Magdalen laundries: Women confined in convents

Steve Kroft reports on revelations that shocked the Irish people, embarrassed the Catholic Church and tarnished the country's image

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Hard labor, enforced silence, and imprisonment - that was the sentence for more than 10,000 young Irish women sent off to the church-run Magdalen Laundries between 1922 and 1996, a dark chapter in Irish history that Steve Kroft reported on for 60 Minutes in January 1999.

"The women had been virtual prisoners," Kroft reported. "Confined behind convent walls for perceived sins of the flesh, condemned to a life of servitude."

Today there was a significant development in the case when the Irish government issued a report acknowledging, for the first time, that the state was directly involved in the laundries, having sent as many as one quarter of the women to these institutions - most of them in their twenties, but at least one as young as age 9.

"The chronicle of the Magdalen Laundries was for many years characterised primarily by secrecy, silence and shame," the report says. "The psychological impact on these girls was undoubtedly traumatic and lasting."

As one of these women told Kroft back in 1999, "It's made me feel a horrible, dirty person all my life."