Saturday, January 23, 2016

Abortion-Friendly Chicago, 1913-1944

News clipping photo of a woman past middle age, wearing wire-rim glasses and a dark-colored sailor-style hat and collar
Lucy Hagenow
Chicago was such an abortion-friendly environment during the days before legalization that one abortionist, Dr. Lucy Hagenow, fled to Chicago to avoid prosecution after a string of abortion deaths connected to her in San Francisco. Though she was linked to over a dozen abortion deaths in Chicago, she spent little time in prison and would quickly pick up her instruments again when released. She said, in a jailhouse interview while awaiting one trial, the city abortionists greased the wheels for their freedom with lots of cash doled out strategically.

As was the case nationwide before legalization, the majority of Chicago's illegal abortionists were midwives or physicians, though there were the occasional lay abortionists such as Katherine Bajda, identified as a homemaker in the Homicide in Chicago Interactive Database. Despite not being a medical professional, Bajda benefited from Chicago's catch-and-release system of dealing with deadly abortionists.

On January 23, 1929, 22-year-old Edna Vargo died in Chicago from an abortion performed that day, Katherine Bajda was held by the Coroner on February 14. On March 15, she was indicted for felony murder in Edna's death. Three days later, while free to ply her trade, Bajda got caught with 25-year-old abortion patient Violet Diancalana dead in her home.

Another Chicago midwife who evidently entered the abortion business was  Caroline OrbachOn January 23, 1913, 32-year-old homemaker Margaret Wagner died at Post Graduate Hospital in Chicago from septic infection caused by an abortion perpetrated on January 9. Orbach was held by the Coroner on January 24. The case went to trial but Orbach was acquitted on November 25 for reasons I have been unable to determine. Another case played out similarly the following year. On January 23, 1914, 17-year-old Helen Kleich, who worked as a domestic servant, died at Cook County Hospital from sepsis, arising from an abortion perpetrated on January 17 and attributed to midwife Margared Wiedemann. Wiedemann was held by the Coroner for murder by abortion, but was acquitted, again, for reasons I've been unable to determine.

Blame is a bit fuzzier regarding a death on January 23, 1925. Thirty-four-year-old Kate Radochouski died at Chicago's Lakeside Hospital from complications of an abortion performed that day. The Homicide in Chicago database says that she died at the scene of the crime, which is likely to be an error, and that there was an arrest on February 11. However, there is no name given for the person arrested. I have been unable to identify the perpetrator.

Portrait of a young woman with dark hair worn in a 1940s style
Geraldine Schuyler
A clear perpetrator was found in the January 23, 1944 death of 20-year-old Geraldine Schuyler. Geraldine was working as a secretary at Matthewson Electric Company in Chicago when she learned that she was pregnant in January of 1944. She turned to her mother, Leah Schuyler, who went with her on Monday, January 17 to meet Mrs. Avis Konradt at the corner of 41st Street and Drexel Boulevard. 

Konradt took them to the home of George E. Fosberg, a physician whose license had been revoked when he'd gone to prison for bank fraud. Mrs. Schuyler paid Fosberg $100, and he took Geraldine into the basement for the abortion.

Geraldine became seriously ill the night of Saturday, January 22, and was quickly taken to St. Francis Hospital in Evanston. Less than half an hour later, she was dead.

News clipping headshot of a white man just past middle age, with very short hair, large ears, and a pose as though looking into the distance
Mrs. Schuyler told the police what had happened and led them to Fosberg's home, where police found him "in the dusty basement of the house, walking thru stacks of his old records as a physician." The police confiscated seven sets of surgical instruments. Evidently, they were able to accumulate quite a plethora of evidence, because Fosberg was convicted of manslaughter for Geraldine's death.

It's interesting to note that during this period, during the first half of the 20th century, maternal deaths from all causes, including criminal abortions, were falling. Improved nutrition, sanitation, and medical care were rapidly improving women's chances of surviving pregnancy, abortion, and childbirth long before states started loosening up abortion laws in the late 1960s. 

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