Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Alma Dittman: The Midwife-Abortionist of Denver

I stumbled on a number of other abortion deaths while digging for more information on August 1, 1922, death of 27-year-old divorcee Carrie McDonald.

Carrie had died at the county hospital in Denver, Colorado from the effects of an abortion believed to have been perpetrated by nurse/midwife Alma Dittman, age 52, who had been implicated by one of Carrie's friends. I had been hoping to determine the outcome of the investigation into Carrie's death, but I found much, much more.

Newspapers.com is my go-to source. I didn't find much more on Carrie, so I searched for Alma Dittman and found two more abortion deaths: Rose Savoren and Mabel Duncan. When information on them was scanty I took to the Library of Congress archives and found even more deaths: Blance Grace Ainsley and Maybelle Pearl Cannon. Relentless searching hasn't found me any more information than what I'm presenting here, but I'll search other databases as I get the opportunity.


The February 9, 1912 Santa Fe New Mexican notes that Dittman, identified as a midwife, had been charged by the Colorado board of health with murder due to an abortion that killed Mrs. Blanche Grace Ainsley. The state's attorneys announced that they had no case so it was dropped.

According to the August 30, 1917 Elk Mountain Pilot, Dittman was charged in the abortion death of Mrs. Mabelle Pearl Cannon. Dittman pleaded not guilty and was released on $5,000 bond.

I've been unable to find anything other than a nolo contendere plea regarding Carrie's death in 1922. Thus, Alma Dittman was free to continue plying her trade.

The November 15, 1923 Arizona Republican notes that a coroner's jury declared Dittman responsible for the abortion death of Mabel Duncan, a mother of five, who died in her home Monday, November 12. Mabel had given a statement on October 18 indicating that Dittman had perpetrated the abortion that day. Mabel's husband, Fred, a traveling salesman, said that he'd been on the road when he'd gotten a telegram from Dittman, a woman his wife had identified as "a lady that has been taking care of me."

August 1927 papers note that Dittman, identified as "practical nurse and alleged midwife," was charged with second degree murder in the death of 24-year-old Miss Rose Savoren of Leadville, Colorado. Rose died on July 31 at St. Anthony's Hospital. She had been admitted on July 27. Rose and a friend, Miss Pearson, had come to Denver earlier that week and checked into the St. Francis Hotel. Miss Pearson said that Rose hadn't told her about the abortion but had left for the hospital saying that she was going fishing with friends. Miss Pearson said that she'd heard nothing more until summoned to the hospital by her dying friend on Sunday. Rose had also summoned her sister and other friends to her deathbed. She named Dittman as her abortionist before she died.

A diary among Rose's effects noted "a road house romance" with a man who was not believed to be the baby's father.

The District Attorney's office said that Dittman had perpetrated more than 1,000 abortions over a ten-year period. Her arrest was the fifth time she'd been charged with abortion. In all previous cases, they said, she'd been released on technicalities. 

During her trial, on December 15, 1927, the day the defense was to start presenting its case, Dittman committed suicide in her home by turning on all the gas jets on her stove. Her body was discovered by a friend who had come by to drive her to the trial. Dittman had left a note on the table proclaiming her innocence but expressing fear that the jury would find her guilty. She left $500 of her $20,000 estate to her dogs. The remaining money went to her son and two grandsons.

With such scanty information I can't determine what Alma Dittman's actual involvement was in these deaths or why she was free to practice when she was evidently a known abortionist.

Sources:

  • "Midwife Acquitted," Santa Fe New Mexican, February 9, 1912
  • "Colorado News," The Elk Mountain Pilot, August 30, 1917
  • "Denver Woman Held Responsible For Death Of Another," Arizona Republican, November 15, 1923
  • "Midwife Arrested For Woman's Death," Ft. Collins Express Courier, December 31, 1923
  • "Denver Nurse Arrested in Illegal Operation Probe," Ft. Collins Express Courier, August 2, 1927
  • "Women is Accused of 1,000 Illegal Acts," Albuquerque Journal, August 3, 1927
  • "Denver Woman Kills Self While on Trial Charged With Murder, Longmont Daily Times, December 15, 1927
  • "$500 Bequeathed by Mrs. Dittman to Her Two Dogs," Ft. Collins Express Courier, December 19, 1927









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