Can you help resolve one of Dublin’s lost histories?

by Rebecca Ryan
Dorinda in the front row in black dress

A Dublin man is looking for information about the Dublin Female Penitentiary that his great-grandmother used to run.

John Edmondson (69), from Monkstown, is completing The Lord Mayor’s Certificate in Oral History at the Dublin City Archives in Pearse Street Library and is researching the Protestant-run Magdalene Laundry beside Mountjoy.

John told Dublin Gazette he is hoping to find people with “personal stories” and is interest to know if it was “the same as the majority of laundries, or if it was more humane”.

He said: “The place closed in 1910, so there’ll be no-one alive today who has direct memories of it, but there could be older people who have some family stories about it, [for instance] if their mothers were in it or their families lived nearby or had some connection.”

Akin to the TV show, Who Do You Think You Are?, John is also trying to solve some of the questions about his great-grandmother, Dorinda Edmondson, who was Matron in the Penitentiary around 1900.

“[Dorinda] was employed as Matron of the Dublin Female Penitentiary from about 1889 to 1905.

“This was not a jail, but a Protestant-run Magdalene laundry right beside Mountjoy. It closed in 1910 so there is no one alive today with direct experience of it.

“After that, Dorinda ran a commercial laundry in Bray owned by her and her husband until 1916, a year after being widowed.

“Where she went then, I don’t know, but she turns up in the London Female Penitentiary in 1930 at the age of 70 and worked there until it closed in 1939 when she was 79.

“She then returned to Ireland and lived with her brother, William, in Arklow until she died in 1945, aged 85.

“Dorinda had no connection with the other laundry in Dundrum run by Thomas Edmondson,” John added.

John said he knows from the 1901 Census about Dorinda’s position in the Penitentiary, and her sister, Julia Anna Brewster, was one of her assistants.

“There were over 30 women working there as ‘laundresses’; [they were] mainly Catholic and most from Dublin, of a wide range of ages but many in their 30s.

“We have no idea whether the Penitentiary was just as bad as all the other Magdalene laundries, or was it a little more humane? Was Dorinda a saint? Or was she not?

“That is my question, and the only way to find a clue is by the testimony of people with direct experience,” added John.

If you have any stories or impressions about the Dublin Female Penitentiary, or Dorinda, you can contact John at, or contact 086 355 2525.

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