On September 14, 1925, 19-year-old Miss Elizabeth Welter died in Chicago's John B. Murphy Hospital from complications of an abortion perpetrated a week earlier at the office of Dr. Lucy Hagenow.

Elizabeth, who worked as a clerk, had gone to Chicago from her home of Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, a few weeks before her death. Mrs. Alta Vail told the deputy coroner "Elizabeth roomed at 658 Roscoe street. A week ago she came to me and said she was very sick. I told her to stay at my home until she was better. Little by little she told me her story. She had obtained a position as a clerk in a store. Some months ago she began going out with a man. This man, she said, was responsible for her condition. She did not even know his name, she told me."

The guilty party likely was a bit closer to home. A man named Lawrence Vail was identified by the coroner as responsible for the pregnancy, and the coroner recommended his arrest. Though the coroner also recommended the arrest of Dr. Hagenow. However, because Vail refused to give a statement, police were unable to gather enough evidence to arrest her.

Elizabeth, a Chicago native, was the daughter of German immigrants Matthew and Mary (Jacoby) Welter.

Lucy Hagenow
Like many physicians, especially female physicians, Hagenow was a popular Chicago abortionist. Elizabeth was one of the last Chicago abortion deaths attributed to Dr. Lucy Hagenow, aka Dr. Louise Hagenow. The others include:

Hagenow had set up shop in the more abortion-genial Chicago after being repeatedly prosecuted for abortion deaths in San Francisco. The first young woman, Louise Derchow, died in 1886. Annie Dories and Abbie Richards died in 1888. There were two other fishy deaths -- Emma Dep, whose abortion death Hagenow sloughed off as having been self-induced, and Franz Krone, an elderly man whose cash and valuables vanished as he died in Hagenow's hospital.

Hagenow was typical of criminal abortionists in that she was a physician -- though I am working on verifying or disproving this.

Keep in mind that things that things we take for granted, like antibiotics and blood banks, were still in the future. For more about abortion in this era, see Abortion in the 1920s.

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

  • Homicide in Chicago Interactive
  • "Died as Result of Criminal Operation," Bainer (MN) Daily Dispatch, Sept. 14, 1925
  • "Girl's Brief Fling with City Night Life," Mattoon (IL) Journal Gazette, Sept. 14, 1925
  • Cook County death index