Wednesday, October 13, 2010

1936: The Abortionist's Wife Plies her Trade

On October 13, 1936, 18-year-old Margie Fraser died in a hospital in her hometown of Helena, Montana from complications of a botched abortion.

An inquest was held, with eight witnesses, including four physicians. The inquest determined that Margie had undergone the abortion on October 1 in Butte. A surgical nurse, Gertrude Pitkanen (pictured), was charged with manslaughter on October 15.

Pitkanen, born in 1878 in Lincoln, Nebraska, completed her nurse's training at Cook County Hospital in Chicago. She moved to Butte in 1907, and was one of the first surgical nurses at St. James Community Hospital, assisting her husband, Dr. Gustavus Pitkanen. Dr. Pitkanen was an abortionist until he was jailed for sedition in 1917, whereupon his wife took up the curette.

Pitkanen was also charged with the abortion deaths of Hilja Johnson and Violet Morse. A woman who was a student nurse at St. James Hospital in Butte remembered Pitkanen's victims. "They died horrible deaths from infection," she told a reporter from the Montana Standard.

Violet's abortion was unusual in that it was likely performed by a nurse, rather than by a doctor, as was the case with perhaps 90% of criminal abortions.

Keep in mind that things that things we take for granted, like antibiotics and blood banks, were still in the future. For more about abortion in this era, see Abortion in the 1920s.

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

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