Tuesday, August 25, 2015

1893: The Death of Ada Hawk

SUMMARY: Ada Hawk, age 17, died on August 25, 1893 after a mysterious abortion perpetrated in Missouri.

John O. Edmonson was convicted of manslaughter in the second degree after an abortion he arranged resulted in the August 25, 1893 death of 17-year-old Ada Hawk. He was sentenced to three years in prison.


Edmonson was a middle-aged widower, president of the bank in Walnut Grove, living with his mother in Greene County, Missouri. Edmonson hired Ada, who lived with her parents, as a housekeeper for his mother in April of 1893. The trail found that Edmonson seduced Ada (though her mother testified that on her deathbed Ada had blamed Edmonson for "forcing" her, indicating either coercion or rape), resulting in her pregnancy.

The First Strategy

A man named J. M. Jones testified at the inquest that Edmonson "asked me what I would do if I got a girl into a delicate condition, and I told him I would marry her if she was respectable. He asked if I had a doctor book, but I had none and remarked that if he had any one in the fix he had better go slow as it was one way to get into the penitentiary."

"A few days afterward he told me to keep quiet about that girl in Springfield as there was nothing in it. I advised him that if he did not intend to marry her he had better send her off and he replied that he did not have the money. He recommended Ada Hawk to me as a housekeeper. Edmonson also asked me to see Mr. Henry Creed and get him to marry Ada. He asked me twice to do this, saying that if I could it would be a favor to him, Edmonson, and would be a good thing for both Creed and Ada."

Edmonson tried to cajole two different men Creed himself, and also tried to cajole L.B. Harper, into marrying Ada. Ada resented this move on Edmonson's part.

Not wanting to marry Ada himself and unable to recruit another husband for her, Edmonson began asking around for the best way to "get rid of it."

"Getting Rid of It"

He and Ada first tried inserting a rubber catheter, to no effect. Edmonson consulted with a druggist, Mr. King, who said he didn't know how to cause an abortion. Edmonson asked King if whiskey and "Indian turnip" would do the job. King indicated that there was a place near Walnut Grove where "Indian turnip" could be found.

Edmonson then took Ada to Springfield, where a doctor and "an old woman" agreed to perform an abortion for $50. The "old woman" in question Mrs. Donaldson, who was keeping the Commercial Hotel where Ada was staying. However, Donaldson insisted that while Ada had told her of the pregnancy and requested help getting rid of it, she'd refused to do anything to abort the pregnancy. Evidently some sort of concoction was also given to Ada.

Returning Home

Ada's mother, Mrs. E. J. Hawk, reported that Ada had come home on August 1 and had taken sick on the 5th, reporting pain in the stomach and bowels.

Edmonson coached Ada on how to hide the abortion from her mother and was very attentive of her during her illness. Some two or three weeks passed during which Ada kept her secret, while she continued to take some greenish medicine Edmonson had provided. The medicine seemed to make Ada more ill. Ada bled heavily and passed a clot, which led her mother to wonder if her daughter had been pregnant and had aborted.

Both of Ada's parents agreed that they insisted on sending for a doctor, wanting Dr. Hardin, the family physician. Ida, however would only consent to the doctor Edmonson chose, Dr. Perry.

"That excited my suspicions that my daughter had not done right," Mr. Hawk testified. "I asked her about it but she made no reply. She never made any confidential statement to me after or during her sickness.

Dr. J. K. Perry testified that Edmonson had come to his office on August 21, asking him to tend to Ada for her headache and bowel pain. Perry arrived to find her with a fever of 103, and was told that she'd been delirious. He diagnosed her as having typhoid malarial fever and denied that she was pregnant when he treated her.

Perry came nine times to care for Ada, Mr. Hawk said, and always insisted that everybody leave the room while he attended to her.

A Deathbed Confession and Accusation

As her health deteriorated, Ada realized that she was dying and said to her mother, "Ma, how I love you. You will keep our secret, won't you?"

Mrs. Hawk promised that she would.

"Well, Ma, I did miscarry the Saturday after I came home [August 5]." Ada had gone into the woods to deliver the baby, then returned to the house and acted as if nothing had happened.

The dying girl turned to Edmonson and said, "John, you know that it was yours, for you forced me, and you know you forced me. You know you did and you can be punished for it yet. Are you going to do what you said you would? You said you would take care of me, and if you don't I will commit suicide."

Edmonson told Ada to be quiet and stop making herself so upset.

After Ada's Death

Mrs. Hawk further testified that after Ada died, "Mr. Edmonson told me that if I would get my husband quiet he would do what was right by us. "

Ada's father testified that, "Mr. Edmonson did not ask me to keep my mouth shut in regard to my daughter's death, but he said he would pay for the hauling of the coffin and of the corpse. He said he would not go to my house so much only to keep suspicion down.

After Ada's death, Edmonson asked a Mr. Brown to help him dig a grave, telling Brown that "he wanted her buried quick" and that "the family wanted a shallow grave." Word got to the authorities about the suspicious circumstances. The coroner had Ada's body exhumed, but it was too decomposed for him to be able to perform a satisfactory autopsy. Instead he held the inquest that brought the story out.

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.

No comments: