Sunday, January 10, 2021

January 10: What The Doctors at Michael Reese Hospital Found

On January 10, 1913, 31-year-old homemaker Lizzie Orenstein died at Michael Reese Hospital in Chicago from septicemia caused by an abortion perpetrated by a person who was never identified.

The only other abortion death I've documented at Michael Reese Hospital is Bessie Braun, who died March 7, 1909. 

Michael Reese Hospital had been founded in 1881 with a total of 60 beds. It was a highly reputable teaching hospital that expanded over the period of 1905-1907 into a 250-bed facility.

Surgery, gynecology & obstetrics, Volume 26 By Franklin H. Martin Memorial Foundation, American College of Surgeons, 1918 will give us a contemporary account of abortion admissions at Michael Reese Hospital during the period when Bessie and Lizzie died. These include both criminal abortions and miscarriages. Did doctors in this pre-antibiotics, pre-transfusion era see entire wards full of septic abortion patients dropping like flies?

Dr. Julius E. Lackner noted: "I reported 500 cases occurring in the service of Drs. Banga and Frankenthal at the Michael Reese Hospital in the years 1900 to 1914. Of these 500 cases 4 died." 

Five hundred cases in 15 years. That's about 34 a year or one admission every 11 days. That hardly an entire ward full of septic abortion cases. The mortality rate was less than 1%. This record predates blood transfusions and antibiotics. And, keep in mind, this case load is comprised of all women whose pregnancies ended before about six months, both naturally and due to criminal interference.

The presence of only two of the four women in the homicide database makes it likely that the other two deaths were due to miscarriages rather than criminal abortions.

There are two other criminal abortion anniversaries today:

On January 10, 1907, homemaker Ellen White, a 36-year-old Irish immigrant, died of shock and hemorrhage in her Chicago home from an abortion perpetrated about a week before Christmas. A midwife named Emma Watchek was arrested in the death.

On January 10, 1917, 23-year-old clerk Tillie Vrzal died at Chicago's Frances Willard Hospital from peritonitis because of an abortion performed by an unknown perpetrator.

Watch Septic Abortion Wards? on YouTube.

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