The Library of Nineteenth-Century Photography

 
 
 
Edith O'Gorman

Edith O'Gorman, 'The Escaped Nun'


Born at Roscommon in Ireland on 20 August 1842, Edith O’Gorman emigrated to America in 1848 where she joined the Sisters of Charity in 1862, becoming Sister Teresa de Chantal and residing for the next six years at St Joseph's Convent in Hudson City, New Jersey. In January 1868 she left – or as she later claimed ‘escaped’ from - the convent and the following year she converted to Protestantism. In 1871 she published Convent Life Unveiled: The Trials and Persecutions of Miss Edith O’Gorman, which ran to numerous editions and was translated into several languages. In it, Edith recounted the many cruelties which she had allegedly endured during her time as a nun. These included being forced to eat worms for minor infractions of the rules and her attempted rape by a priest. Soon afterwards she began a series of Anti-Catholic lectures in which she detailed her blood-curdling experiences and railed against the horrors of convent life. Billed as ‘The Escaped Nun’, Edith eventually reached England in 1881, where her tour attracted large audiences and mixed responses. While British Anti-Catholics applauded her condemnation of convents, small Roman Catholic minorities protested vociferously at her lectures and even threatened her with violence.

On 17 June 1869 she married William Charles Auffray (sometimes Auffrey), a Frenchman who had emigrated to New York in or about 1868. A son, William John Charles Auffray, was born in New York about 1876. The family relocated to South London about 1880. William died, aged 50, in Dulwich on 25 June 1893. In 1901 Edith was a widow, living with her son, who was now an ‘Estate Agent and Auctioneer’, in Tulse Hill, South London. She died on 25 May 1929, aged 80, and was buried alongside her husband in London’s West Norwood Cemetery. An imposing but now semi-derelict monument still marks their grave.

Photographed by Brown, Barnes and Bell (various branches).

 

Code: 126230
 
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© Paul Frecker 2018