Sunday, February 13, 2011

1858: Promised marriage, delivered to death

The mysterious death of a young lady ... has been undergoing a rigid examination before the proper authorities in Poughkeepsie, and has resulted in exposing one of the most diabolical outrages ever committed of the like in this city.

Jemima Beneway was described as an "unfortunate young girl who has been the victim of her seducer", from "most respectable parents", and "highly esteemed by a large circle of friends".

Over the previous year, she'd had a suitor, a young man named John Olmstead. The couple became engaged, and a wedding scheduled for February. Olmstead told Jemima's parents that he wanted to take her to his parents' home in Connecticut for the wedding. They agreed, and at half-past nine on February 4, 1858, Jemima's happy friends and parents fondly saw the couple off at the train station, heading for New York City.

Since Jemima's name is consistently given as Beneway, not Olmstead, and Olmstead was referred to as Jemima's "lover", not her husband, it appears that the wedding never actually took place.

The couple arrived in New York and checked into a hotel, but stayed the night with Jemima's cousin in Brooklyn. When they returned to New York City the next day, Jemima took ill suddenly, "and was carried into the office of an alleged abortionist named Milton W. Gray .... From the evidence before the coroner, it is shown that all things were prepared for her reception, and after a short time she was conveyed by her lover and Dr. Gray to No. 218 Grand street, where a most nefarious and brutal abortion was produced, resulting in her death one week from the time she entered this den."

The coroner's jury came to the conclusion that Jemima had died on February 13 from an abortion performed by Gray, with Olmstead as an accessory before the fact. Gray was arrested, and a reward of $500 offered for the capture of Olmstead, who had fled.

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 overall public health 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.

Sources: "Mysterious Murder of a Young Lady in New York", The Republican Compiler, March 22, 1858, citing The New York Herald, March 17, 1858

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