The Magdalene Asylums
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The Magdalene Asylums

Children who misbehaved were told to mend their ways or they would be doing laundry with the sisters. Known as maggies there was a saying that ‘bad girls do the best sheets’.

In 2003 a portion of a Dublin convent was sold to real estate developers by a order of nuns. Found on the grounds were 133 unmarked graves of women. These women were virtual slaves in a Catholic Church run institution called the Magdalene Laundries.

Named after Mary Magdalene this network of laundries was set up in the 19th century to house and rehabilitate prostitutes and then as a orphanage for abandoned children due to the Potato Famine of the 1840’s. It was turned into a workhouse for young girls who had offended the countries moral code in a variety of ways.

Behind convent walls young girls were confined for perceived sins of the flesh. Some for just years while others spent their lives there working long hours for no pay. The reasons behind their incarceration could be that they were over sexed, flirtatious or even too attractive.

Few people knew the asylums existed and so much of what went on behind their walls remains a mystery. The women were watched so they couldn’t escape and broken glass was mortared into the cement walls around the place. The only way out was to be claimed by a relative but that didn’t happen often.

Called penitents or “Magdalene’s” they were to scrub away their sins by cleaning the laundry of the local orphanages, prisons, churches and businesses. Operated by the Sisters of Mercy in Ireland they used the proceeds for their order.

The Magdalene Laundries came into being during the Victorian Ireland. A time when Ireland was a colony of England. Respectability was paramount and women were not allowed to do many things needless to say have enjoyable sex if any.

The strict moral code dictated by the Catholic church made a women’s life hard and young girls who followed their own seemingly depraved inclinations instead of the strict doctrine of the church were given over to the laundries at the least provocation.

And for defenders of the laundries they stress that it could be seen as an act of kindness to be locked up in a society where a fate worse than death was prostitution. Placement in these places were actually looked upon as being for the victim’s own good.

Children who misbehaved were told to mend their ways or they would be doing laundry with the sisters. Known as maggies there was a saying that ‘bad girls do the best sheets’. 

There are only estimates as to the amount of females that were sent to the laundries for the religious orders refuse to make the records available and the women’s names were usually changed by the nuns. At least 30,000 women were sent to these laundries, the last one was not closed until 1996.


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Comments (3)

Excellent discussion of this disturbing chapter in history. Peter Mullen's film the Magdalen Sisters gives a good account of this.

An interesting share and very well executed. Voted

Wow, this is really great work. Good job.