5.24.2009

remembering the magdalene laundries

This is not topical to any current news story, but my previous post about systemic child abuse in Church-run institutions made me think of the Magdalene Laundries.

From Wikipedia:
Magdalene Asylums were institutions for so-called 'fallen women', most of them operated by different orders of the Roman Catholic Church. In most asylums, the inmates were required to undertake hard physical labour such as laundry work. In Ireland, such asylums were known as Magdalene Laundries. It has been estimated that 30,000 women were admitted during the 150-year history of these institutions, often against their will. The last Magdalene Asylum in Ireland closed on September 25, 1996.

These "fallen women," were often girls who had gotten pregnant before marriage, including victims of rape or incest. Or they were girls accused of being sexually active. Or they were developmentally or mentally disabled, or mentally ill. Or they were outspoken, or strong-willed, or otherwise non-conforming.

It goes without saying that if the girls were punished for being sexually active, no corresponding punishment was meted out to their male partners.

The inmates of the Magdalene Laundries were slaves. I can think of no more accurate way to describe their condition. They were held against their will, and forced to work without compensation. They were brutally mistreated throughout their incarceration.

I first heard of the Magdalene Laundries from a Joni Mitchell song on her album "Turbulent Indigo", which she also performs with The Chieftains on their "Tears of Stone".

The haunting song was on my mind when I heard of a movie called "The Magdalene Sisters", written and directed by Peter Mullans. It's very good, and of course, extremely disturbing.

That movie was inspired by a documentary about the Laundries called "Sex in a Cold Climate," directed by Steve Humphries, which I haven't seen yet.

The movement to remember the women whose lives were stolen from them by the Magdalene Laundries is powered, in large part, by adopted people searching for their biological roots. Many Irish and English adopted people have learned that their mothers were sentenced to these asylums for the crime of being pregnant with them.

Justice for Magdalenes and The Magdalene Story are run by survivors and searchers. Well worth a visit.

10 comments:

Cornelia said...

I can't put in words how much I hate this God damn torture and fundamentalist cult abuse!!! It was similar to concentration camps. Absolutely heinous and dreadful and similar to Taliban and honor murderers.

James said...

Of course, this sort of thing has gone to amazing lengths historically. Galileo's daughters Virginia and Livia Galilei were sent to the San Matteo Convent for life at ages 13 & 12 -- not because of anything they did, but because Galileo had not married their mother. Being illegitimate, they could not marry; being women, they could not earn their own living except any other way. Neither of them ever left the convent.

Virginia kept in constant contact with her father through letters which reveal her to have been very intelligent. She could have been a brilliant scientists if only she'd had a Y chromosome, or had lived 400 years alter. She died of dysentery at 34 years old.

Of course, there's nothing particularly special about Virginia other than her famous father -- there were thousands of women like her in the convents.

L-girl said...

The stigma of so-called illegitimacy, parents not married when child was born, has been the cause of so many evils. Less obvious, but very damaging, is how adopted children were not told they were adopted, and adoption kept secret in general. This was to avoid the double stigma, both to the mother *and* the child.

Cornelia, I feel the same way. I cannot really express how angry this makes me. The lives that were ruined, wasted... it drives me nuts.

L-girl said...

Also, I didn't know that about Galileo's daughters.

James said...

I highly recommend the book "Galileo's Daughter" by Dana Sobel, which is where I learned about them (primarily Virginia) in any detail. Standard biographies of Galileo will mention them and their brother, Vicenzo, in passing, but rarely more than "the daughters were sent to a convent for the rest of their lives" and, if it's particularly thorough, "Virginia kept in touch with her father".

Vicenzo was legitimized and eventually married. Apparently that option was not available to women.

L-girl said...

Dana Sobel! She wrote a book about the discovery of longitude that is on My List. I will add Galileo's Daughter. Sounds fascinating.

James said...

Yup, Longitude was hers, and The Planets, which is fun but not as good as Longitude or Galileo's Daughter.

mtsteed said...

Actually, this is topical to recent news. The 22 May release of the Ryan report highlights yet again that the survivors of Ireland's Magdalene Laundries were completely left out of the 2002 Redress Act (they received *no* compensation for the unpaid labour they did, abuse they suffered, etc.) and only paid lip service in the Ryan report.

The Laundries were just one part of Ireland's systemic and horrid disregard for the welfare of children and young women.

http://www.magdalenelaundries.com

L-girl said...

Thank you, Mtsteed. I had no idea it was topical when I posted it. I did link to your website in the post, tho.

Solidarity. I wish you all the best.

Skip said...

In 1960 (!) I was told about the Magdalene Laundries by an Irish lady in whose house I lodged for a time. As a trainee reporter I realised a story this big could make my name; coincidentally I was planning a holiday in Ireland later that year.

My landlady, and her husband, advised me in all seriousness that if I enquired about such things while in Ireland, I would be very lucky to leave the country alive. Poking about with a notebook would be seen as an attack on the Catholic Church, at the time an all-powerful institution in that country.