Wednesday, May 20, 2009

1870: Mystery death in Brooklyn turns out to be from abortion

On May 20, 1870, Mrs Matilda Henningsen, aka Matilda Hunt, died at No. 182 East Seventh Street in Brooklyn. Authorities investigated her death.

Matilda's sister, Henrietta Henningsen, testified that she recognized clothes and other items belonging to her sister. Henrietta said that Matilda had been sick about two months earlier, and had been treated by Dr. Herzog and Dr. Kennerer. Shortly after having taken ill, Matilda told Henrietta that she'd gotten an invitation to go to Williamsburgh, and that was the last Henrietta had seen of her sister.

August Herman Rauffes testified that he'd known Matilda for about twelve years. She had worked for several families as a live-in governess. In October of 1869 she had rented a room from him above his store. She had been treated by Dr. Herzog for sickness. She told Rauffes that she was going to the country, and left a forwarding address. After her departure, Rauffes found a card with the names of Dr. Wolff and Dr. Grindle written on it.

Dr. Max Herzod testified that he had treated Matilda on March 12 for abdominal pain. After three weeks of care, the pain continued, and Matilda also reported nausea. He examined her and determined that she was pregnant. Afterward she told him she was going to Germany. That was the last he'd heard of her until learning of her death. Dr. Krammerer, who had also treated Matilda, concurred with Dr. Herzod's testimony.

Dr. Joseph B. Chshman testified as to the post-mortem examination he had performed. He said he found all the evidence of uterine infection and resulting peritonitis, resulting from an abortion.

The Dr. Wolf whose name was on the card Matilda's landlord found, was Mr. A. A. Wolff, from Denmark, purported to be a physician. However, he is not identified as such in the source document. But he clearly was an abortionist. Six fetuses, along with various instruments, were found in his office.

The jury determined that Wolff had performed the fatal abortion.

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

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