California Magdalens: Catholicism, the State, and the History of Women’s Incarceration, 1850-1940

“In order to understand the religious history of U.S. incarceration, we must look more closely women’s history at the Catholic Church: Catholic women religious ran carceral institutions across the United States in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, including—for almost seventy years—a state-sponsored industrial school for women and girls in San Francisco, California. ”

Team Members/Contributors

Katherine D. Moran Saint Louis University Contact Me

About this sabbatical grant for researchers

California Magdalens is a globally-situated religious history of the Magdalen Asylum of San Francisco, California. The asylum was founded in 1865 by Irish immigrant Sisters of Mercy and remained open until 1932. It served as a refuge for women fleeing forced sex work and as a state-sponsored industrial school for women and girls convicted by county courts of various forms of “improper conduct.” Combining the methods and concerns of social, cultural, and intellectual history, this book draws on research in archives across the United States and in Ireland to explore the history of the San Francisco asylum as part of national and transnational networks of Magdalen asylums run by Catholic women religious. It argues that an understanding of Catholic practices and ideas is crucial to a full reckoning of the history of Christianity and U.S. women’s incarceration. In the process, the book contributes to growing scholarship on church-state connections in the U.S. West, speaks to scholarly and popular memory work on Magdalen asylums, and offers a vital historical perspective for Catholic, Protestant, and other religious and non-religious activists looking to shape the future of the U.S. carceral state.