Right here in River City

Well here is something I would love to know more about – the early history of the Home of the Good Shepherd in Wallingford, in Seattle. I’ve been familiar with the building that housed it for years, indeed decades. It belongs to the city now, and houses various organizations; the grounds around it are a city park. I think I always vaguely knew it had been some kind of “homeforunmarriedmothers”…but I’ve been learning to treat that archaic term with more suspicion, plus “Good Shepherd” is one of the four orders that ran those houses of horror the Magdalene laundries, so…

So I finally got around to looking it up, and sure enough.

The Home of the Good Shepherd, located at 4649 Sunnyside Avenue in Seattle’s Wallingford neighborhood, opened in 1907 to provide shelter, education, and guidance to young girls. The Home generated revenue by operating a commercial laundry, as did many other Good Shepherd institutions. Girls were referred by the courts or brought in by their families from throughout Washington and sometimes Alaska.

Check. Check. Check.

The Sisters of the Good Shepherd believed that by providing the benefits of a stable and loving home, the girls could become responsible, moral, and caring women.

Bad syntax there, but you can tell what it’s trying to say. You can also read on and see that the sisters’ idea of a stable and loving home is rather…Catholic.

The south wing of the building housed the “penitent” girls, those whom society considered “wayward” and rooms for those nuns who worked with them…

The nuns frequently led the girls in religious song as they walked to and from meals and Mass. Spiritual quotations were posted on classroom walls and devotional statues of saints were found throughout the Home’s stairways, hallways, and grounds. The Sisters of the Good Shepherd demonstrated to the girls a pious and moral lifestyle.

Not altogether homey…plus it was a prison.

For the first half of the institution’s history, residents rarely were allowed to leave the grounds or hear news of the outside world. Thus, the residents’ most coveted privilege was “parlor” — receiving approved visitors every other Sunday…The girls could not be trusted and neither could the outside world. To prevent residents from seeing the outside world and leaving the Home, locked doors and opaque glass were used in the earlier years. A little later, barred windows, barbed wire fences, then window alarms were installed. Though these measures appeared harsh for some; for others, it offered protection and safety and enabled to them concentrate on rehabilitating and healing.

You bet.

If the account is accurate (and that’s a big if), it was overall less harsh than the Irish versions, but it was still a theocratic prison. The big difference seems to be that the sentence wasn’t for life. Other than that, it’s a nasty business.

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