Monday, May 15, 2006

Somebody was looking for abortion in the 1920s.

We need some perspective first. All surgery of any sort in the 1920s was done without the aid of modern blood transfusion and antibiotics. All surgery of any sort in this era was riskier than similar surgery today. This is the era where kitchen-table surgery was phasing out in favor of hospital-based surgery. I have an obstetrical nursing textbook from this era that describes how to set up an operating table in the woman's home to perform a c-section.

Blood banks were cutting-edge battlefield medicine just a few years before, and had not yet come into common usage. Blood type compatibility was not yet understood. It wasn't until the late 1930s and early 1940s that things like separating blood products started to come into practice. Antibiotics were not manufactured and used widely until after WWII. (See chart, below)

So keep in mind that things that may seem appalling to us in the early 21st century -- such as performing surgery in one's home -- was not appalling at the time. Things we take for granted, like antibiotics and blood banks, were still in the future.

With that said, I can't find any numbers for abortion mortality prior to 1940. It seems that before that, the information available lumps all maternal mortality together, and abortions can't be sorted out. But we can hazard a guess that the numbers were at least as high as they were in 1940. How much higher? It's hard to say.

So our best guess, based on what I've been able to find, is about 1,400 deaths a year from abortions in the late 1920s and early 1930s -- a number that would combine illegal abortions, the rare "therapeutic abortion" performed as a last-ditch attempt to save a dying woman, and miscarriages.

With that established, let's look at some examples of women who died, and who did their abortions. I have the following deaths:

  • 1920: Margaret Marts
  • 1921: Jennie Chubb, Iva Triplett, Virginia Rappe (pictured)
  • 1922: Mary Cybulski, Mary Gresky, Lillian Hulbert, Louise Huse, Veronica Maslanka, Carrie McDonald, Irene Michaelson, Beulah Pickerill, Margaret Sullivan
  • 1923: Annie Allison, Madge Bowman, Martha Byzynski, Mary Federowicz, Sophia Hartozinski, Emma Herrod, Alice Johnson, Mollie Monilson, Lydia Nelson, Lauretta Schranz, Daisy Singerland, Catherine Stange, Mary Sudik, Agnes Wendt
  • 1924: Madelyn Anderson, Mildred Bleschke, Selma Hedlund, Helen Koss, Etta Marcus, Agnes Nazar, Elizabeth Strazdas, Anna Strazynski, Elizabeth Strobel, Wanda Szidzewicz, Mary Whitney
  • 1925: Helen Bain, Jean Cohen, Agnes Crowe, Della Davis, Betty Fisher, Anna Kick, Lottie Lowy, Bridget Masterson, Faye McGinnis, Nina Pierce, Kate Radochouski, Mary Sayers, Katarzyna Tobiasz, Elizabeth Welter, Mary Williams, Gertrude Wynants, Margaret Zito
  • 1926: Alice Annalora, Mary Bailek, Edith Green, Alberta Handy, Ethel Hoer, Jeanette Jarrett, Louise Maday, Lillian McCullough, Mary Morehead, Emily Mueller,, Margaret Muscia, Mary Paradowski, Sophie Peterson VIctoria Smith; Fern Strecker, Willie Walker, Anna Welger
  • 1927: Auna Arola, Irene Campbell, Nancy Dawson, Loretta Enders, Shellane Franklin, Angerita Hargarten, Martha Kohnke, Florence Kruse, Arhne Reynolds, Lucille van Iderstine
  • 1928: Julia Agoston, Margaret Barnts, Anna Borndal, Rose Hannover, Mildred Jakobsen, Bessie Kouns, Stefania Kwit, Catherine Mau, Eunice McElroy, Anna Mae Smith, Lucille Smith, Maud Thurmond, Esther Wahlstrom, Stella Wallenberg, Martha Washington
  • 1929: Louise Allman, Emmy Anderson, Barbara Auer, Alline Brown, Virginia Clark, Violet Dianalana, Clara Duvall, Anna Fazio, Ruth Friedl, Winifred Garver, Agnes Johnson, Marjorie Johnson, Mary Kelly, Viola Koepping, Jennie Kuba, Elizabeth Palumbo, Frances Rogers, Dorothy Schultz, Fannie Shead,
    Mary Strugnall, Amelia Stumbras, Edna Vargo, Ruth Weir

    I also noted the following:
    • Dr. Amenti Rongetti was sentenced to die in 1928 for letting Loretta Enders, an abortion patient, die.
    • The widower of Aretta Hardesty won a judgment in 1928 against the abortionist who killed her.
    • A May 23, 1928 story in the New York Times describes the arrest of Dr. Charles Brancatti after a 19-year-old fingered him as her abortionist. Brancatti was araigned and had to put up $2,500 bail.

    I hope this answers any questions the searcher might have had.or more abortion deaths, visit the Cemetery of Choice:

    Here is a breakdown of who performed the fatal abortions I've uncovered for the 1920s:

    *Doctors: 45.65%
    *Perpetrator, or perpetrator's profession, unknown: 29.71%
    *Other medical person: 20.29%
    *Amateur: 2.17%
    *Self: 1.45%
    *Professional lay abortionist: 0.72%

    The breakdown of cases in which I was able to determine the profession of the perpetrator looks like this:

    *Doctors: 64.95%
    *Other medical person: 28.87%
    *Amateur: 3.09%
    *Self: 2.06%
    *Professional lay abortionist: 1.03%

    If we figure that the least likely to die are those who get a doctor to do their abortions, and the most likely to die those who take things into their own hands, this small sample is in keeping with the estimates of Mary Calderone and Nancy Howell Lee, that about 90% of criminal abortions were done by doctors.

    For more abortion deaths, visit the Cemetery of Choice:

    For more abortion deaths broken down by year, see this post.

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  • 1 comment:

    Kristine Kruszelnicki said...

    Can you list your sources for these figures? I know you've linked to a number of websites, but I'd just love a clear break-down of where the stats on the 1920's era abortions are coming from.

    You can email me kristine at