Dirty Laundry: Catholics and Protestants in Montana circa 1914
Catholics and Protestants have been at odds with each other since 1517. In Montana, the debate manifested in the Mabel Rail affair at the House of the Good Shepherd, a home for “fallen women” in 1914. Mabel Rail was sent to the House of the Good Shepherd at age fourteen, and after six months she was asked by the Mother Superior to leave. Little is known about her time at the House of the Good Shepherd, but about six months after she left an anti-Catholic newspaper from Aurora, Missouri published Mabel’s accusations of abuse by the nuns, especially claims of child labor in the laundry facility. However, an investigation by Montana’s Child and Animal Welfare bureau revealed that a Kalispell man might have written the testimony, made Mabel Rail sign it, and sent it to the known anti-Catholic newspaper. Did Mabel Rail really write the letter? Was Mabel Rail or Clyde Jordan accusing the House of the Good Shepherd for some gain, or was he or she trying to shed light on the abuses of the Catholic Church’s social institutions in Montana? And what really happened to Mabel Rail? While many of these questions cannot be answered, this paper conducts a historical investigation into the Mabel Rail affair. Using letters, newspaper articles, and government reports, this paper argues that The Menace and Mabel Rail affair exemplified the Protestant and Catholic divide in the United States in the Progressive Era.