Thursday, December 16, 2010

1874: Fear leads to death for Brooklyn woman

"How Mrs. Seifred was Killed by Female Quacks -- The Verdict of a Jury" reads the subhead on a December 29, 1874 edition of The Brooklyn Eagle.

The paper was covering the coroner's inquest into the December 16 death of Mrs. Christine Seifred. Christine had been unfaithful to her husband when he was away in Europe, and when he returned and learned of the pregnancy, he left her.

Christine went to a midwife, Mrs. Johanna White, "whose den is at No. 99 Station street, when an operation was performed, from the effects of which both the woman and the child died."

The police in their search for the abortinoists, employed a couple of females who visited the Stantion street house, and learned the nature of the business carried on there, and through their agency


were connected with the outrage upon Mrs. Seifred.

Police arrested Mrs. White and her assistant, Margaret Smith. The investigation determined that the fatal abortion had been performed on December 6, causing a uterine infection which generalized into fatal peritonitis. Christine had been about three months pregnant.

The article then goes into some detail of the police investigation, which I will share:

[The female investigator, Sarah Lupham] rang the bell, and asked if the Madame was in. The servant said that her mistress had gone to Jersey City and would not be back until 4 o/clock. Mrs. Lupham told the girl that she had come a long distance and did not care to go back again until she saw the Madame. The young girl then insisted on her waiting, and she accordingly took a seat in the parlor. She asked the girl the Madame's name and was given a Germon one in response. She told her that that was not the name she wanted, and then the girl mentioned the name of White. The female detective said that she had come there on business for a friend who wanted an operation performed, and when the Madame came in she offered to perform the operation for $30. The detective told the Madame that this friend of her's (sic) was illegitimately pregnant. The Madame said that she did not give medicines as they did more harm than good, that she always used instruments. The detective told the madame that a German friend of her's (sic) had recommended the madame to her, and perhaps she might remember this friend who had been there two weeks bfore. The madame then described Mrs. Seifred's appearance accurately, and the servant volunteered information as to the kind of instrument which had been used in the operation. She said they were about


The detective made an appointment with the madame for the following Monday to have the oepratino performed on her friend. She went there as agreed, but told the madame that she feared the operation could not then be performed as the parties who had agreed to


had not put in an appearance. When she asked the madame if she would be able to recognize Mrs. Seifredn's picture if she saw it, and showed her one when she said, "Oh, yes, that is the woman."
The detective then made a promise to call again on Saturday last. Madame White told her that she had operated on Mrs. Seifred twice at the same visit, and that Mrs. Seifred had told her that she did not help it would cause three deaths -- her child's, and then her husband would kill her and he would be hung.

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.

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 on this era, see Abortion Deaths in the 19th Century.

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

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