Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Cleveland, Chicago, and Kansas City from 1883 to 1958

Midwives in Cleveland and Chicago, 1883 and 1904

In early May of 1883, 21-year-old Julia Renacheve left the Cleveland home she shared with her sister and brother-in-law, saying that she was going to the country to visit some friends. Nobody thought anything was amiss until the evening of Tuesday, May 15, when Julia's sister learned that she was at the Garden Street home of midwife Sylvia Webster. She and her husband hurried to the home to find Julia deathly ill. Jacob told police that Julia had said to him, "I am a very sick girl. I have suffered martyrdom." She said that Webster had perpetrated an abortion on her, but begged him to keep it a secret until after her death.

The following day, May 16, Julia's paramour, Charles Seymour married Julia at her bedside. The next day, as Julia's condition continued to deteriorate, her sister came by with a carriage to take her home. Just as they were leaving, Webster gave Julia some medicine, which rather than improve her condition put her into a stupor from which she never recovered.

That Friday, May 18, Julia died. On Saturday, she was buried. Either one of the Weismans spoke up, or somebody else became suspicious, because Julia's body was exhumed and an autopsy was performed, confirming that she had died from abortion complications.

In July of 1883, Webster was put on trial for Julia's death. Seymour turned state's evidence against Webster. The trial resulted in a hung jury on June 15.

The death of Margaret McCarthy in Chicago on May 18, 1904, follows the same pattern as Julia Renacheve Seymour's death. Her paramour, Benjamin Tedrick, brought her to the home of midwife Gertrude Plenz. Several days after the abortion, Margaret was admitted to Mary Thompson Hospital, where she admitted to an abortion before dying. Plenz avoided prison, and three years later was arrested for the abortion death of Sarah Cushing.

A Mystery Abortionist in Chicago, 1925

On May 18, 1925, Della Davis, a 25-year-old Black woman, died in Chicago from an illegal abortion performed that day, leaving behind her husband, Huston. The person responsible for her death was never caught. However, given the plethora of physicians and midwives running abortion practices in Chicago at the time, there is a strong likelihood that she availed herself of one of them.

A Doctor in Kansas City, 1958

Janice Easterbrook, who was 20 years old, lived with her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Ernest Easterbrook in Arcadia, Nebraska. Two doctors in Nebraska had already told them that Janice was pregnant, and the family traveled to Kansas City, Missouri for a third opinion from Dr. William M. Korth. With lab tests and an exam, he confirmed that Janice was about 3 to 3 1/2 months pregnant. Korth later testified that there had been no signs of either health problems that would prevent Janice from carrying to term, or that anybody had tried to tamper with the pregnancy. With this confirmation of pregnancy, the Easterbrooks went to 49-year-old Dr.Harry Werbin's office to try to arrange an abortion. He was closed for the day so they returned the next morning, May 16, 1958.

The receptionist greeted them and made an appointment for them to meet with Werbin at 11:30 that morning. The Easterbrooks told Werbin that they wanted him to do "whatever was necessary to keep her from having the baby."

Werbin took Janice into his office to examine her, then consulted with her parents, explaining that he charged $100 per month of pregnancy, so the charge for Janice's abortion would be $300. The parents asked Werbin if the abortion would be dangerous, but he assured them that he wasn't having any "bad luck," and that a day or two after the abortion Janice would be able to continue on a trip through the Ozarks with her family. Mr. Easterbrook handed $300 to his wife, who handed the $300 to their daughter, who handed it to the doctor.

Werbin took her back into his private office. About ten or fifteen minutes later, Janice emerged, not seeming ill, but with some blood drops on her shoes. Werbin took her back into his office, and instructed her mother to go down to the drug store and buy some Kotex. When Mrs. Easterbrook returned with the Kotex, the parents asked Werbin if Janice should go to the hospital, and he said, "No. Let's leave the hospitals out of it. I know how to take care of it, and what to do." He gave Janice some medication, and gave her parents one of his cards, on which he'd written the name of the U-Smile Motel on Highway 40.

Janice returned with her family on Saturday morning, May 17, per Werbin's instructions. Werbin took her back into his office for about fifteen minutes. When Janice emerged, she was crying and told her parents, "He hurt me." That evening at the motel, Janice began to vomit violently. Her mother called Werbin, who demurred at first, but came to check on his patient once her mother insisted. He came back and forth to the motel several times, spending more and more time on each visit, staying there most of Saturday night. Janice was sick and in a lot of pain, and Mrs. Easterbrook again suggested taking Janice to a hospital. Werbin reassured the parents that it was not uncommon for women to be in Janice's condition after an abortion. He used a curved instrument about ten inches long to remove some tissue from her vagina.

On Sunday morning, Janice got up to use the toilet, where she passed a mutilated fetus about six inches long. Her parents summoned Werbin, who summoned criminal abortionist Dr. Richard Mucie to assist him at about 11:00 a.m. Janice's parents were alarmed that she appeared blue and was breathing rapidly. Werbin and Mucie held a quiet conversation that the parents couldn't overhear, then Mucie picked Janice up and carried her out to Werbin's car, telling her parents to caravan with them to Independence Hospital.

After driving about six miles east, Werbin did a U-turn, and the Easterbrooks lost him in traffic. Werbin went to General Hospital, where he met Joseph L. Connors, a non-physician and deputy coroner, at about 3:10 p.m., telling him that the dead woman in his car was a patient he'd been called to treat at the U-Smile for hemorrhage.

Mucie testified that Werbin had called him in to assist in treating a botched self-induced abortion at the motel, and that Werbin had performed a curretage to remove tissue, while Mucie had given her medications to stimulate circulation. Mucie concluded that Janice had died from an embolism, possibly air or a clot lodged in the heart or lungs. He said that the reason they'd not taken Janice to Independence Sanitarium was that Independence wasn't friendly to osteopaths.

The Jackson County Coroner, Dr. Hugh H. Owens, performed the autopsy that afternoon, May 18, and found ample evidence of a pregnancy and an abortion performed with instruments. Janice's uterus had been perforated, and Owens concluded that she had bled to death. Werbin was found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to two years. His sentence was upheld on appeal.

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