In January of 1848, 20-year-old Ann Gallager of Boston approached a married friend, Catherine Beath, with the news that she was pregnant. Ann asked Catherine to go with her to Dr. John Stevens to arrange an abortion. "The doctor refused, saying that he was an old man and did not do such things." Ann offered him $50, Catherine said, but Stevens insisted that "he would not do it for all the world." Ann was angry, and went home to try to abort the baby herself. She tried pouring boiling water over tobacco leaves and breathing the steam. She tried drinking some rum in which she had soaked rusty nails. Finally, she tried a knitting needle, which Catherine took away from her.
Ann retorted to Catherine that she was going to do the abortion one way or another. She went to Catherine's house to get the knitting needle for another attempt, this time producing some bleeding. By this time, in February, Ann's clothes were getting tight. She tried vigorous exercise and pressing hard on her abdomen with her hands. In March, Ann went to Dr. Stebbins, asking for some abortifacient pills. She described her prior attempts at abortion, including the bleeding after the knitting needle attempt. "I told her if she continued to use the means thus far employed, she would kill herself."
As March wore on, Ann took ill. She gave a sworn statement that on March 15, she had gone to Dr. John Stevens for an abortion, which he had done with instruments. Two days later she expelled the dead baby, a boy. Ann's condition continued to deteriorate until her death on March 25. Stevens was arrested, but since the only witness against him was a prostitute who had a reputation as a liar, Stevens was acquitted. Since he had, by Ann and Catherine's word, repeatedly refused to perpetrate the abortion, my own belief is that she implicated Stevens as revenge for those refusals.
Abortifacient in Birmingham, Alabama, 1889
In 1889, Delia Mae Bell, age 14, lived with her mother, Mrs. McDermott, in Birmingham, Alabama and worked in her mother's dressmaking shop. When Delia took violently ill on a Sunday morning, the neighbors were suspicious. The first doctor called to the scene was L.G. Woodson. He arrived about 6:30 and found Delia in convulsions. He gave her a subcutaneous morphine injection then went to breakfast. When he returned, he found her once again convulsing, so he sent for Dr. W.C. Foster. He took note of the convulsions, and of a suspicious bottle. He called in yet another physician, Dr. W.E. Morris. "All the aids known to medical science were tried without avail, and about 3 o'clock in the afternoon it was decided to resort to an operation." Later, Morris said, "There were hurrying feet in the hallways, and then came a hush over the place. The girl was dead." This was Monday, March 25, 1889. The doctors notified the coroner and turned over a bottle to him that had contained an abortifacient traced to a man named George A. Foule of East Birmingham. Foule was a saloon keeper. He called his potion a treatment for "blood diseases and feminine troubles".
A Midwife and a Possible Lay Abortionist, Chicago, Early 20th Century
At about 11 a.m. on March 25, 1909, 37-year-old homemaker Carrie Pearson died at Ravenswood Hospital in Chicago from septicemia caused by an abortion. On her deathbed, Carrie said that the abortion had been perpetrated by 39-year-old midwife Caroline Meyer of on March 18 at 447 Wells Street. Meyer was held by the coroner but the case resulted in a hung jury. Carrie's death followed the typical pattern of a Chicago abortion death of the era: An abortion performed by a midwife (or physician), followed by admission to a hospital and subsequent death, often after naming the perpetrator in a deathbed statement. During her murder trial in Carrie's death, Meyers was also under indictment for the abortion death of Nellie O'Neill.
Homemaker Celia M. Schultz, age 29, died in a Chicago home from septicemia caused by an abortion on March 25, 1910. A woman named Mary Rommell was indicted for felony murder by a grand jury. The source document does not indicate her profession, or that the case ever went to trial. My best guess based on the resources I have at hand is that Rommell was a professional lay abortionist.
Doctors? New York, 1916
On March 25, 1916, Angela Raia of Paynter Avenue, Astoria, died, evidently from the results of an abortion. Her husband Ignazio sued two doctors, Harlan E. Linehan and Dennis McAuliffe, for $400, asserting that their negligence had caused Angela's death. McAuliffe joined the military and went to France, moving him out of reach of the suit. Linehan joined a medical advisory board and was busy with his duties at the time the suit was filed. He offered to settle with Angela's husband, saying that he wanted "to relieve himself of the annoyance of the case." Angela's husband took the offer. I've been unable to determine if the doctors had perpetrated the abortion or had failed to provide adequate aftercare or both. If they had been the ones to do the abortion, that would have made it typical of criminal abortions, most of which were perpetrated by doctors.
A Doctor in Chicago, 1933