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Magdalene Laundry

The Star: ‘Canada should apologize for Magdalene laundries, like Ireland, academic says’

Former workers in Magdalene laundries in several countries, including Canada, say they endured abuse and enforced, silent labour for little to no pay.

Some say they were physically and sexually abused, and told over and over again that they were worthless sinners.

Now, a researcher in Newfoundland says Canada should acknowledge its use of the secretive institutions for which Ireland apologized in 2013.

“An apology would be phenomenal,” said associate professor of sociology Rie Croll. She’s writing a book that includes little known Canadian allegations of slave labour and abuse in the now defunct reformatories.

“In Canada, this seems to be perceived as a problem that existed elsewhere,” said Croll, who teaches at Memorial University of Newfoundland’s Grenfell Campus.

“There’s more awareness in Australia and there’s a growing awareness in the U.S.”

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Magdalene Laundry

The Western Star: ‘Survivors of Magdalene Laundries deserve peace after years of suffering’

It’s often gut-wrenching, but Dr. Rie Croll says there’s a sense of “urgency” in her research aimed at collecting stories of women forcibly confined in female-only laundries and reformatories before “they are forever lost to history.”

Her current research brings together stories of women from Ireland, Canada and Australia who spent time in institutions known as Magdalene Laundries. Many of these facilities were run by various orders of Roman Catholic nuns. The laundries operated from as early as the 18th Century before the last one closed in Dublin, Ireland 20 years ago.

“While the stated purpose of these institutions was the reform of prostitutes, unwed mothers, and ‘incorrigible’ girls, the stories I’ve gathered tell us that the inmate population contained countless unwanted, stolen, socially inconvenient, disregarded and/or neglected girls and women,” explained Dr. Croll, an associate professor and chair of Teaching and Learning at Memorial University’s Grenfell Campus in Corner Brook.

“Confinement in the laundries — and related reformatories — essentially served to regulate and curtail the sexuality of generations of girls and women while the church exploited all of them as unpaid laundry labourers.”

Dr. Croll says many of the former inmates are still haunted by their experiences. She says silence was strictly enforced within the institutions and the women were forbidden to speak with one another or write to family members about their situations.

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