybody, if you can get to it. But it's your lack, if you can't. I really feel that it's my lack when I fail and am unable to reach somebody. Of course, I know I can't reach everybody. Nobody can reach everybody. It takes time and patience and a fundamental belief that there is good in people. But the things some of these people had gone through - all kinds of hell."

When McCubbin first arrived at the prison, there was no place for the women to worship. In short order, the prisoners were allowed to dress up the basement underneath the stage of the prison’s auditorium for services.

With the help of the state’s first lady Mrs. Dan Moore, McCubbin sought donations from women’s groups across the state. In three years, they raised the money needed to build a chapel. The Chapel of the Nameless Woman was dedicated in January 1968.

Even in retirement, McCubbin stayed involved. She chaired the Black Mountain Correctional Center for Women community resource council. Last year, the prison’s activities center was dedicated in her honor.

McCubbin said that working with inmates required patience and caring, but not gullibility.

"I didn't just learn from a book," McCubbin said of her management style. "I learned from living it."

Funeral services were held for McCubbin in Hillsborough, NC.

NC DOC Correction News- June 1998
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