Tuesday, June 04, 2013

1884: A Mysterious Death

On May 14, 1884, a young woman arrived in Ft. Wayne, Indiana on the train from Quincy, Illinois. She was so terribly ill that the conductor of the train telegraphed for authorities to have a carriage at the depot to take her to the hospital.

She was taken to Dr. Thayer's maternity hospital, giving her name as Cora Smiley. On May 25, she expelled a five-month stillborn baby. Though she didn't confide in her doctors, she did tell the other patients that she was suffering the effects of an abortion attempted on her in back in January in Quincy by a Dr. Pixley or Pittsley.

Mary evidently seemed to be improving, because her death was described as "sudden". She evidently died on June 4 or 5.

The post-mortem examination and investigation identified the dead woman as Mary Rice, and verified that she had died from the lingering effects of an attempted abortion. Her family were notified, and one of her brothers came to Ft. Wayne to take her home for burial.

Without any knowledge of why Mary underwent the abortion it's impossible to think of any factors that would have prevented the abortion. Given the state of medicine at the time and the dearth of information it's also impossible to say what might have caused her death.

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.

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