Division of Criminal Justice Services

Mary Morton Austin

The untimely death of Miss Parsons left the Identification Division in disarray. The position of Director automatically fell to her assistant, Mary Morton Austin.

Mary Austin Miss Morton was born and grew up in Schodack, New York. She became a Bertillon Indexer on September 15, 1909 at the age of 20, and learned fingerprint classification from Charlotte Pangburn in 1918. On September 10, 1927 she married Charles Austin and continued to devote herself to her career despite the hardships of boarding with her mother in Schodack during the work week and commuting home to her husband in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, on weekends.

Mrs. Austin was a knowledgeable and expert fingerprint examiner. She was a kind woman and a good boss, but by 1936 when she took over the Division, the position of Director could only be held by someone who had passed the associated Civil Service exam. Although Mrs. Austin had taken and passed the exam, she had not done as well as Miss Parsons' former student, Sergeant Cashin.

On August 16, 1936, six months after her temporary promotion, Mrs. Austin returned to the position of Assistant Director, and Mr. Cashin took over the Division as Director.

Mrs. Austin's notable contributions to the Division did not end, however. In October of 1937, T. G. Cooke of Fingerprint and Identification Magazine contacted Corrections Superintendent Mulrooney with a request for information concerning the introduction of fingerprint identification into the United States.

Mrs. Austin was given the assignment. Using old identification records, documents left behind by Captain Parke and interviews with people who had participated in the events, she expanded on the sparse history provided by Clara Parsons and preserved much of the historical data now available.

In January 1939, a request from Sheriff Fox of El Paso County, Texas, who described himself as "a collector of oddities," prompted Mrs. Austin to undertake an extensive search for the first set of fingerprints recorded by Captain Parke. After months of investigation, a fingerprint slip dated "Mar / Apr 1903" and a Bertillon card dated August 1, 1896, were secured for historical preservation.

Mrs. Austin also formalized the phrase "American System of Fingerprint Classification," and wrote the text of the first instruction manual for Parke's identification formula.

Prior to this, training was done on a "learn as you go" basis, with the more senior employees showing new hires how it was done. A few mimeographed instruction sheets were all that had been available.

Additionally, the Parkes had never named their system. It was not until years after the Parkes left that their revised Henry formula began to be referred to as "The American System" among Division employees, and it was not until Mrs. Austin completed the instruction manual that the title became official.

Mrs. Austin retired from the Division of Identification in 1942.

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