SUMMARY: Ellen Matson, age 29, died on November 18, 1917, after an abortion perpetrated in Chicago by Dr. Lillian Hobbs.

I came to know about the death of 29-year-old Ellen Matson in a roundabout way, in studying the case in which Lillian Hobbs was convicted of murder in the 1916 abortion death of 21-year-old Alda Christopherson. During the trial, the prosecution brought up, as evidence of guilty intent, the fact that Hobbs had been indicted already for the abortion death of Ellen.
HooperBox.jpg
Box of vintage abortion pills

Ellen was 29 years old, daughter of Swedish immigrants. In October of 1917, she told her boyfriend, Charles Morehouse, that she was pregnant, and had been taking quinine unsuccessfully to try to abort. Morehouse accompanied Ellen to a doctor, from whom he bought a box of “brown pills.” Ellen took these every hour for over two weeks, but like the quinine, they failed to cause an abortion.

Morehouse found another doctor and started borrowing money from relatives to pay for an abortion. Ellen confided in her mother, Mrs. Emma Matson; her sister, Mabel Matson; and her aunt, Mrs. Guelle Matson. Though the two older women thought the abortion was a bad idea and tried to dissuade her, Ellen's aunt lent her $5.
Morehouse took Ellen to Dr. Lillian Hobbs' office on November 1, and evidently stayed with her throughout the actual procedure, since he later testified that the doctor had used “a spray” on Ellen's “privated [sic] parts.” He left her with the doctor for aftercare, returning later to take Ellen home. She took ill and was taken to Hobbs' home, where her mother and sister visited her.
Ellen was taken to West End Hospital in Chicago, where she died on November 18.

Dr. Jacob Meyer, part owner of West End Hospital, and Dr. D. E. Boissonneault, the head intern, also testified at the inquest, along with several nurses from the hospital.

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Dr. Lillian Hobbs
The inquest began the next day, and Lillian Hobbs was identified as the guilty abortionist. Ellen's sister Mable had perjured herself at the inquest. Later at the trial she explained, "I knew everything but I could not answer all of them on account of all the men around. . . . Because there was so many men around I hated to talk about my poor sister more than I had to." The question she could not answer was, she explained, "about her body. . . . He asked me if the doctor had used any instrument, and I said no at that time." (Reagan, "When Abortion Was a Crime")

Hobbs was convicted and sentenced to 14 years at Joliet.

Hobbs was also implicated, but never tried, for the 1917 abortion death of Ruth Lemaire.

These fatal abortions were typical of pre-legalization abortions in that they were performed by a physician.

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

For more on pre-legalization abortion, see The Bad Old Days of Abortion
Sources:
  • 297 Ill. 399, 130 N.E. 779 Supreme Court of Illinois, People vs. Hobbs No. 13390 April 21, 1921, appeal on behalf of Lillian Hobbs
  • Homicide in Chicago Interactive Database
  • "Quiz Witnesses in Girl's Death After Operation," Chicago Tribune, November 25, 1917

LillianHobbsChicago_Daily_Tribune_Sun__Nov_25__1917_.jpg



EllenMatsonDeathCert.jpg


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