Monday, October 09, 2023

October 9, 1916: Chicago Firefighter Left to Raise Four Children Alone

 Earnest Projahn answered the questions put to him by the Cook County deputy coroner during the inquest into the death of his 33-year-old wife, Emily. The Projahns had four living children; two others had died.

In August and September of 1916 Emily's period did not come. She told her husband of the pregnancy and her plans to get an abortion, since she didn't think they could afford another child on her husband's salary as a firefighter. 

Ernest testified that he opposed the abortion and "spoke against it all the time." Though he may have made this statement in the hopes of avoiding further legal trouble for his role in the abortion, his remark, "That's the way the wife figured it," suggests that he followed her lead in this matter, however reluctantly. Mr. Projahn eventually came around to his wife's way of thinking and performed the male role of locating the abortionist and accompanying her to the doctor's office on a Friday night in September of 1916.

Emily visited a doctor whom her husband had seen previously, Dr. Clarence W. Mercereau, at 4954 Milwaukee Avenue in Chicago. Dr. Mercereau, a graduate of Bennett Medical College in Chicago,  agreed to do the operation and told them the fee would be $10 and $2 for calling on her afterwards. They paid half the fee that night. 

Earnest later explained that the doctor "asked me to be quiet and not say anything more about it. I said I would." The doctor then shut the door and prepared to perform the operation. He had his patient lie in a surgical chair and used an instrument. Earnest  called the instrument a "womb opener." He described it as "nickel-plated, silver-like" and "ten or twelve inches long." The doctor told her to "stay on her feet until she got sick enough to go to bed." 

When they got home that evening, Emily was bleeding. A week later she called Dr. Mercereau, who came to their home and prescribed medicine. He visited her at home twice. After three weeks of chills and fever, she called in a second doctor, who admitted her to Albert Burns Hospital. While at the hospital she told an intern, "My husband and my self came to the conclusion that we had enough children and wanted something done so we would not have to support another."

Emily finally died on October 9.

Though Mercerau was held by the coroner and indicted, the case was stricken off on December 16.

Note, please, that with overall public health issues such as doctors not using proper aseptic techniques, lack of access to blood transfusions and antibiotics, and overall poor health to begin with, there was likely little difference between the performance of a legal abortion and illegal practice, and the aftercare for either type of abortion was probably equally unlikely to do the woman much, if any, good.

In fact, due to improvements in addressing these problems, maternal mortality in general (and abortion mortality with it) fell dramatically in the 20th Century, decades before Roe vs. Wade legalized abortion across America.

external image MaternalMortality.gif


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