These Religious Prisons Turned Orphans, Young Girls, and Pregnant Women into Slaves Inside Convent Walls
These Religious Prisons Turned Orphans, Young Girls, and Pregnant Women into Slaves Inside Convent Walls

These Religious Prisons Turned Orphans, Young Girls, and Pregnant Women into Slaves Inside Convent Walls

Donna Patricia Ward - February 22, 2019

These Religious Prisons Turned Orphans, Young Girls, and Pregnant Women into Slaves Inside Convent Walls
Magdalen Asylum, Galway. Google Images.

3. Lost Girls of the Magdalen Asylums: Helen from Gloucester Street Laundry

Helen was sent to an industrial school when she was two years old. Her parents could no longer take care of her or her seven siblings. Sent to an industrial school, Helen was sent from school to school until she entered the Gloucester Street Laundry in Dublin at 16. Never living in the outside world, Helen gave birth to twin girls when she was 19. Her daughters were adopted when they were 9 months old. She gave birth again at 22 to a boy. When her daughters met her, Helen had an emotional breakdown as she never remembered giving birth to them or their brother.

At the Laundry, Helen’s day began at 4 am where she prayed the rosary in the cold in urine-soaked clothes. Helen was a persistent bed-wetter for which she suffered humiliating abuse from the nuns. Work in the laundry lasted until after sundown. When Helen and her fellow inmates had downtime, they embroidered and made baskets that were sold in town. None of the inmates received pay for their labor in the laundry or from the goods they made. She represents the hundreds of women who were placed in the laundries by the State and then simply forgotten about. Helen died one day shy of her 51st birthday.

These Religious Prisons Turned Orphans, Young Girls, and Pregnant Women into Slaves Inside Convent Walls
Equipment Inside Donnybrook Magdalen Laundry. Google Images.

2. Changed Names at The Donnybrook Magdalen Laundry

The Donnybrook Laundry opened in 1796. By 1837, the Sisters of Charity had taken over the institution and relocated it to Dublin 4. Between 1837 and 1992, inmates cleaned soiled linens from nearby hotels. When inmates arrived at Donnybrook, the nuns changed their name before sending them to strip out of their clothing, bathe, and dress in a new uniform. With names changed, it was difficult for family members who wanted to find sisters or daughters to do so. Any inmate that refused to adhere to her new name was severely punished.

Like other Magdalen Laundries, Donnybrook housed orphans. Younger girls took care of the babies. As these girls aged they cooked for the nuns and then entered into the washing house. Obedient girls were promoted to the pressing room and later the packaging room. Food for the inmates was meager and consisted of mostly leftovers from the nuns and rarely included dairy, eggs, or meat. A private company purchased the Donnybrook Laundry in 1992 maintaining it as a commercial laundry. It closed in 2006. An application to demolish the laundry and build new apartments was withdrawn in 2017 reportedly due to the “potential for burials being uncovered.”

These Religious Prisons Turned Orphans, Young Girls, and Pregnant Women into Slaves Inside Convent Walls
Postcard of Gloucester Street Laundry, Dublin, Ireland. Folklore Project.

1. The Last Magdalen Laundry: The Gloucester Street Laundry in Dublin

Until recently, the powerful conservative Catholic Church controlled almost every aspect of life in the Republic of Ireland. Any young woman that found herself pregnant and unmarried had committed the most dire of all sins. Bringing shame, family members often sent their pregnant sisters and daughters to a magdalen home. The Gloucester Street Laundry in Dublin housed around 100 unwed mothers at a time. Forced to repent for her sin, these young women were hidden away inside the walls of a commercial laundry. Nuns provided shelter and meager food allotments while forcing them to work in laundries while they adopted out the bastard children.

The convent owned trucks. Boys and young men drove the trucks to Dublin hotels, picked up soiled linens, and then delivered them to the Gloucester Street Laundry. The nuns made sure that there was not contact between the divers and the “penitents.” Historians believe that over 40% of the inmates at the laundry entered as unwed pregnant young women. Many inmates returned to life in Dublin and beyond, their babies long removed from their care. Others remained institutionalized for the rest of their life. The Gloucester Street Laundry shuttered good on 25 October 1996. At the time of closure the oldest female resident was 79.

 

Where did we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

Stansell, Christine. City of Women: Sex and Class in New York 1789-1860. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1986.

Congregation of the Sisters of Misericorde– Wikipedia.

Magdalene asylum – Wikipedia.

The Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Magdalen Society of Philadelphia Records. Philadelphia’s Library of American History. 2016. Pdf.

Inwood’s Old Magdalen Asylum. My Inwood. July 13, 2013

1947 heatwave caused Catholic school girls to “go wild”. By Pete Ehrmann. OnMilwaukee.com. Jul 21th 2011.

Home of the Good Shepherd (Seattle). Essay. Toby Harris. 29th May 2002. HistoryLink.org

Lasy Days of a Laundry. GARY CULLITON. Sep 25, 1996. The Irish Times.

Mass grave of up to 800 dead babies exposed in County Galway. Cahir O’Doherty. May 26, 2014. Irish Central.

Ireland’s Magdalene Laundries: I hope my birth mother can now rest in peace. Samantha Long. 19 February 2013. The Telegraph.

Donny Brook. Justice for Magdalenes Research.

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