Magdalene Laundries- New Report Released

Magdalene Laundry

As some of you know, my first book was on the Magdalene Laundries and this research took me from being an actress, through graduate school, to completing a PhD. The history of the Magdalene Laundries compelled to go back to school. I had a despreate need to understand, as much as I could, how and why places like the laundries could exist. I had discovered a news story about the Magdalene laundries back in 1996, while researching for a play I was writing about Margaret Sanger & birth-control.  This play eventually became my second book, Writing the Diaphragm Blues. It is amazing how life is so very interconnected.

Regardless, the first article I read about the Magdalene Laundries amazed me – how could there still be an institution, in 1996, that basically shamed women for being women? How could there still be an institution that exploited women for their labor, profiting off their backs while calling them sinners? I was also captured by this event simply because all the women in my immediate family had been sexually, physically, and emotionally abused in a few Catholic institutions.  As such, these articles hit close to home.

—time and space—

The Laundries and the Report released on 2/5/2013

I am going to dedicate the next few blog posts to the report released yesterday; a report compiled by an Inter-Departmental Committee designed to investigate the role the state of Ireland played in the Magdalene Laundries. I will examine the findings and bring up some additional questions I have as well.  This report ONLY examines the Laundries from 1922 to 1996, or the establishment of the Irish State to the closing of the last Laundry in Ireland. As such, much of the true history of these institutions are lost: how they arose, how inspections did and did not occur, how they functioned as profit centers and the like.  Here are a few basic and important findings of the report, including the state admitting involvement in the Laundries within these five areas:

  1. Routes by which girls and women entered the Laundries; 
  2. Regulation of the workplace and State inspections of the Laundries; 
  3. State funding of and financial assistance to the Laundries (including contracts for laundry services); 
  4. Routes by which girls and women left the Laundries; 
  5. Death registration, burials and exhumations.

Here are the numbers – *Image made from the Executive Summary

The Magdalen Laundries in Numbers



Read the entire report here:

Read “Ryan’s Report” – a related report commisioned to inquire into child abuse within state run institutions in Ireland:

Read my book on the history/ origions of the Magdalene Laundries, how they rose durring the middle ages, were transformed by capitalism, and how they manifested differently in different states (such as England vs Ireland):

Read James M. Smith’s excellent book on the Laundries.  His focus is Ireland specifically, whereas my focus was the roots of these institutions:

The Ethics of Birth Control

Justice Should be Blind, Not Stupid
Erin Solaro over at the Seattle PI’s Civic Feminism blog wrote
a delightful post about the
Politics of Contraception
.  I
left a comment there, thanking her for her fantastic post and also posing this
Why are these people (those who want to take birth control away from
woman) only concerned with the moment, the act of potential procreation and not
the consequences resulting from that moment?
What worries me terribly is the simple fact that these men
(and they are almost all men) working to deny women access to birth control
never bother to look at the potential consequences of what happens when we deny women access to birth control (Yes women, men have historically been given clear access to birth control, but women denied).  All these politicians and pundits are concerned with is the act of potential procreation. This is the ethics of short-term egoism
that refuses to look at long-term consequences of this action: Birth control
denial.  This short-term ethic set is downright
irresponsible of lawmakers, and certainly an
example of why many citizens no longer trust of hold hope in their political
(consider this, recession is simply a result of short term
rationale of fast profit that had devastating consequences for the US and
globally as well). This is a huge problem not only with politics, but with our
society today: short-term satisfaction and, ironic enough, birth
control is not about short term satisfaction, no matter how much Rush Limbaugh
and others like him wish to frame the issue with such misguided rhetoric: give a woman birth control and she will screw anyone, anywhere, anytime.
Here are some long-term consequential considerations we must
consider before denying women birth control:
  • What happens to women that have been raped?
  • What happens to women who need birth control for general
    health reasons related to hormonal imbalances?
  • What happens to a market place devoid of cheap female labor (the more children a woman has, the more likely she will have to leave the market place)?
  • What happens to a home’s economics when it loses ½ of its income making members once she leaves the market places and becomes a homemaker. 
    • (I am not putting down the life of the homemaker. However, many homes need both adults
      working to survive. If we have no birth control, the average family could have
      up to 4-5 children, making it important for one parent to stay home to care for
      the children. If history has demonstrated anything, it will likely be the woman who stays home.  where will the money come in this world today to feed and care for a such a family well?)
  • What happens to all the unwanted children in this world? The
    “disposable” children abandoned, lost, and not cared for?
  • What happens to women’s rights generally and how society
    views women?
  • What happens when the death rate of women skyrocket as more
    births occur and as more women die during child birth?
  • What about over population in relation to famine and a frightfully
    shrinking natural resource pool in this earth?
These few consequential considerations are only the tip of
the iceberg regarding potential problems and dramatic socialist structural changes as a result of such a drastic act as
denying easy access to birth control. To make things more clear, let’s take a case study: Ireland’s Magdalene Laundries.  As I wrote in my
comment on the PI:
Taken in an Irish Laundry: Location Unknown
In Ireland (and globally but Ireland becomes the case study
par excellence), hundreds of thousands of women were placed in Laundries and
forced to become nothing more than slave labor for the state and church of
Ireland. Major targets? Single mothers and any woman deemed amoral as compared
to her society’s spiritual temperament. These women had no choice, as law
regarding their bodies were clear: A woman’s body was not their own.  Their body was their fathers, their
brothers, their husband, the church or the state, but there was no true
anonymity. And the children, ripped from these Magdalene Laundresses? Either
they were shipped out of Ireland, adopted to foreign Catholic parents, or
placed in workhouses; horrific state run institutions of abuse (Read the Commission to Inquire into child abuse).
Birth control plays a huge role in this travesty, because
here was a society that denied birth control to women and, at the same time,
did not consider any of the consequences of this so called moral action.   We are headed there if we do not
stop this nonsense now.  Denying
women birth control is wide raging consequences, consequences that must be
addressed and seriously debated. Otherwise, we are simply caving to egoistic,
short sighted, and misguided proclamations that will harm all of our society,
not simply the women it’s trying to control.