One in 10 women put in laundries by own family


Family members were responsible for one in 10 women being admitted to Magdalene laundries. Epileptic fits, tuberculosis and a “heart condition” are among the reasons recorded in the laundries’ registers for placement by families. One 13-year-old was put into a laundry in the 1920s by her mother “because of fits”. Her sister took her out after a few days but she was returned a year later.

The youngest girl admitted by her family was just 12, the oldest was 72.

Other non-State routes into the laundries included self-referrals (16.4 per cent), referrals by priests (8.8 per cent) and by charity groups or other organisations and individuals.

Spent her life there

Reasons for placement included women being “mentally defective” or “mentally retarded”. One teenager in the 1920s whose parents were dead and whose history suggests she had an intellectual disability was placed in a laundry by her siblings who then emigrated. She spent her life there.

In some cases abuse or neglect at home is cited as a reason for admission. One girl placed in the 1970s was recorded as having been “locked in her room by mother 15 years”. A young teenager in the 1940s was “taken away from a wicked bad father” with sexual abuse against her sister recorded.


Other cases involved women placed by their families because of discipline – one girl in the 1950s because “she would not do anything she was told” and another because she was “keeping suspicious company, late home”.

Others were admitted because they had had children outside marriage or because they had family disputes.

Priests were also recorded as admitting women, either on their own or with family members, because of prostitution, homelessness or for having a baby out of marriage.

Women also admitted themselves because they were homeless, were being abused at home or were old or sick and in need of care. Some who presented with mental health problems were sent on to psychiatric hospitals.