In 1836, anti-Catholic sentiment was in style, aggrivated by the racist, nationalistic propaganda of the Know-Nothing party. For example, two years earlier, a mob of Boston workers burned down a convent.

So a viciously anti-Catholic book called the Awful Disclosures of Maria Monk, as Exhibited in a Narrative of Her Sufferings During a Residence of Five Years as a Novice, and Two Years as a Black Nun, in the Hotel Dieu Nunnery at Montreal was enthusiastically greeted in this climate of bigotry. It purported to tell the story of one "Maria Monk" and her life in a Canadian convent. Salaciously detailed stories of kinky sex, bondage, torture, S&M, rape, blackmail, imprisonment, and murder within the convent walls no doubt helped it sell 300,000 copies.

It was eventually revealed that Monk had never been a nun. She was a runaway from a Catholic asylum for delinquent girls. But this revelation did not stop the book from being used as anti-Catholic propaganda as late as Kennedy’s campaign for President. It was in print as recently as 1997, and is on sale at Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.

Quickly abandoned by the anti-Catholic clergy who had so breathlessly promoted her story, the penniless Monk became a prostitute in New York City. She was arrested for pickpocketing one of her customers and was sent to Blackwell’s Island, where she died.

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