Looking for the Shift in Ideology on “Fallen Women” in Ireland

The Magdalene Laundries were institutions in place across Ireland and many other countries that were a place for “fallen women,” deemed unfit to live on their down due to mental illness, incompetence, hysteria and for many women, pregnancy outside of wedlock. From the 1750’s women were held captive in these facilities and forced in labor until the last location closed in 1996. Further recent investigations into the laundries revealed instances of abuse and some found mass graves of the children born to these unwed mothers. How could such atrocities have been happening right under the nose of modern feminist movements? Where was the shift in ideology on the freedom of the unwed woman succeeding is society? I would like to propose a paper delving deep into the research of the Magdalene Laundries and their intersection with Irish feminism.

After studying dome timelines of women’s empowerment in initiatives in Ireland throughout the 1900’s, running the timelines consecutively throughout the paper to gives the reader a since of comparison and contrast of the what we think of as progressive in the U.S. versus Ireland. It also will be helpful to explain a lot of the different acts played out the demonstrate the movement towards women’s independence but also to talk about the alternative side, i.e. the Catholic church, in Ireland who was still keeping women in these houses. This is especially important because now women are a very powerful force in Ireland and as we have seen in many pieces of literature and nonfictional pieces about women’s empowerment and the foundation to a lot of male centered movments.

A historical approach, even before the beginning of the women’s rights movement started in 1965, would give a perspective of where some of this ideology about women came from. I have researched timelines of the women’s movement and read accounts f women who have lived to tell the tales of abuse from the laundries but I think it is important to cite De Valera’s Constitution as a profound voice in the role of oppressing women. His opinion about women’s roles in the home halted any progress around getting the women from the laundries back into society and not stigmatized about their “fallen” status.

Literature, as we have learned in this class, reflects on and shines a light on the point of view of the marginalized and the forgotten that people. I would like the just Juno And The Paycocks and The King of Spain’s Daughter to examine the roles of “Independent Women” in Irish History as well as The Beauty Queen of Leenane to further investigate and draw parallels to mental health stigmas in that time frame.

Females, as we have seen in Michael Collins and many other performances in this class have been the backbone of Ireland. They are the embodiment of the “behind every good man” saying and I think it would only be fair to pay homage to their work to free themselves from oppressive roles and become women of society no matter what their marital status. I would like this to be used as my thank you to them for the impact their struggles have made to help future generations live freely in Ireland, and more specifically, close the Magdalene Laundries.

Daly, Susan. “A life unlived: 35 years of slavery in a Magdalene Laundry.” TheJournal.ie. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Apr. 2017.

Deevy, Teresa. Three plays; Katie Roche, The king of Spain’s daughter, The wild goose. London: Macmillan and Co., Limited, 1940. Print.

Faughnan, Sean A. De Valera’s constitution: the drafting of the Irish constitution of 1937. Dublin: U College Dublin, 1988. Print.



“The Beauty Queen of Leenane.” The Beauty Queen Of Leenane(1996): n. pag. Web

O’Casey, Sean, and Patricia Robinson. Jordan. Juno and the paycock. Los Angeles, CA: D’Arts Publishing, 2011. Print.

4 thoughts on “Looking for the Shift in Ideology on “Fallen Women” in Ireland

  1. Jadelynn Ye

    Very insightful, something that I thought was interesting is the lack of respect for the work that women do, and the fact that they were still persecuted even after they played such a large role in Irish history. In my class, Gods, Ghosts & Ancestors I’m writing about Ghost Marriages. This is a process that’s usually done because when a woman is born into a family, she isn’t considered a real part of the family. They’re viewed as someone who was born to join someone else’s lineage line. Because of that, when women die young they don’t have a place at any ancestor worship spaces in the home. Ancestor worship is incredibly important in Chinese culture, and so when this happens they actually marry off the ghost of the girl to either a living or a dead man. Their concept of women is so little that even in death she can’t be single or individualized. I’m sure something like this wouldn’t survive the Irish feminist movement, as you mentioned. It seems like they were so crucial to the cultural empire of Ireland that it would not work.

  2. Atthaphon Kaiya

    This has been a very interesting read and it is appalling to find out how these “Institutions” have been around since the 1700s all the way to late 1900s. I did not realize that there was this misogynistic treatment of women, of this magnitude in Ireland, in the 90s and thats why I find it appalling. In comparison to my COR 330 class we are studying the country Yemen and the treatment of women in Yemen is also something that I believe needs to be addressed. In your post you talked about the involvement of the Catholic Church and how it was the force behind keeping these women in the institutions, this tells me that religion has a huge role in Irish society and was the entity that kept the voices of these “Fallen Women” silent. In my class religion also plays a huge role in Yemeni society and is a huge cultural aspect of the Yemenis daily life. In Yemen women are treated even today as the second to men. I believe that many cultural and religious norms in Yemen have prevented women from having equal rights to men and this is a connection I believe is apparent in many societies today. I am glad however to see that the Magdalene Laundries are closed thus ending a sinister chapter in human history.

  3. Kiera Hufford

    I had read a bit about the mass graves before but had no idea these institutions dated all the way back to the 1700s. It baffles me that these flew under the radar for so long–though the treatment of women is familiar and pairs to other cultures as well. We talked quite a bit in Gods, Ghosts & Ancestors about a woman’s role in their society, including the idea of footbinding, ghost marriages, “leftover women,” and the fear of female sexuality.

    Ghost marriages happen because if a woman dies young or unmarried, she isn’t worshipped by her family’s familial line. A woman is worshipped by the family of the man she marries, and therefore has no place until she’s married. If she dies unwed, there’s no one to care for her in the afterlife–so her family will try to marry who to a live man who will then adopt her into his home and have his children worship her as their own. This idea of women having to marry also leads into the idea of being a “leftover woman,” a woman who doesn’t marry by a certain age and is considered no longer attractive. Women in the Chinese culture also very much embody the “behind every good man” sentiment.

    For my project, I incorporated the idea of being “leftover” and wanting empowerment for yourself with the fear of female sexuality by writing stories about fox spirits. Fox spirits were primarily female, representing unrestrained sexuality in women as they searched for men (whose energy the fox spirits drained through sex). One of my stories swapped gender roles, focusing on a male fox spirit and a woman who wasn’t interested in marrying and left her family to be on her own.

  4. Sara Martin

    Kylen! I also covered the Magdelene Laundries in my essay because they have become so prevalent in our study and what the term ‘Irish Women’ really means to us. Contrasting the two views between what was progressive then vs. progressive now is wildly different, but we have made a decent amount of advances since the times of the Laundries. I love the quote that they are the backbone behind “every good man”. I believe as well that the woman is under appreciated in society then and society now. We have contributed such a large amount to society and have progressed as a gender. Focusing on the Magdelene Laundries through this is great imagery for those who are unfamiliar and who wish to learn more. We have many overlapping symbols and concepts in our essays, but distributed differently. The Magdelene Laundries are a clear cut representation of the treatment of women in Ireland in the 18th century.


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