Friday, July 03, 2009

1929: House calls for aftercare prove futile for teen

Dorothy Schultz, 19 years of age, lived with her parents in Tomah, Wisconsin. She had just graduated from high school in June of 1929 and was planning to take a job with the government in Washington.

In early June, Dorothy had gone to her mother with the news that she was pregnant and had missed two periods. On June 14, she was examined by Dr. Winter to verify that she was pregnant.

On June 15 or 16, Dorothy's mother brought her to Dr. W. B. Parke in Camp Douglas to arrange an abortion. He examined her and agreed to do an abortion for $150. Dorothy's mother thought this was expensive but Parke assured her that he was competent and this was his usual fee. Dorothy's mother agreed and made plans to return for the actual abortion at a later date.

The trip was delayed until June 19 due to inclement weather. Dorothy's parents wanted to remain at Parke's home while he did the abortion, but he requested that they leave. Dorothy's parents then offered to stay at a Camp Douglas hotel, but Parke didn't like this plan, either. He assured Dorothy's parents that all would go well, that he'd do the abortion in the morning. He took their $150 in cash and sent them on their way.

Although Dorothy had suffered a sore throat about two weeks before the abortion, she was in apparent good health when her parents brought her to Parke.

The next day, Dorothy's mother fetched her daughter home. Dorothy seemed well but went to bed. But that evening she suffered chills. She continued to be ill, so a few days later her parents called Parke and told him of Dorothy's condition. He came to the Schultz home, bringining instruments with him, which he sterilized by boiling. He then performed a procedure to clean out Dorothy's uterus.

Parke came to Dorothy's home on at least two other occasions. On June 25, he found her condition to be so serious that he wanted to return to Camp Douglas to get medicine for her.

Dorothy's parents wanted to call another doctor, but Parke told them to wait until after his return. After he left, Dorothy's parents called Dr. Winter. Dr. Winter found Dorothy delirious, with a 105 degree fever, and he suspeced an abortion. Parke returned to the house while Dr. Winter was still there.

Parke went to Dr. Winter's house after the 25th to ask after Dorothy. Parke said that he'd been very careful and didn't understand how Dorothy could possibly have an infection.

At first, Dorothy seemed to improve under Dr. Winter's care, but she then developed pneumonia. She died on July 3.

An autopsy was performed by Dr. Winter and Dr. Beebe. They found an enlarged uterus and dilated cervix, in keeping with a recent pregnancy. They found signs of infection and of instrumentation of abortion. Dorothy's reproductive organs were sent to a pathologist who found necrotic tissue. He concluded that the sepsis that started in Dorothy's uterus brought on the fatal pneumonia.

Parke went to Dorothy's house after her death to express his sympathy and to refund the $150 abortion fee. He also paid them an additional $850.

Parke testified in his own behalf, saying that the first visit to his office had been on or about June 8. He said that he'd not examined her at that time, but agreed to examine her to see if she was pregnant and if she could safely give birth. He said that he'd asked for $150 in case he had to hospitalize Dorothy, perform tests, or consult with other doctors. He said that after keeping Dorothy at his home overnight he sent her home without having performed any tests.

Parke also said that when Dorothy's parents brought her to his home on the 19th, she'd already attempted to perform an abortion on herself. He said that he'd only been providing her aftercare.

Parke was convicted of second-degree manslaughter in Dorothy's death.

Dorothy's abortion was typical of illegal abortions in that it was performed by a physician. Keep in mind that things that things we take for granted, like antibiotics and blood banks, were still in the future. For more about abortion in this era, see Abortion in the 1920s.

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

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