The House of Mercy Held Little Hope

The Girls with No Names takes a close look at life in the House of Mercy
Ms. Burdick gives us a story that reflects the abuse endured by Victorian women in the House of Mercy.

The House of Mercy is at the center of this compelling drama about young Effie Tildon and her sister Luella in the early part of the 20th Century. The girls are from an affluent family. But like all wealthy families of the time, their dirty secrets are to be kept buried at all costs.

One of the solutions back then was to transfer the unruly daughter to the House of Mercy. The women who ran the home believed the girls could repent of their foolish behavior. What if her father perpetrates the sin instead? How is a girl like Luella expected to look the other way when her father’s indiscretion is so visible to her?

The Girls with No Names were Committed to the House of Mercy

The Girls with No Names revolves around the viewpoints of Effie, her mother, and a young girl named Mabel. Effie meets Mabel at the House of Mercy. The two girls come from entirely different backgrounds, but circumstances bring them together in a desperate attempt to regain the lives they left behind. It is a story of dedication, compassion, and unbreakable bonds between sisters of the heart.

Growing up with a heart problem, I immediately became immersed in Effie’s circumstances. I could see myself in her actions and decisions at every turn of the story. Your heart will bleed for young Effie as they force her to work in the infamous laundry at House of Mercy. The staff intended the punishments to break the healthiest of young women.

Effie is sure her father banished Luella to the House of Mercy. She manages to find a way to get herself admitted. Little did she know that the freedom and magic at the Romanian encampment near their home enticed Luella to escape into a different kind of lifestyle.

Once inside the House of Mercy, escape is virtually impossible, and the attempt may get Effie killed.

I loved the story because of the nearly impossible odds Effie managed to beat every step of her life’s journey.

The Victorian Era

Punishments for Women

Nicole Hahn Rafter, a criminal justice professor at Northeastern University, did studies which show that half the offenses that landed women in one New York reformatory were acts of sexual misconduct.

Most of the women were not prostitutes. The crimes included truancy, premarital pregnancy, adultery, and keeping bad company. People did not consider many of the offenses crimes if done by men. The men of that period would not likely have suffered prison terms.

I was most disturbed by the conditions the girls encountered in the laundry of the House of Mercy. I’ve seen how women did laundry back in the early 1900s. Scalding water would claim more than one victim. To lose a finger in the wringer while trying to remove water from the clothes was commonplace.

My mother liked to talk about her “southern” upbringing. She expected us to act with a high level of dignity at all times. Without a doubt, she was the embodiment of the Victorian Era upbringing.

I wonder if something like the House of Mercy could be found in our community when I was growing up? Sadly, if there was one, I’m convinced I’d have found myself committed like Mabel and Effie.

About the Author

Serena Burdick graduated from The American Academy of Dramatic Arts in California. She then moved to New York to pursue a degree in English Literature at Brooklyn College.

Her passion for theater, writing, the visual arts, Edouard Manet, and the Impressionist movement combined to inform her debut novel, GIRL IN THE AFTERNOON: A Novel Of Paris.

She lives in Western Massachusetts with her husband and two sons.

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