25 September 2016
The last of the Magdalene asylums closed in Ireland on 25 September 1996
On this day in history, 1996: the last of the Magdalene asylums closes in Ireland.
Magdalene asylums, also known as Magdalene laundries, were institutions from the 18th to the late 20th centuries supposedly to house ‘fallen women’.
The first Magdalene institution was founded in late 1758 in Whitechapel, England. The first Magdalene asylum in the United States was the Magdalen Society of Philadelphia, founded in 1800; other North American cities quickly followed. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, Magdalene asylums were common in several countries. By 1900, there were more than 300 asylums in England and more than 20 in Scotland.
The Dublin Magdalen Asylum in Lower Leeson Street, founded in 1765, was the first such institution in Ireland. Ireland's Magdalene asylums, or laundries, survived the longest and an estimated 30,000 women were confined in these institutions in Ireland. The last Magdalene asylum, in Waterford, finally closed in 1996. Ireland's Magdalene laundries were quietly supported by the state, and operated by religious communities for more than 200 years.
In 1993, a mass grave containing 155 corpses was uncovered in the convent grounds of one of the laundries. This led to media revelations about the operations of the secretive institutions. A formal state apology was issued in 2013, and a £50 million compensation scheme for survivors was set up, to which all four of the religious congregations that ran the aundries have so far rejected to contribute.
Pictured: Unidentified Magdalen Laundry in Ireland, circa early 20th century.