Saturday, December 20, 2008

Abortion deaths in the 19th Century

I have no information on overall maternal mortality, or abortion mortality, in the 19th century. I imagine it can't be too much different from maternal and abortion mortality at the very beginning of the 20th Century. This is the picture the CDC paints in Achievements in Public Health, 1900-1999: Healthier Mothers and Babies:

Maternal mortality rates were highest in this century during 1900-1930. Poor obstetric education and delivery practices were mainly responsible for the high numbers of maternal deaths, most of which were preventable. Obstetrics as a speciality was shunned by many physicians, and obstetric care was provided by poorly trained or untrained medical practitioners. Most births occurred at home with the assistance of midwives or general practitioners. Inappropriate and excessive surgical and obstetric interventions (e.g., induction of labor, use of forceps, episiotomy, and cesarean deliveries) were common and increased during the 1920s. Deliveries, including some surgical interventions, were performed without following the principles of asepsis. As a result, 40% of maternal deaths were caused by sepsis (half following delivery and half associated with illegally induced abortion) with the remaining deaths primarily attributed to hemorrhage and toxemia.


Note, please, that with issues such as doctors not using proper aseptic techniques, lack of access to blood transfusions and antibiotics, and overall poor health to begin with, there was likely little difference between the performance of a legal abortion and illegal practice, and the aftercare for either type of abortion was probably equally unlikely to do the woman much, if any, good.

With that established, let's look at the sample of cases I've been unable to uncover during this period. Please note that these cases are chosen purely because I could find information about them, and not because I thought a particular woman's story made a particular political point.
  1. January 20, 1846: Mary Ackerly was kept in a brothel by the father of her baby while he arranged for Dr. Shove to perform an abortion on her, very much against her will.

  2. February, 1854: Jessie Wicks was referred to Mrs. M. J. Bord for an abortion; I've been unable to determine Bord's profession.

  3. October, 1854: Mary Stone died after dosing herself with oil of tansey to do a home abortion.

  4. June 11, 1857: Emma Post went with her lover for what she'd thought was to be a social visit; instead he brought her to a brothel and arranged for an abortion by Dr. Lewis Dix.

  5. September, 1857: Martha Lockdoy died after Mrs. Halm, "calling herself an Indian Doctress", gave her an abortifacient.

  6. January 29, 1858: Olive Ash, with the help of her twin sister and her cousin, arranged an abortion by Dr. William Howard.

  7. February 13, 1858: Jemima Beneway left her home, ostensibly to get married and meet her new husband's family; instead her lover took her to the office of a professional lay abortionist in New York.

  8. May 19, 1858: Amelia Weber died at the home of Dr. Charles Cobel; Cobel's behavior after her death brought on the investigation which revealed that she'd died from an abortion.

  9. August, 1858: Susan Webster died after an abortion performed by Dr. D. Brown.

  10. August 13, 1858: Ann Regan died after a secret abortion by an unknown perpetrator.

  11. 1859: Mary Kirkpatrick died after her boss, who had gotten her pregnant, gave her an abortifacient.

  12. September 3, 1859: Mary Visscher told everybody she was going for a social visit, but instead went to the practice of two female physicians, Elizabeth Byrns and Mary E. Smith, for an abortion.

  13. February, 1860: Cordelia Calkins died from taking oil of tansey her lover's brother had obtain to cause an abortion.

  14. February 11, 1861: Caroline Malinken died after her husband's doctor, John H. Joecken, assured her than an abortion would be "the easiest thing imaginable, and that in eight days all would be over."

  15. 1863: Louisa Hullsberger died from an abortion performed by Dr. A. L. Alstead.

  16. May 4, 1865: Emma Wolfer died after her physician-lover got her an abortifacient and arranged for another doctor to perform aftercare.

  17. March 16, 1869: Magdalena Philippi died from an abortion performed by Dr. Gabriel Wolff, but Wolff couldn't be prosecuted because nobody could prove that Magdalena had felt fetal movement prior to the abortion. This led to a bill being passed to eliminate the "quickening" clause in New York abortion law, to make cases easier to prosecute.

  18. August 23, 1870: Mrs. Lafavor, a young bride, died after taking an abortifacient provided to her by her landlord.

  19. April 27, 1871: Elvira Woodward died after an abortion performed by Dr. Charles P. Wood.

  20. December, 1871: Amanda McCoy died at the home of Dr. Fahlbusch, a female physician/midwife.

  21. 1874: Mary Dix died after an abortion performed by Dr. W. F. Aiken.

  22. December, 1874: Belle Wertz was about to be buried when an investigation broke out and it was determined that Dr. Hilt had performed a fatal abortion on her.

  23. December, 1874: Zilpha West died from an abortion evidently arranged by her lover's father.

  24. March 7, 1875: Antoinette Fennor died after an abortionist performed by career lay abortionist Mrs. Catherine Maxwell.

  25. July 4, 1875: Miss Bertram, engaged to be married soon, tried two different abortifacients until she found one that killed her near-term infant. However, it was equally, if more slowly, fatal for her as well.

  26. November, 1875: Mary Foorman died after her brother arranged an abortion with two doctors, Mansuer and McIvaine; after her death, he helped them dispose of her body.

  27. August 16, 1876: Margaretta Velth died after an abortion by a perpetrator who's identity I've been unable to determine.

  28. July 26, 1877: Mrs. Boschen was found dead in the Chicago office of Dr. Muleck.

  29. October 20, 1877: Nellie Ryan died after an abortion performed by midwife Amelia Spork.

  30. January 3, 1878: Maggie Gibbons died after an abortion performed by Charles P. Emerich, whose profession I have been unable to determine.

  31. January, 1880: Mary McCarty died after an abortion performed by Dr. Banks; news coverage said that she was the "unsuspecting and unfortunate victim of the criminal or culpably stupid operation", so she might not have realized that her husband had arranged for Banks to do an abortion.

  32. August 20, 1880: M. Faulkner died at the office of Dr. Thomas J. Cream during an abortion.

  33. June 25, 1882: Ruth Phillips confessed on her deathbed to her sisters that their father had been the father of her stillborn twins, and that she herself had used instruments to abort the babies.

  34. July 1, 1882: Gussie Ellergood, a servant working in the home of Dr. Edgar Park, named Dr. R. McWilliams as the person who performed her fatal abortion.

  35. January 29, 1883: Adeline Savroch died after an abortion performed by midwife Bertha Twachaus.

  36. October, 1883: Mrs. O'Connor died from a botched abortion, and "Dr. Archibald Lawson, a prominent physician, has fled to avoid arrest."

  37. July 27, 1884: Lizzie Cook died suddenly, amid secrecy that aroused suspicion; this led to the arrest of Dr. Ira T. Richmond for performing a fatal abortion on her.

  38. December 23, 1885: Sylvia Sawdy died after an abortion performed by her lover.

  39. November 28, 1888: Mrs. Libby died after taking an abortifacient she bought from "a traveling doctor who made a specialty of selling such drugs."

  40. March 8, 1889: Miss Bellville had previously performed a successful abortion on herself, using an instrument and instructions provided by her lover; her attempt to abort another pregnancy proved fatal.

  41. July 12, 1889: Annie Doran died at the practice of somebody who was a midwife, perhaps a physician/midwife.

  42. February 16, 1890: Mary Keegan died after an abortion performed by Mrs. Annie Schneider, whose profession I've been unable to determine.

  43. December 22, 1891: Tillie Thom was found dead at the office of Dr. Franklin Brooks in Chicago from an abortion he'd performed.

  44. April, 1893: Ada Hawk's lover first tried to get two different men to marry her, then went in search of an abortionist. He found "a doctor and an old woman" to do the job.

  45. April 27, 1896: Emily LeBinney underwent an abortion by midwife Mary Schott. The baby, born alive, was tossed into the river. Emily died shortly afterward.

  46. April 19, 1898: Hughretta Binkley died after an abortion by Dr.Belle Howard.

  47. March 16, 1899: Harriet Reece was the first abortion death I've learned of attributed to Dr. Louise Hagenow.

  48. April 25, 1899: Sarah Messinger died after an abortion performed by Marie Kampfer, whose profession I have been unable to determine.

  49. June 23, 1899: Cora Burke died after an abortion performed by Dr. R. J. Alcorn in his room at a boardinghouse.

  50. August 16, 1899: Mrs. Vacicek died after an abortion performed by Mary Koupal, whose profession I've been unable to determine.

  51. September 2, 1899: Marie Hicht was the second abortion death I know of attributed to Dr. Louise Hagenow.

  52. September 23, 1899: Mary Kakacek died after an abortion performed by midwife Annie Stonek.

Here is the breakdown of who performed this sample of fatal 19th Century abortions:



"Lay Abortionist" is somebody with no formal medical training that I know of, but who was a practicing abortionist nonetheless. "Amateur" is somebody who had no formal medical training and did not routinely perform abortions. "Unknown" is used when it was either unknown who did the abortion, or I was unable to determine the person's profession. And I counted all abortifacient abortions as self-induced unless the woman got the drugs from a physician or other trained medical professional.

The breakdown, in descending order, is:

  • Doctor - 54.90%
  • Unknown - 17.65%
  • Self - 11.76%
  • Midwife - 9.80%
  • Professional Lay Abortionist - 3.92%
  • Amateur - 1.96%

    If we look only at the cases in which I was able to determine the profession of the perpetrator, our breakdown looks like this:



  • Doctor - 66.67%
  • Self - 14.29%
  • Midwife - 11.90%
  • Professional Lay Abortionist - 4.76%
  • Amateur - 2.68%

    For a further breakdown of abortion deaths since the 19th Century, see this post.



    For more on pre-legalization abortion, see The Bad Old Days of Abortion

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  • 1 comment:

    Nichole Jarvis said...

    I am interested in 19th century abortions - I noticed this one was missing from your list.

    http://iowacoldcases.org/case-summaries/belle-sutliff/