How Ireland’s Magdalene laundries enslaved and abused ‘fallen’ women for centuries

From 1765 to 1996, Ireland’s laundry institutions claimed to help vulnerable women and girls. Instead, they were forced to live in prison-like conditions.

Unknown/Wikimedia CommonsGirls and even babies were sent to the Irish Madeleine Asylums.

In 1993, a Dublin convent sold a plot of land. But when the developers began to investigate, they uncovered a decades-old scandal.

Beneath the Irish soil lay a mass grave which, according to irish center, contained 155 bodies. Most did not have a death certificate. An investigation revealed that the tomb buried women who had been sent to the Magdalena laundries.

These “asylums”, meant to reform women, instead abused them. For more than 230 years, girls living in laundromats were forced to work without pay and live in appalling conditions without going to school.

Laundry Woman

Unknown/Wikimedia CommonsAn early 20th century photograph of women washing clothes in a Magdalena nursing home.

When the scandal broke, nursing home survivors came forward to condemn the practice.

“You didn’t know when the next beating was going to come,” survivor Mary Smith later said in an oral history by Irish Research Council.

Like many survivors, Smith was not a criminal. She was sent to a Magdalene laundry in Cork after being raped.

The history of the laundries of the Madeleine in Ireland

The Magdalena laundry system dates back to the mid-18th century. Ireland’s first asylum was opened in Dublin in 1765 with the intention of preventing prostitution. The asylum housed single mothers and women having premarital sex, hoping to keep them from slipping into sex work. Some parents sent their daughters to these nursing homes to hide pregnancies out of wedlock.

During this earlier period, the women stayed in the asylums for a short time. They learned a specialized trade to support themselves after their release. And many entered nursing homes by choice.

Gate of the Sisters of Charity

Wikimedia CommonsIn County Cork, the Religious Sisters of Charity had a laundry.

But the Magdalena nursing homes ended up becoming long-term prisons for women rejected by society. When the Republic of Ireland declared its independence in 1922, the laundries had become a for-profit system run by four religious groups: the Sisters of Mercy, the Sisters of Charity, the Sisters of the Good Shepherd and the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity. .

Laundromats of the Girls of the Magdalena

Ireland’s Magdalene laundries promised to reform “fallen” women. But who was sent to the asylums?

The nuns who ran the asylums took in “promiscuous” women. That category included single mothers and their children. People incarcerated in the convents also included victims of sexual abuse, women considered too flirtatious, women with disabilities, orphans, and poor children.

While the Magdalena laundries were run almost entirely by Catholic nuns, according to History the Irish government helped pay for them in exchange for laundry services. And the government also sent women to asylums, including patients in mental hospitals and state wards.

In the laundry system, the Catholic nuns vowed to reform their charges through harsh methods.

Suffering was penance for sin, the nuns of the Magdalena laundries preached. So the girls were forced to work long hours without pay, according to the New York Times.

Local businesses, public hospitals, and government agencies left their clothing at the convents. The girls washed and ironed the clothes. If they refused to work, the nuns withheld food or physically abused the girls.

“Redemption can sometimes involve a variety of coercive measures,” writes historian Helen J. Self of laundromats in Prostitution, Women and Misuse of the Law: The Fallen Daughters of Eva“including skinheads, institutional uniforms, bread and water diets, restricted visitation, supervised correspondence, solitary confinement, and even flogging.”

Laundry Ledger Customers

The Little Dublin MuseumA ledger listing the girls and women in a Magdalene laundry in Dublin.

“Survivors speak of being constantly under surveillance, being verbally insulted, feeling cold, having a poor diet, and enduring humiliating and inadequate hygiene conditions,” the advocacy organization states. justice for cupcakes. “None of the girls received an education.”

Babies born in nursing homes were often taken from their mothers and given to other families. But in some homes, the babies faced a far worse fate. At St. Mary’s Mother and Baby Home in Tuam, the remains of nearly 800 babies were found in a septic tank in 1975.

As reported by TENan investigation into the home suggested that the mistreatment of the illegitimate children born there had “significantly reduced” their chances of survival.

The tragic life of Mary Smith

Mary Smith was sent to a Magdalene laundry in Cork after being raped. The nuns explained to Smith that she had to be locked up “just in case [she] be pregnant,” History reports.

In the laundry, the nuns cut Smith’s hair and gave him a new name. Like the other inmates, Smith had to work in the laundry and follow a vow of silence. The nuns also beat her.

The horrifying conditions further traumatized Smith, who was only around 16 when she was locked up. She later said that the nuns made the girls feel like they weren’t human.

“We were worse than humans,” he said. “We used to have to
they lined up… and they made us hold hands and the nuns told us, ‘say after me: I’m a nobody’. I am a nobody’, they used to keep telling us to say that, ‘I am a
no one.'”

Years later, Smith couldn’t even remember how long he spent in the asylum. Later, Smith learned that he had been born in a different Magdalena laundromat to an unmarried mother sent to the nursing home by his priest. Tragically, Smith’s mother died before they could be reunited.

the survivors speak

Elizabeth Coppin grew up in the Magdalene laundry system. According to the New York Timeswhen Coppin was two years old, her stepfather beat her, so the government took Coppin out of her home and sent her to an asylum.

According to the court order, he was to be a ward of the court until he turned 16. Instead, she was confined to the laundry system until she was 19.

While there, the nuns starved her to death, beat her until welts broke out, locked her in closets, and forced her to wear dirty clothes on her head if she got wet. At the age of 12 or 13, Coppin set her clothes on fire in a suicide attempt. When she survived, she did not receive any medical treatment.

“I realized that I would be there for life, that I would be buried in a common grave; there were whispers that circulated, ”he told the New York Times. “I saw the people who were there, who were broken, institutionalized, illiterate, from living in a dark, dark place with no way out. I remember asking myself the questions: ‘What am I going to do? How am I going to get out?’”

When he was 17 years old, Coppin managed to escape from the laundromat. Three months later, child protection workers forced her to return.

Magdalena Survivors

Julien Behal/PA Images via Getty ImagesSurvivors Mary Smith, Marina Gambold, and Diane Croghan (left to right) attend a 2013 press conference on the Magdalena Commission Report.

Marina Gambold also survived the Magdalena laundries.

“I was working in the laundry from eight in the morning until six in the evening,” Gambold told the BBC. “I was starving, they gave me bread and drip for my breakfast.”

When she accidentally broke a cup, the nuns tied a rope around Gambold’s neck and forced her to eat off the floor.

“It was common for girls and women to believe that they were going to die inside,” reports Justicia por Magdalenas. “Many did.”

Abuse scandal breaks

Remarkably, Magdalene Laundromats operated well into the 1990s, with the last one closing in 1996.

It is estimated that up to 300,000 “fallen” women passed through Ireland’s Magdalene laundries between 1765 and 1996. Records show that at least 10,000 girls and women were sent to the laundries between 1922 and 1996. But the actual number is probably too much. older, as many laundromats kept inaccurate records and failed to report when girls died.

After the scandal broke, the United Nations investigated the Magdalena laundries for violating human rights. By Historythe UN concluded that the victims were “deprived of their identity, education and often essential food and medicine and were forced to remain silent and prohibited from having any contact with the outside world”.

Magdalena Justice

William Murphy/Wikimedia CommonsProtest art from 2012 demands justice for the women of the Magdalena laundries.

Magdalene Laundry survivors grapple with their past

Survivors of the abusive laundry system often fled Ireland. “Many of them didn’t even have passports,” journalist Norah Casey said, according to the New York Times. “They got the hell out of Ireland as fast as they could and never came back.”

In 2018, a group of 220 survivors came together in Dublin. While many girls were isolated inside the nursing homes, many survivors were able to connect with each other after the aftermath to share their stories.

“I heard about a woman here somewhere today who I think I met in Kerry,” Elizabeth Coppin said. “I’ll look for her later.”

Although Magdalena laundromats have been closed for decades, many women still live with the scars of their abuse.

After investigations into the laundries revealed that about a quarter of the women in them were sent there by the Irish state, Ireland set up a compensation scheme to pay reparations to survivors. By Reutersthe Irish government agreed to pay up to 58 million euros, or about $75 million, to hundreds of survivors of the laundromat.

“This has destroyed my life to date,” Smith said after the compensation scheme was announced. “All this that is happening will never take away our pain.”

Ireland’s laundry system was not the only case where vulnerable children suffered abuse. Then enter the Elan School for Troubled Teensand then read about it indigenous boarding school system.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *