Between 1925 and 1961, a Roman Catholic order of nuns called the Bon Secours Sisters operated the Bon Secours Mother and Baby Home, or the Home, an institution where unmarried pregnant women gave birth in Tuam, Ireland. Pregnant women who delivered their infants at the Home were required to work at the Home for no less than one year without pay. The Irish government and the Catholic Church endorsed the Mother and Baby Home as a means to limit the number of children born out of wedlock by discouraging women from getting pregnant before marriage. During the Home’s thirty-six years of operation, the nuns reported that almost 800 children died in their care. In 2015, researchers discovered a tomb of 796 infant and child skeletons in a septic tank underneath where the Home once stood. The acceptance and use of Mother and Baby Homes revealed the way Ireland treated pregnant women in the twentieth century.
Emmett McLoughlin wrote People's Padre: An Autobiography, based on his experiences as a Roman Catholic priest advocating for the health of people in Arizona. The Beacon Press in Boston, Massachusetts, published the autobiography in 1954. McLoughlin was a Franciscan Order Roman Catholic priest who advocated for public housing and healthcare for the poor and for minority groups in Phoenix, Arizona, during the mid twentieth century. The autobiography recounts McLoughlin's efforts in founding several community initiatives throughout Phoenix, including the St. Monica's Community Center, later renamed St. Pius X Catholic Church, the Phoenix housing projects, and St. Monica's Hospital, later renamed Phoenix Memorial Hospital. McLoughlin's autobiography discusses his advocacy for people to have greater access to maternity and prenatal healthcare, to testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections, and to birth control in the Phoenix area.
In 2002, Miramax Entertainment released The Magdalene Sisters, a film that portrays an interpretation of the true events experienced by four young women who were forcibly placed into a Magdalene asylum in Dublin, Ireland, in 1964. Catholic nuns ran Magdalene asylums throughout the world, where they forced women whom society deemed sexually promiscuous to perform hard labor in their laundry facilities. The film portrays the experiences of four women, Margaret, Bernadette, Rose, and Crispina, as they experienced negative treatment from the nuns and sought escape. Directed by Peter Mullan, The Magdalene Sisters provided a means to see how women, including unwed mothers, prostitutes, and those with disabilities, were affected by Magdalene laundries in Ireland.
Simone Campbell is a Roman Catholic sister, attorney, and poet who advocated for social justice, especially equal access to healthcare in the US in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Campbell worked as a lawyer and served the working poor in California. As of 2018, she works for NETWORK, a lobbying group in Washington DC that focuses on broadening access to healthcare by lowering costs. In response to proposed federal budget cuts that would disproportionately affect the poor, Campbell organized Nuns on the Bus, a group of nuns who traveled across the US to publicize the potential effects of the budget cuts. She also organized the Nun’s Letter that supported the passage of the Affordable Care Act. Campbell advocated for the Affordable Care Act that, once passed, increased access to affordable healthcare for women and children, and started a national dialogue about poverty in America.
In 1998, Testimony Films released the documentary Sex in a Cold Climate, which reported the true stories of four survivors from the Magdalene asylums in Ireland in the twentieth century. Magdalene asylums, also called Magdalene laundries and homes, were institutions of the Catholic Church that sought to reform women engaged in prostitution and those who birthed children out of wedlock by forcing the women to do hard labor. Directed by Steve Humphries, the documentary interlocks four survivors’ stories of how they came to inhabit a Magdalene asylum, what occurred to them there, and how they eventually freed themselves. An Irish film festival first screened the documentary, which became the inspiration for the 2002 film, The Magdalene Sisters. Sex in a Cold Climate brought attention to the stories of women who survived Magdalene asylums, which prompted additional research and eventual justice for many of the women.