‘Does God Hate “Magdalen Laundry” Women?’

Magdalen Laundries were institutions from the 18th to the mid-20th centuries ostensibly for “fallen women”, a term used to imply sexual promiscuity. Laundries for these girls and women (and others believed to be of poor moral character, such as prostitutes) operated throughout Europe, Britain, Ireland, Canada and the United States for much of the 19th and well into the 20th century. The first asylum in Ireland opened on Leeson Street in Dublin in 1765, founded by the Protestant Lady Arabella Denny.

Girls from Goldenbridge industrial *school* upon reaching the age of 16, who were deemed by the religious to be difficult, were oftentimes sent to Magdalen Laundriies. For example, Valerie, who grew up with me, would have gone to the one in Sean McDermott St. See video. I visited her there when I was a teenager. Valerie would have been highly experienced at laundry work, as she would have served her time as a child in a GB Magdalen laundry, not to mention having slaved throughout her whole childhood incarceration period in the scullery, where she was expert at slicing bread on a slicer, that one sees in a butcher’s shop, and potato peeling for a whole institution of children (150); scrubbing a large dining-room, lavatories, yards’, recreation (w(rec)k) hall; polishing on bended knees, dormitories, producing a required daily quota of rosary beads and minding children… the list goes on ad infinitum.

So… going to work in a Magdalen laundry at 16 was just an extension of her life in the industrial *school*. She was hardened to the cruelty of life. Lads and lassies, in general, from working class areas of Dublin would have gone to work at 13 and 14 years old, so… 16, would have been considered rather old to start work, excepting those of course, in Goldenbridge who took on adult work responsibilities from the age of 6 years and onwards.

Valerie never even got an opportunity to become a ‘fallen woman’, but to the nuns she would have been classed as one, by association, because of her own mother – whom the latter never knew – who had been a mother herself at 14 years old.

There was a girl who had left Goldenbridge and who soon afterwards became pregnant. When she came back to visit, it could have been a sister, she was paraded in front of a classroom of girls, and shown what would happen them if they dared allow men to meddle with them before marriage. She was employed as a pure guinea pig. The audcity of the religious to mortify a girl in this despicable fashion. But then again objectification of girls was the norm. Luckily for the pregnant girl, that she had the choice to flee across the water to England. A heathen land – which the nuns had endlessly driven home to us, that would be responsible for us losing the faith. The faith was everything. Had the girl been pregnant a few years earlier, her fate, undoubtedly would have been the Magdalen laundry. As the religious still had official responsibility for inmates until they reached the ripe old age of eighteen. At that age, anyway, a lot of them would have been married, or thinking about it, in order to create a home for themselves, and have some kind of security for the first time in their young lives. There were no other options, as they had no educational skills to guide them on to more independent futures. The world does not look too kindly on the uneducated.

The Magdalene Story:
“Ireland has suffered a great many tragedies in her long history. There are those we hear of every day — the “Troubles,” the great Famine — Irish sorrows and issues we are all familiar with. But hidden beneath the surface, lies a tragedy just as great, just as terrible and just as unimaginable. And it is only just beginning to break through to the light of truth.”

Marita Conlon-McKenna’s “Magdalen” is an unputdownable novel. I could so easily identify with the characters in the book.

Justice for Magdalenes:
“Justice for Magdalenes is comprised of survivors, the family members of survivors, long-time activists in human rights and adoption reform, academics, researchers, archivists and representatives from the political community. An Ad Hoc Oireachtas Committee was formed in 2009 to work with JFM’s committee and advisory, led by Mr. Tom Kitt T.D. (retired, now JFM advisory committee); Michael Kennedy T.D. and Kathleen Lynch T.D.’

Ophelia Benson and Jeremy Stangroom’s “Does God Hate Women” book review by Sally Quinn of The Washington Post:

“Long before Jesus’s time, Eve was the temptress, Adam the unwilling dupe. Mary had to be a virgin. Joseph did not.”

We should be recovering our Magdalen history, not burying it.


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