Friday, June 12, 2009

1902: Journey to death

In June of 1902, Irene Wengel traveled to Tampa, Florida, where she was met by her cousin, J. Carl Christian. Christian had arranged for her to stay at the home of Dr. Frederick N. Weightnovel for an abortion. Christian visited Irene many times during her stay at Weightnovel‘s home. Two days after her arrival, Irene asked Christian to telegraph to Waycross for her trunk.

Testimony about days and dates is evidently jumbled. The abortion was reportedly performed June 6, which was a Friday. But Irene‘s cousin reported that he visited her on a Wednesday, about a week before her death, and she‘d told him that Weightnovel had performed the abortion the previous night, and that she‘d be ready to go home the following Tuesday. The only date we can perhaps rely upon is the date of Irene's death: June 12.

Dr. B. G. Abernathy was called in to attend to Irene after the abortion. Abernathy testified that Irene told him she‘d come to Weightnovel about two weeks earlier, that she did well the first day or two after the abortion, but that she became very sick and rapidly declined.

Abernathy diagnosed her Irene suffering from blood poisoning caused by retained placenta. Abernathy asked Weightnovel for a curette so that he could perform a D&C, and Weightnovel provided one. Abernathy also returned to his own house to get some other instruments. At some point Weightnovel asked Abernathy to send a telegram to Irene‘s parents.

State‘s witness Frank Middaugh testified that on the night Irene died, he‘d heard the cries of a girl calling, "Doctor, doctor," from Weightnovel‘s house. Middaugh also testified that he saw Weightnovel sitting in a lighted window, fanning himself.

An undertaker testified that he‘d been summoned to remove Irene‘s body, and was asked to do so quietly and discreetly to keep the news of Irene‘s death secret.

Officer Carter, who arrested Weightnovel, testified that when he made the arrest, Weightnovel picked up a bundle of women‘s clothing, which he rolled up and tried to toss under a table. Carter saw that the clothing was stained and took the clothing into evidence.

Weightnovel was convicted of manslaughter in Irene‘s death.

Irene's abortion was typical of pre-legalization abortions in that it was performed by a physician.

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. For more about abortion and abortion deaths in the first years of the 20th century, see Abortion Deaths 1900-1909.

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

To email this post to a friend, use the icon below.

No comments: