Infanticide in the Great Metropolis 1869


Probably there is no class of persons in New York, who manage a criminal business, adroitly escape their deserved punishment so often, and make so much money, as the abortionists. The fact that the law requires proof positive of the crime, and undeniable evidence that an accused person does commit or attempt to commit an abortion, is really the ladder of their escape, and, in fact, their only safety. Their business, transacted, as it is in almost every case, between themselves and their patient (often their victim), and without the intervention of a third person, is a sufficient guarantee to them that their crime will be unknown. A patient very rarely visits an abortionist unless it is to hide her shame and dishonor. When she undergoes such  risks to conceal her guilt, it is obviously plain that she will not reveal it to any other person. The abortionists also know full well the danger that threatens them.
Having a long term in State prison in view should they inadvertently act without caution, they invariably transact their business with the utmost secrecy and discrimination. The unfortunate woman or girl who has been deceived is fearful of the consequences of her foolish attachment for some thoroughly heartless scoundrel. She often meditates suicide, and has even brought herself to look upon poison or the muddy waters of a river as a relief from her existence, until by some means or other she happens to see such an advertisement as the following :

"A Cure for Ladies immediately. Madam "s Female Antidote. The only reliable medicine that can be procured ; certain to have the desired effect in twenty-four hours, without any injurious results."

The advertisement probably states further that the female physician cures ladies at one interview, without any inconvenience or danger. A little farther down the column she sees an announcement something similar to the following :

"Sure Cure for Ladies in Trouble. No injurious medicines or instruments used. Consultation and advice free."

She reads this and sees a chance of avoiding the inevitable disgrace that must ensue to herself and relations should her guilt become known. She forthwith avails herself of it, and, deciding which doctor she will go to, she pays him a visit, and, after having her purse drained and her health shattered, she may escape the dreaded results.

Under the head of abortionists it must be understood there are different classes. First, there is the one whose advertisements, under the head of " Dr.," are conspicuous in almost every paper which will print them. Next comes the female abortionists, the richer class of whom also advertise largely; and lastly, the midwives, who, when it pays them to do so, will in some cases consent to earn money by the commission of this fearful crime.

First in order, then, the doctor, who styles himself the "ladies' friend," which appellation would be more truthful if the second letter were omitted from that word of endearment. He is, as a rule, either a man who has studied for a diploma and failed to pass his examination, or one who, though he is really an M. D., because it pays better, devotes his time to this particular branch of his profession, and advertises largely to that effect; while, in nine cases out of ten, if he attended to a legitimate branch of his vocation, he would prove worthless and inefficient. There are many abortionists in New York to-day who live in first-class style, attend to nothing but " first-class" cases, receive nothing but first-class fees, and are accepted in society as first-class members.

These men, some of them at least, are received into first-class society, not because of their gentlemanly or engaging manners, nor even yet on account of their money, but from the fact that they exercise a certain amount of influence and are possessed of a vast deal of audacity. They are cognizant of many a family secret that comes under the jurisdiction of their peculiar vocation ; and this fact enables them successfully, if they like, to dare these parties to treat them any other than respectfully. There is a skeleton in every house, a secret in every family ; and too often the doctor, and  midwife  have to be treated publicly, socially and pecuniary in accordance with this fact. It is such men as these who, by their nefarious practices, have been enabled to accumulate a large amount of money, that are the proprietors of private hospitals or lying-in asylums, where the better class of women who have fallen from the path of virtue may, under a pretence of a prolonged visit to some distant friends, become inmates, and, after all traces of their guilt have been successfully hidden, can unblushingly return to their friends, and be regarded in their social circles as models of chastity and perfections of virtue.

Next come the female abortionists, who in some cases transact a larger and more profitable business than the doctors. There are several reasons for this, the principal of which is, that a female would, under the peculiar circumstances in which she is placed, reveal her condition to one of her own sex rather than to a man. The number of female abortionists in New York city is a disgrace and a ridicule upon the laws for the prevention of such inhuman proceedings. True, the majority of them are of the poorer class, but there are many who are literally rolling in wealth, the result of their illegal and unnatural pursuits. The names of many could be mentioned. One, however, will be sufficient, and, although she has been the most successful of her contemporaries, yet her card is a good criterion for the rest of her class. Her name, Madame , is well known, and needs no comment. Most of the better and most successful of her kind are in the habit of receiving no less than one hundred or one hundred and fifty dollars for each case, and often as much as five hundred or one thousand dollars. The less successful of the female abortionists, whose practice or business is limited, to some extent, through lack of funds to advertise the same, are content with considerably less sums for their services. Cases have been known where as low as five dollars has been received, and very rarely do they get a chance to make more than fifty or sixty dollars, which is considered a first-rate fee.

The female abortionists in New York are mostly of foreign birth or extraction, and have generally risen to their present position from being first-class nurses in Germany, especially, there being medicine schools or colleges in which they graduate after a course of probably six or nine months' study as nurses. The object for which these colleges were established is entirely ignored by the woman, who, from the smattering of medical knowledge she obtains there, seeks to perfect herself as an abortionist. Yet so it is ; and this fact is antagonistic to the scriptural assertion that "of good, can no evil be produced."

The midwife comes next. As a rule (there are exceptions, of course, to all rules, but as a rule), the midwife is a woman whose knowledge of' medicine is infinitely less than that of the regular abortionist, although her experience practically may be as good. To aid the mid-wife in the consummation of her intents, she, not infrequently, has to bring the whole force of her wits to her assistance. Not being thoroughly versed in all the ins and outs, or, as they may be not inappropriately termed, the " side issues" of her professed calling, she is now and then completely cornered by some unusual and unexpected difficulty arising on the part of the patient. In such cases her only refuge is, as has been stated, her ready wit, and a friendly druggist upon whom she can rely to help her out of her difficulty. If he should fail to do so, her reputation as a midwife, should anything serious accrue to her patient, would be considerably lessened. For instance, the sickness of a patient under her care assumes a new and to her unknown turn; the patient becomes worse, and is, perhaps, in danger of losing her life. Patient's friends look to the midwife to bring her round ; midwife not knowing how to act, yet knowing full well that her actions are all noted, is careful not to betray her ignorance. With smiling countenance she assures the anxious friends that their " dear friend " is all right, yet under all this she carefully notes each new feature and every symptom of the patient. Suddenly she remembers that there is some particular herb or medicine that is essentially necessary, and to get which her personal presence at the drug store is equally as essential ; and in a hurry she starts to the druggist she is in the habit of patronizing. To him she explains her case, and generally he advises her how to act pretty correctly, and following his directions her patient recovers, and she is looked upon as a miracle of perfection in her art.

If, on the other hand, she fails to be enlightened on the subject at her friendly druggist's, she often loses her fee and reputation at once. The midwife often resorts to the practice of producing abortion, but, as a rule, her limited knowledge happily precludes the possibility of her taking dangerous cases in hand ; therefore, she seldom meddles with that branch of the business unless she is pretty certain of safe results.

The medicines used to produce abortions are far from being as certain as it is generally believed. The surest' of these, if it can be said there is any certainty in any of them, is the oil of savine. This oil is distilled in England, and is a stimulant, actively rubefacient, and an emmenagogue. Savine is an evergreen shrub, a native of the south of Europe and of the Levant. It is also found growing wild on the borders of the north-western lakes of this country. The dose is from two to five drops, though such a dose would not be sufficient to cause an abortion. This oil ought not to be, by law, obtained from a druggist unless ordered by a physician, but it is an undeniable fact that it is sold to persons who, the seller knows perfectly well, will use it illegally. The next is the oil of pennyroyal, which is also often used by abortionists. Legitimately, it is employed as a domestic remedy in amenorrhoea, the dose being from two to ten drops.

Then again there are preparations of ergot, and several others, but the above are by far the more powerful and the most dangerous, and supposed to be the most efficient. Oil of savine is rarely used, even by the experts, unless the case is very urgent, and generally, though not always, the patient is notified of the probable results. Many and many a death has resulted from the use of these drugs, from the simple reason that their action is so violent that it generally shatters the system of those who take
them, and the result is death.

Sometimes the decease of the patient may not occur immediately after the abortion is produced, but it is a dangerous and hazardous experiment to prescribe such medicines.

The prostration, after the dose has been taken by the patient, has been known to be so great that the unfortunate woman has breathed her last within a few hours after the oil had been received into her system. The reader must not suppose that abortions are produced by this means alone. On the other hand, both savine and pennyroyal, from their rank smell, are easily detected in case of a post-mortem examination, and for this reason they are seldom used unless the patient positively refuses to submit to an instrumental operation.

It is the instruments that are used to effect the desired results that so often cause the death of both mother and child. A woman who visits an abortionist for the purpose of getting rid of her offspring, and consents to submit to the use of instruments, may, in nine cases out of ten, be fatally injured in a few moments. Yet of the two evils the abortionists (for their own sakes) choose the least. Instruments are safer than medicine, and therefore they try to induce their patients to subject themselves to an operation.

The " Portuguese Pills," and all other pills which are sold at the extortionate price of five dollars per box, are really not nearly so effective to produce the desired results as is generally supposed. They are generally simply purgative pills. The main object in them, however, is to procure for the doctor a patient, who, thinking that the pills will be all that is required, gets them, inwardly satisfied, no doubt, that she can get off so easily. That is all the doctor wants ; but once let the doctor know his patient, and she rarely goes to any one else under the existing circumstances. Then she may take all the pills she likes, but ultimately she will have to submit to an operation at, the hands of the doctor whom she has visited.

The law, according to the revised statutes of the State of New York, with regard to producing abortions, reads thus : " The willful killing of an unborn quick child by any injury to the mother of the child, which would be murder if it resulted in the death of such mother, shall be deemed manslaughter in the first degree."

This crime is punishable by a term of not less than seven years in prison. The law further reads : " Every person who shall administer to any woman pregnant with a quick child, or prescribe for any such woman, or advise and procure for any such woman, any medicines, drugs or substance whatever, or shall use or employ any instrument or other means, with intent thereby to destroy such child, unless the same shall have been necessary to preserve the life of such mother, shall, in case the death of such child or such mother be thereby produced, be deemed guilty of manslaughter in the second degree."

This is punishable by not less than four, and not longer than seven years' imprisonment.

This law is apparently very stringent ; and so it is, could these murderous wretches (a worse name would better suit them) be clearly proved to have broken it ; but it is hard to convict abortionists, from the fact, which has been already stated, that these transactions are solely confined to themselves and their patients. This fact is clearly proved by the records at the coroner's office and at the courts. A woman may have told a hundred persons before her death that such and such an individual had produced an abortion upon her ; she may describe the operation minutely, and yet, in case of her death, this evidence before a court is only hearsay, and, according to law, the criminal cannot be found guilty upon it. The only way to do is for the ante-mortern declaration of the woman to be taken by the coroner, and such statement to be given in presence of witnesses, and also to have the signature of the deponent attached to it. Upon this evidence alone can the abortionist be convicted, unless some other person besides the patient witnesses the operation. This, however, abortionists never allow.

On the other hand, the only punishment they receive is being detained by the coroner, who can refuse bail, in case of an inquest. To keep them longer in prison, he can postpone the inquest from time to time, and when at last the verdict is given, which is that the deceased is supposed to have come to her death at the hands of the abortionist, the coroner commits said abortionist to prison until the case comes up before the court. In court, he or she employs a first-class lawyer, and the result is that, not having obtained proof positive to convict, the court has no other course to pursue than to set the prisoner at liberty, who immediately commences his or her operations again.

The statistics in abortion show that the ratio of fetal deaths in New York city is fearful. Out of every four children born, one is either born dead or prematurely, while a far greater number are probably criminally concealed. The carnival of crime has risen to such a height that it works out its own retribution in the steady decrease of the American population and in deplorable mental, moral and physical degeneracy. Though to errors in dress, such as tight lacing, having their origin in the ignorance of mothers, may be ascribed a large amount of this fearful evil, yet the abortionists may be credited with a great deal more. Day after day these men and women pursue their damnable occupation ; day after day are recorded the deaths of their victims ; and yet they were never so strong, never so rich, and never was their business conducted in such an unblushing and barefaced manner as it is to-day. It is to be hoped that before long notice will be taken of this fact, and such laws made and enforced as will eventually stop these unscrupulous murderers.

Website: The History
Article Name: Infanticide in the Great Metropolis 1869
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina


BIBLIOGRAPHY: The Women of New York; Or, The Under-world of the Great City by George Ellington  The New York Book Company 1869
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