SUMMARY: Susan Webster, age 20, died on August 16, 1858 in Boston after an abortion perpetrated by Dr. David R. Brown.

SusanWebsterBrooklynEagle25Aug1858.pngOn Monday, August 16, 1858, Dr. David R. Brown went to an undertaker asking for the removal from is home of a body he said was that of his 37-year-old servant, Emily A. Thompson. He said that she had died from cholera. Somebody found this fishy to the District Attorney. The body was exhumed and examined. The dead woman didn't look any older than age 20. An autopsy also showed that the death had not been due do cholera but rather due to abortion complications.

“She was of good form, tall and slim, and appeared to be unused to labor. When the body was disinterred a gold ring was found on one finger and an ear-ring in one ear. She has light-brown hair and blue or hazel eyes, and is said to have been a very beautiful and intelligent girl.”

Her name was Susan A. Cardine Webster.

Rumors also swarmed that she had been sent to Boston the abortion by a "near relative" who had gotten her pregnant. The "near relative" turned out to be her uncle, Philip Ulmer.

SusanWebsterLouisvilleDailyCourier12Mar1859.pngBrown was arrested and charged with manslaughter on August 24, 1858, and Ulmer was charged as an accessory. A trial in March resulted in a hung jury, with 11 voting for conviction and one for acquittal after 44 hours of deliberation.

In a subsequent trial in April, 1859, Brown was convicted and faced a sentence of seven to 21 years.

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

  • "Boston", The Brooklyn Eagle, Aug. 25, 1858
  • Untitled clipping, Washington (DC) Evening Star, Aug. 26, 1858
  • "A Beautiful Girl Butchered," Louisville Daily Courier, Aug. 31, 1858
  • "Trial of Dr. D. R. Brown," Louisville Daily Courier, Mar. 12, 1859
  • "Boston," Fayetteville North Carolinian, Apr. 9, 1859




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