In many countries supposedly fallen women were abused in Magdalene Institutions. The worst known cases were run by the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland where conditions amounted to slavery. Magdalene institutions also existed in England, Scotland, North America and Australia.

Magdalene Laundries in Ireland[]

Magdalene Laundries in Ireland created Purgatory for women and girls trapped there.

Readers are strongly recommended to read in particular the following websites as well as this one.

There are many other informative websites dealing with Magdalene Laundries.

The Types of Victims[]

Irish women 'guilty' of having illegitimate children were sometimes forced to live as virtual slaves in the Magdalene Laundries or Magdalene asylums. Some ended up there simply because they were considered in moral danger. By the 20th century, unwed mothers, rape victims and generally "wayward" women were considered eligible inmates. (According to Roman Catholic teaching Virginity is a matter of the mind and the will. Those who are forced to have sex unwillingly remain virgins. The Roman Catholic Church ignored its own teachings. Because they ignored it they could benefit from the unpaid forced labour of the unfortunate women throughout their lives.) Women were sent there because they were considered too pretty, too ugly, too clever or too silly. (According to Roman Catholic teaching this was the way God allegedly made them. It does not look reasonable to punish women for being the way God made them. Again the Roman Catholic Church profited from ignoring its teachings.) A wide range of innocent women and girls were sent to Magdalene laundries because someone in authority felt they were sexually active or might become sexually active. A wide range of women and girls who were strong enough to wash clothes were sent to a life of grind and misery in Magdalene laundries while the Roman Catholic Church profited from their unpaid labour.

Incidentally women and girls who were considered ugly were sent to Magdalene laundries. It was felt ugly women and girls were vulnerable to seduction and men were vulnerable to temptation by them. Physically handicapped women and girls were not sent to Magdalene laundries. Disabled women seem to be as vulnerable to seduction as those who are simply ugly. Disabled women cannot wash clothes. The Church could not profit from their unpaid labour and instead would have to pay to provide for them.

Women and girls who were considered silly were sent to Magdalene laundries. It was also felt silly women and girls were vulnerable to seduction and men were vulnerable to temptation by them. Mentally handicapped women and girls were not sent to Magdalene laundries if their disability was so severe that they could not wash clothes. Mentally handicapped women seem to be as vulnerable to seduction as those who are simply silly. If women could not wash clothes the Church could not profit from their unpaid labour and instead would have to pay to provide for them.

The Roman Catholic Church is regularly accused of hypocrisy.

The laundries were named for Mary Magdalene, the prostitute who repented her sins and became one of Jesus' closest followers. They were started in the middle of the 19th century as rehabilitation centers for prostitutes. Victims of Magdalene laundries could not expect to be forgiven as Mary Magdalene was.

Exploitation of Unpaid Work[]

The working day would start at 5 in the morning and consisted of hand-washing, drying, and ironing clothes from children's orphanages, churches, and prisons. Bedtime was at 7 in the evening. This continued six days a week. They were given food and accommodation but received no remuneration for their work. The scrubbing was intended to wash away the women's sins. However much the women washed they were considered dirty and sinful throughout their lives.

Mary Norris, Josephine McCarthy and Mary-Jo McDonagh were examples. The nuns refuse to admit how many women victims there were but it is suspected there may have been tens of thousands. These were a network of laundries operated by the Catholic Church in Ireland, and run by the Sisters of a range of orders. Many women lived and died in these institutions with little hope of escape. The only way they could be freed, was by being claimed by a relative, although officially they had to be signed out by two men. Often, family members were told that the women had moved away and would be impossible to find on account of having assumed new identities.

Irish democracy failed to protect women.[]

Ireland joined the European Union in 1973 and should have abided by the European Convention on Human Rights. The Irish government was democratic but Democracy can sometimes oppress minorities in a tyrannical way and become the Tyranny of the Majority. In the case of Ireland up to the 1960s and beyond it can be argued the majority were brainwashed by the Roman Catholic Church. They were afraid to oppose or criticize Roman Catholic Priests. They believed they depended on them for Sacraments which were thought necessary for Salvation.

In the 1960?s when they were sent there the Roman Catholic Church was more powerful than the state in Ireland. Mary Norris and Josephine McCarthy had violated the rules of the Church but had committed no crime.

Women were treated more harshly than men.[]

Feminists frequently complain that sexual misconduct by women or even suspected sexual misconduct by women is punished harder than sexual misconduct by men. Women became slaves for life, sometimes because of a single act or suspected act considered immoral. By contrast male Roman Catholic Priests guilty of sexually abusing children were often routinely moved on to other parishes where they reoffended and parents did not know they had to protect their children from them. Nobody forced paedophile priests to enter monasteries and spend the rest of their lives washing clothes, cleaning pigsties or anything similar. Bishop Brendan Comiskey in Ireland resigned over this.

Sexual Humiliations and other abuse[]

The Magdalene victims suffered oppressive work, they sometimes had their heads shaved, were made to fast, once a week there were, "mortifications" when women were stripped and their supposed vanity was ridiculed. It is easy to see how this could be truly mortifying. The forced mortification could appeal to sexually frustrated nuns trying to be celibate, perhaps also Lesbian with or without knowing it. Nuns may have got sexual pleasure, (with or without knowing it) from forcing these humiliations onto helpless women. If that happened clearly they were not fully celibate.

In other contexts the Roman Catholic Church would probably call similar actions Mortal sin. Nuns worked off their frustration on helpless women. Frustrated priests trying to be celibate heard their Confessions and did not prevent these sexual humiliations. Priests may have got sexual pleasure, (with or without knowing it) from hearing the confessions of the nuns who forced these humiliations onto helpless women. They may also have got sexual pleasure from hearing the confessions and reactions of the women victims. If that happened clearly they were not fully celibate. The Magdalene laundries involved abuse of women (the slave workers) by other women (the nuns). The system can also be seen as abuse of women by men. Only men can become Roman Catholic priests. Clearly the priests did not insist that the abuse be stopped. If they had in the male dominated Roman Catholic Church it would have stopped.

The Irish did not want to know.[]

It is thought the existence of the laundries was largely unknown before the 1990's. Large sections of Irish society were in denial about the problem before that time though families who wanted to get a young woman locked up knew what to do. Children were sometimes threatened, 'If you arn't good we'll give you to the sisters.' In 1998, an order of nuns in Dublin sold part of their convent to a real estate developer. It was discovered that the remains of 133 women were buried in unmarked graves on the property, and the scandal became local and national news in 1999.

The last Magdalene laundry was closed in 1996 officially. Sources differ over the date though all but one source says 1996. The Catholic Church has made no reparations to the women that were incarcerated, most of whom, incapable of fending for themselves in society, now live in government and private institutions.

Irish Abuse Revealed[]

As a group the nature of these institutions were exposed in a RTE (state run Irish television) series by reporter Mary Raftery in 1999. See also Mary Raftery, Eoin O'Sullivan or Eain O'Sullivan, Suffer the Little Children: The Inside Story of Ireland's Industrial Schools, Continuum International Publishing Group, hardcover, 424 pages, ISBN 0826413374. Despite convening of a government Commission to inquire into Child Abuse attempts to obtain compensation for the 130,000 victims of the system have proved frustrating. [1] [2]

Dr Frances Finnegan wrote a definitive account of the Irish Magdalene System, "Do Penance or Perish". She says names and identities of victims were taken from them and they were even prevented from talking to their fellows. This is confirmed by Mary Norris (renamed Mira) and Josephine McCarthy (renamed Phyllis). Women were totally helpless and the nuns decided how long they stayed in the institutions, often for life.

Frances Finnegan describes one woman who was told that her mother was dead. The daughter had worked in the inhuman laundry alongside her mother for over 20 years. The nuns had not told them about the relationship because they knew the mother was still pining for the child taken from her. This cruelty was practiced by nuns supposedly dedicated to the service of a loving God.

In November 2002, the movie The Magdalene Sisters was released to critical acclaim and even the Vatican was concerned enough to call down damnation on the film. Earlier that year there was also a British mini-series, Sinners.

Magdalene Laundries in Australia[]

How Magdalene Laundries in Australia created a different kind of Purgatory for girls trapped there.

The Australian purgatory was less severe in some ways. Girls there could be as young as 14, they were released when they reached the age of 18 at the latest. In Australia the nuns did not use violence themselves. Rewards like the chance to play games or to watch films were sometimes given, sometimes withheld as a means of control. The girls were less closely supervised than those in Ireland and did violence and other bad things to each other.

An order hypocritically called, �the Sisters of Mercy� ran the Holy Cross Retreat, which aimed to copy the system of Irish Magdalene Asylums and included a �Magdalene Asylum� for unmarried mothers. An Asylum means a place of refuge. This one was not in any way a refuge. They aimed at, discipline which was both kind and firm to train those who were weak and erring. In reality the rule was certainly firm but not kind. Other inmates, sometimes with physical or mental disabilities looked after the babies while the unmarried mothers there did laundry work unpaid.

Till the start of the 1960�s mothers were with their babies for at least six months. Then the bond was broken and the babies adopted by someone else. After about 1960 unmarried pregnant girls stayed at the, �retreat� till labour started. Then they left without saying what happened. The following is a summary of one girl's story.

Lily Arthur's Story[]

Lily Arthur was nearly 17 years old and able legally to consent to sex in 1967. She had a stable relationship with her boyfriend, Steve and was expecting his baby. The police woke her up in the middle of the night and because she was pregnant they arrested her. She spent the rest of the night locked up and terrified. Lily Arthur had not broken the law but was sent to the Holy Cross Girls Home till her parents could be found.

The "Holy Cross Retreat"[]

When Lily Arthur was put into the 'Holy Cross Retreat', the religious sisters kept her locked in a dormitory for four days isolated from the other girls till bedtime. This showed their interpretation of Christian charity and their sisterly love. Ironically the order was called, "the Sisters of Mercy". Lilly was vulnerable through being pregnant. She covered herself with blankets and avoided conversation with other girls. If she spoke to them, she felt the nightmare would become more real. During the four days isolation she suffered morning sickness, cried continually and seemingly her head was exploding. She paced up and down obsessively thinking in circles. She felt unreal. She had gone to sleep and woken up in gaol. The Australian Children's Court sent her back to Holy Cross indefinitely. Lily Arthur was renamed Leanne. She was given a shift and thongs to wear, had her hair cut and she saw the laundry where she should work.

Lily Arthur (now made to think of herself as Leanne) signed papers to marry her boyfriend Steve. First she hoped to get out and get married later she despaired. She became partly robotic and felt it would be alright if she behaved. The nuns did not threaten the girls. But girls feared going to Karalla. Girls who had been to Karalla spoke about rotting, inedible food and sleeping on bare cell floors with just buckets for sanitation. Girls who tried to escape were sent there. She kept away from bad girls who did things like fighting and sexually abusing younger inmates as she did not want to go to Karalla.

Lilly Arthur (called Leanne) was obedient during her seven month pregnancy. She hoped the nuns would see she would be a good mother for the baby. Despite this she became resentful as other unmarried mothers who had had their babies were treated better than she was. Most days she had to wake up for mass at 5 o'clock in the morning. She was 17 and pregnant, yet was made to work for long periods with little rest. Her only relief was being told to sit folding pillow cases. Mostly she had to fold sheets and do other work standing.

If individual girls misbehaved all the girls lost privileges. Girls who caused loss of privileges were mistreated by the others in the dormitory. The girls punished each other. Lilly Arthur (called Leanne) was a model prisoner. She kept 'treasures' like shampoo talcum powder and a matinee jacket for her baby. Nobody spoke to her about the baby. For the last 3 months she had neither visitors nor letters and felt forgotten. Later she found out her sister had been prevented from seeing her during this time. She endured heartburn and digestive trouble. She got no pain relief medication but felt the baby and she were together.

The Hospital[]

Lilly Arthur (called Leanne) was sent to hospital to have the baby. Her waters were broken by a nurse and she felt invaded. She was 17 and frightened and unaware what was happening. She lay alone in the labour ward without support, comfort or explanation what to expect. The nuns called, "the Sisters of Mercy" had not told her anything about labour either.

As the baby was delivered the medical staff treated her as subhuman, they tied her to the bed and did not speak to her except to give orders. Her body was contorted with her left leg high in a stirrup and her right leg pulled behind her. Anaesthetic gas made her feel unreal. Nurses forced her to the bed and did not even let her see her new borne son. A doctor gave her stitches, he joked to others but said not a word to her. She felt they saw her as garbage.

Lilly Arthur (called Leanne) remembers little of the next week. She and Steve tried to see which baby was theirs, no one told them. An official woman threatened and pressured her to sign adoption papers for the baby she wanted to keep. She believes she was drugged and had been conditioned to obedience for seven months by the so-called, �Sisters of Mercy�. Afterwards, for the first time she was shown the baby.

Return to the Magdalene Laundry[]

When Lilly Arthur (called Leanne) had seen the baby they told her to pack and sent her back to the �Holy Cross Retreat�. The nuns didn�t mention the baby. she was made to work in the laundry till tea. She had no visitors for nearly four months and thought those outside had forgotten her. She was no longer pregnant and had given up the baby. She was given lighter work cleaning the convent for the nuns.

Six weeks after her baby was born and lost a nun told her she would return to her mother in Sydney. Lilly Arthur (called Leanne) was angry. The �merciful� nuns had prevented her family contacting her. She felt there was nothing for her outside and was not keen to leave. Two days before her release she had finished working in the convent when a nun told her to work the rest of the day in the laundry. She told the nun to �Get lost�. She didn�t care about being locked up as she imagined the outside world had deserted her. The nun whipped her legs with a feather duster and she ran into the laundry. Why did a sexually frustrated nun choose just that punishment?

Return Home[]

Leanne became Lilly Arthur again. Some months after leaving the care of the �Sisters of Mercy� she found out a lady she had befriended at work was adopting a baby. She was badly distressed as she remembered the baby she gave birth to and lost. She gave this other lady the matinee jacket and bonnet she had intended for her baby. Her last physical link with her baby was destroyed.

For thirty years Lilly Arthur�s memory of the Abuse was vague. She felt as if what happened to her as Leanne had happened to another person. She never discussed it; never told her daughter she had a brother. Finally she was in contact with her son. Her moods swung from happiness through to misery and intense anger and she had flashbacks. Her GP referred her to a psychiatrist. She is still confused and angry. She cannot accept her imprisonment and what she sees as the premeditated theft of her only son.


Lilly Arthur is undergoing hypnotherapy and during that sees herself again as Leanne. She feels as if the nightmare were happening now, the arrest, the court, pacing in the dormitory with her head exploding and other trauma. She experiences again the labour ward and the nauseous gas. She hears the social worker who destroyed her link with her baby. Despite the psychiatrist urging her to leave Leanne cannot leave the home where she was last in touch with her baby. During hypnotherapy Leanne cries constantly; the psychiatrist asks what is going on but Leanne can hardly answer. Lilly Arthur leaves therapy confused and disconnected with her surroundings.

Brainwashing explained[]

Lilly Arthur feels she was made to endure solitary confinement to enforce compliance. The relationship with those who loved her, Steve and her family was broken for the same reason. The enforced change of name, clothes and hair cutting was done to stop Lilly Arthur being herself and to make her obedient to the nuns. She feels as if there were two separate people, Leanne and Lilly Arthur and that Leanne lost Lilly Arthur�s baby. The two parts of her have never integrated successfully. She will never again be happy and carefree like sixteen-year-old girl she wasbefore the abuse started. She blames her guardian, the State of Queensland and brainwashing by the hypocritical, �Sisters of Mercy�. She grew up in the Roman Catholic Church and they betrayed her.

This story is summarized from the following external website.

See also[]

External links and References[]


* Adapted from the Wikipedia article, "Magdalene_laundry", used under the [[GNU Free Documentation License]

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