SUMMARY: Ada Williams, age c. 27, died on February 20, 1916 from complications of an abortion perpetrated in Denver by Dr. Noble O. Hamilton.

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Dr. Noble O. Hamilton
Ada Williams, about 27 years old, was living in Denver in early 1916 when she got a letter from her mother in Nebraska. Nearly 50, Ada's mother was going to give birth soon and feared that she might die in childbirth, so she asked Ada to come to her.


Ada, pregnant herself, decided to have an abortion before she left in order to facilitate the journey. With her husband, Thomas, she went to Dr. Noble O. Hamilton on Sunday, February 13, asking about proceeding with the abortion Ada had already discussed with him. Hamilton told her to return the following day, and told Thomas to bring $25, which was how much he charged for delivering a baby and seemed to be a fair amount to charge for aborting one.

Ada returned as instructed at about 9:40 in the morning. Hamilton later admitted that he examined Ada, including a vaginal exam, and inserted a medicated tampon, but denied that he had performed any abortion.

On Tuesday morning, Thomas stopped by Hamilton's office on the way to work and paid $10 toward the abortion. After Thomas had gone, Ada got up and went to visit a friend, who later reported that she seemed ill.

Wednesday came and Ada stayed in bed, where she labored and delivered a dead three-month fetus. She sent for Hamilton, who wrapped the dead baby in paper and burned it in the stove. He gave aftercare instructions and left.

On Thursday, Ada was showing signs of going septic. Hamilton diagnosed her as having typhoid fever. The next day he brought in a Dr. Gundrum to consult about the typhoid diagnosis but said nothing about the abortion, not even to claim that Ada had miscarried.


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Dr. Monson came to check on Ada on Friday and found her in grave condition. Hamilton still tried to keep the abortion a secret but Monson managed to ferret out the information from Ada somehow. He admitted Ada to a hospital, where she died of sepsis the evening of Sunday, February 20.

When convicted and sentenced to ten to eleven years, Hamilton swore his innocence:

"If your honor doubts my innocence of this crime of which I have been convicted, I will kiss the Bible and take an oath upon it that I am telling the truth and if I swear falsely may heaven darken my eyes, may every drop of water I drink henceforth turn into blood and may I never again regain my standing posture after kissing the Good Book."

He placed the blame on "a certain secret society to which Mrs. Williams belonged" which "furnished information to its members on how to prevent child bearing."

The verdict in the Ada Williams case was upheld on appeal.

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.

For more information about early 20th Century abortion mortality, see Abortion Deaths 1910-1919.

external image MaternalMortality.gif
external image MaternalMortality.gif


For more on pre-legalization abortion, see The Bad Old Days of Abortion

Sources:
  • "State News," San Juan Prospector, Rio Grande County, CO, Mar. 24, 1917
  • Hamilton v. People, No. 9042, Supreme Court of Colorado, Jun. 4, 1917
  • "Dr. N.O. Hamilton Makes Impassioned Plea, Swears Innocence," Denver Post, Jun. 17, 1916
  • "Accused Physician Must Stand Trial on Murder Charge, The Denver Post, Feb. 24, 1916

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