SUMMARY: Matilda Henningsen died on May 20, 1870 after an abortion perpetrated by A. A. Wolff in Brooklyn.

Matilda's Death

On May 20, 1870, Mrs Matilda Henningsen, aka Matilda Hunt, died at No. 182 East Seventh Street in Brooklyn.

Testimony

The Sister

Matilda's sister, Henrietta Henningsen, testified that she recognized clothes and other items belonging to her sister. Matilda had been sick about two months earlier, and had been treated by Dr. Herzog and Dr. Kennerer. Shortly after having taken ill, Matilda told Henrietta that she'd gotten an invitation to go to Williamsburgh, and that was the last Henrietta had seen of her sister.

The Landlord

August Herman Rauffes testified that he'd known Matilda for about twelve years. She had worked for several families as a live-in governess. In October of 1869 she had rented a room from him above his store. She had been treated by Dr. Herzog for sickness, and told Rauffes that she was going to the country, and left a worwarding address. After her departure, he'd found a card with the names of Dr. Wolff and Dr. Grindle written on it.

The Family Doctor

Dr. Max Herzod testified that he had treated Matilda on March 12 for abdominal pain. After three weeks of care, the pain continued, and Matilda also reported nausea. He examined her and determined that she was pregnant. Afterward she told him she was going to Germany. That was the last he'd heard of her until learning of her death. Dr. Krammerer, who had also treated Matilda, concurred with Dr. Herzod's testimony.

The Medical Examiner

Dr. Joseph B. Chshman testified as to the post-mortem examination he had performed. He said he found all the evidence of uterine infection and resulting peritonitis, resulting from an abortion.

The Guilty Party

Mr. A. A. Wolff, from Denmark, purported to be a physician, but is not identified as such in the source document. Six fetuses, along with various instruments, were found in his office. The jury determined that Wolff had performed the fatal abortion.

Wolff was also implicated in the abortion death of Henrietta Ullman less than a month after Matilda's death.


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

Source: "Alleged Malpractice in New York", Brooklyn Eagle, Jun. 10, 1870


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