Monday, December 24, 2007

Anniversary: Tragic holiday surprise

On the morning of Deceber 24, 1885, Dr. Sawdy of Howard City, about 40 miles north of Grand Rapids, Michigan, got an unexpected visit from the father of Harry McDowell, who had been courting Sawdy's 21-year-old daughter, Sylvia.

On December 10, Sylvia had taken a train to Grand Rapids, saying that she was going to visit with Harry's mother. The senior McDowell told Dr. Sawdy that he'd gotten a telegram from Harry, that Sylvia was very sick and wanted her mother to go to her.

Dr. Sawdy would not learn the truth until he picked up the newspaper the following morning: Sylvia was dead, and Harry was the prime suspect in her death.

It came out in Harry's trial that in November, Sylvia had consulted with Drs. Bodle, Hake, and Bradish, indicating that she was pregnant. Evidence indicated that McDowell had performed an abortion on Sylvia on December 23, and that she died that day. McDowell was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 15 years.

For more on pre-legalization abortion, see The Bad Old Days of Abortion

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