Del Giudice, E. (2022). The Faithful and The Fallen: Magdalene Laundries and the Work of the Sisters of The Good Shepherd in Albany and Troy, New York, 1885 to 1920. Unc Charlotte Electronic Theses And Dissertations.
Catholic nuns have worked within the United States in a myriad of ways for decades. The Sisters of the Good Shepherd are an order of Catholic sisters whose ministry focused on "wayward" women in the late eighteenth century. As an order predominantly made up of Irish Catholic women, the Sisters of the Good Shepherd (SGS) in America attempted to alleviate cultural tensions by caring for—and confining—women and girls who disrupted sexual norms. These women were placed into SGS homes commonly known as Magdalene laundries. Inside the homes, ‘penitents’ or inmates performed industrial laundry labor as part of their overall spiritual transformation. In Albany and Troy, New York, the SGS operated two laundries for decades beginning in 1884 and into the twentieth century. This study examines the work of the SGS in Albany and Troy from 1884 to 1920 and explores the two SGS homes through intersecting questions about class, gender, and faith in American society. As well, the paper examines two SGS homes as forms of carceral spaces. Through physical separation and moral control, the SGS managed to support charitable work while also reinforcing societal views surrounding femininity deemed degenerate and deviant. Four historiographical fields inform this paper: discipline and punishment, moral reform and welfare work, religious life and Catholicism, and Progressive Era views on gender and sexuality. This research thus understands Catholic women’s work as playing a more substantive role in projects of social reform than previously understood. This paper also expands on our critical understanding of the vital role American Catholic nuns played in the formation and embodiment of modern gender roles and cultural norms as well as the intersection of Catholic charities with prison histories in the United States.