SUMMARY: Cordelia Calkins, age 18, died in Brooklyn on February 26, 1860 from the effects of an abortifacient

In August of 1859, the two Calkins sisters, age 16 and 18, moved to Brooklyn to live in the boarding house of Mrs. Young. "Both were possessed of good figures and considerable personal attractions, and were employed from time to time at the different theatres as ballet girls".

The elder, Cordelia, took up with the landlady's son, Charles, "which resulted in the girl's ruin and death." In mid February, 1860, Cordelia discovered that she was pregnant, and prevailed upon Charles to help arrange an abortion. Charles asked his brother William to buy a bottle of oil of tansy. William testified that he didn't know what the oil of tansy was for.

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emmenegogue vial
Cordelia started a regimen of the tansy, while Charles made "other efforts of abortion", which succeeded in making her very sick. "For several days she was confined to her bed, suffering the most intense physical pain."


About this time, Mrs. Young relocated to another part of the city, leaving the Calkins sisters looking for new lodgings. Since Cordelia was so sick, a young man living next door to the original Young house set the sisters up in his room.

Cordelia's condition continued to deteriorate. Dr. H.W. Fowler, who had an office nearby, was summoned. He found out about the abortion attempt and administered witch-hazel and ginger tea to finish off the abortion, thinking that this would save Cordelia's life. "The decoction, however, while it added to her sufferings, did not answer the purpose for which it had been administered, and after lingering in great agony till Sunday afternoon, death came to her release."

On her deathbed, Cordelia insisted that she had attempted the abortion entirely on her own, with no help from anybody. But the coroner's inquest recommended the arrest of both Charles Young, as the primary, and Dr. Fowler as an accessory.

CharlesYoungSuicideAttempt2.pngYoung, for his part, made three unsuccessful suicide attempts after his arrest. The first time, in March, was attempted by dosing with laudanum. The doctor who treated him for the overdose asked him why he had taken it, and Charles said to him, "I am persecuted for an offense of which I am not guilty. I am in trouble; and the shortest way to end it is to die. I am not afraid to die."

Don't blame the legal status of abortion for Cordelia's decision to go herbal -- some women continue to embrace herbal abortion. (DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME!)



I have no information on overall maternal mortality, or abortion mortality, in the 19th century. I imagine it can't be too much different from maternal and abortion mortality at the very beginning of the 20th Century.
Note, please, that with 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.
For more on this era, see Abortion Deaths in the 19th Century.
For more on pre-legalization abortion, see The Bad Old Days of Abortion

CharlesYoungSuicideAttempt.png
Sources:
  • "Melancholy Death of a Beautiful Ballet Girl" Brooklyn Eagle, Mar. 2, 1860
  • "A Third Unsuccessful Attempt at Suicide," The Boston Courier, May 3, 1860
    "Attempted Suicide," United States Register, March, 1860
  • "The Late Abortion Case -- Attempted Suicide," Cincinnati Enquirer, Mar. 15, 1860

CordeliaCaulkinBrooklyn_Daily_Eagle_Fri__Mar_2__1860_.jpg
CordeliaCaulkin_Cincinnati_Enquirer_Thu__Mar_15__1860_.jpg
















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