Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Early 20th Century Chicago: Abortionists Thrived, Women Died

Abortionist Lucy "Louise" Hagenow
Lucy "Louise" Hagenow
Thursday, May 2, 1907, started out as an ordinary day for 26-year-old Austrian immigrant Annie Horvatich of Chicago. She did the family washing in the morning, then in the afternoon took the streetcar to the bank to withdraw $25. At 6:30 that evening, she asked her new husband, Michael, to accompany her to the home of Dr. Louise Hagenow (pictured). Though she didn't bring a change of clothes or any type of overnight bag, she asked Mike to look after her children (She had three from a previous marriage.) and to come and see her on Saturday.

Mike went to Hagenow's home on Saturday afternoon and found his wife sitting up in bed, apparently in her underclothes. She told him she was unwell and sent him home, saying she would not be returning home until Monday. On Sunday, Mike got a phone call to go to Hagenow's place. He arrived to find his wife very sick. Mike remained at Annie's side during the night, noting that by morning she appeared to be much worse. He went to the home of Mary Galavitch, who could speak English and thus serve as a translator. When Mike and Mary arrived, Hagenow met them and told them that Annie had died at 5 a.m.

Hagenow gave Mike a business card for a neighborhood undertaker. Mike indicated that he'd prefer an undertaker that he knew, W.J. Freckleton, who went to Hagenow's home to pick up Annie's body at around 5 p.m. He said that Hagenow told him to return after dark to take Annie's body out the back way. He returned at about 9 p.m. with an assistant, and found it very difficult to get Annie's body down the narrow staircase. He said that Hagenow told him that her regular undertaker never reported any trouble getting bodies out down that staircase.

The funeral was held, Annie buried, and it seemed as if Mike and the children would be getting on with their lives as best they could. But that changed on May 13. The Cook County coroner, attended by Annie's brother, John Sneller, exhumed Annie's body for a post mortem examination. What they found was shocking.

Annie's lungs had been quite healthy and normal -- as were most of her internal organs. She clearly had not died of pneumonia, as one of Hagenow's doctor friends had claimed on Annie's death certificate. Her uterus was lacerated, with the top of the uterus torn nearly off, causing fatal peritonitis. From the condition of her uterus, the doctors gauged that she had been about four months pregnant, but there was no sign of the fetus.

Also entered into evidence in the trial was the dying declaration of Marie Hecht, who died from one of Hagenow's "scientific, painless" abortions in 1899, as testified to by the police officer who had taken the statement.

Likewise entered into evidence was the testimony of a doctor who Hagenow had brought in to help try to save the life of a young woman Hagenow had disemboweled in the process of an abortion sometime ten or fifteen years prior to the trial over Annie's death -- which would mean this woman could have been Minnie Deering  (1891), Sophia Kuhn or Emily Anderson (1892),  Hannah Carlson (1896), or another as of yet unidentified woman.

A police officer also testified about taking the dying declaration of Lola Madison.To top it off, during cross-examination, Hagenow admitted involvement in the abortion death of Hannah Carlson.

"Dr. Louise Hagenow; licensed physician; expert; twenty seven years; female diseases; a new scientific, painless method; no operation; good results...."
A typical Hagenow ad in Chicago
The appeals court noted, "had the evidence shown that Annie Horavitch was the only pregnant woman whom [Hagenow] had caused to miscarry or abort, it might not have been unreasonable to presume that she did so in good faith and for the purpose of saving the woman's life. .... [but for] 27 years [Hagenow] had been constantly engaged in producing miscarriages and causing abortions... [and] she kept a place for the treatment and care of women upon whom miscarriages and abortions had been caused and performed; ... she was surrounded at her house by men and women engaged in the business of causing and producing criminal miscarriages and abortions, and ... she had caused the death of several women upon whom she had caused miscarriages and produced abortions within a few years prior to her indictment for causing the death of Annie Horvatich ...."

Hagenow victim Nina Pierce
Nina Pierce
Hagenow, nearly 60 years old at the time of her trial, was sentenced to 20 years in prison for Annie's death.

However, though she had already been implicated of the abortion deaths of Louise Derchow, Annie Dorris, Abbia Richards, and Emma Dep in San Francisco prior to beginning her deadly career in Chicago, Hagenow would be released from prison to be implicated in the abortion deaths of Lottie Lowy, Nina H. Pierce, Jean Cohen, Bridget MastersonElizabeth Welter, and Mary Moorehead.


The year was 1920. Frances Collins was a 34-year-old homemaker and mother of two when she discovered that she was pregnant. She informed her husband, Jerome, then asked a friend where to go to procure an abortion. Sometime in early April, Francis followed her friend's recommendation to go to the Chicago office of Dr. Warner, who did something with an instrument to have “her womb opened up.” After returning home, Frances summoned Jerome from his job as a printer and told him she was “unwell.” She rested afterward, and seemed to have recovered, but by the end of the month she was bleeding vaginally, “pretty hard,” as Jerome put it. He called her mother to come and care for his wife. Her condition continued to deteriorate, with Frances developing vomiting and chills. Jerome summoned Warner two or three times to look after his patient, with no improvement in her condition. Finally, at the end of April, somebody summoned Joseph T. Woof, the family doctor, who hospitalized Frances. He testified that he knew that she'd sought abortions in the past, against his advice.

Frances died on May 6. During the autopsy, it was discovered that Frances actually had an ectopic pregnancy. Her "many" prior abortions made her high-risk for this dangerous condition, so the previous abortions probably contributed to her death as much as the final one. Given the state of medicine at the time, it's unclear how likely France was to survive an ectopic pregnancy had she sought obstetric care rather than an abortion, but her efforts to have her already doomed baby killed certainly hastened her death.


On May 6, 1924, 24-year-old Madelyn Anderson died at Chicago's Washington Park Hospital from a criminal abortion performed that day. The coroner recommended the arrest of a woman identified as "Dr. Ogdenberg". On May 13, Dr. Louise Achtenberg was arrested for Madelyn's death. Achtenberg was indicted for felony murder on May 15. Achtenbert had already been implicated in the 1907 abortion death of  Dora Swan, the 1909 abortion death of Florence Wright, and the 1921 abortion death of Violet McCormick.

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