THIS BOOK DEFENDS THE UNDEFENDED
Mandated by the Irish state beginning in the eighteenth century, the Magdalene laundries were operated by various orders of the Catholic Church until the last one closed in 1996.
The first time I heard about the laundries was when I watched a documentary about them sometime in the 1990s, and then I saw the film The Magdalene Sisters not long after that. I was horrified. I could not believe that girls and young women could be taken away from their homes and families and incarcerated in a workhouse for being raped, for being "flirty", "promiscuous" and shockingly in one case, a girl was moved from an orphanage into the workhouse for being "too pretty" (it was thought she would be led astray and get pregnant).
These young women were perceived to be a threat to the moral fibre of Irish society, and were imprisoned (even though they had committed no crime) and used as a source of free labour.
And yes, you read the first paragraph correctly. The last one of these institutions was closed as recently as 1996.
Frances Finnegan's book is essential reading for anyone who wants to know more about the history of these shameful institutions.