SUMMARY: On December 26, 1918, 33-year-old Rose Kulamer died in a Pittsburgh hospital after an abortion police believed had been perpetrated by midwife Marie Treytl.

Rose Kulamer's husband, John, said that on Saturday, November 30, 1918, she'd told him that she'd been to see “a woman in the West End Pgh.” who had used “a rubber tube” to cause an abortion. She was taken to Columbia Hospital in Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania by ambulance on Monday, December 2.

According to Dr. Sidney A. Chalfant, 33-year-old Rose denied an abortion on admission, but later admitted that she and a friend had gone to a woman on Pittsburgh's South Side for an abortion. Her uterus was enlarged to three months, her cervix was dilated to admit two fingers, and a large piece of cotton, that had evidently been present “for some time,” was in her vagina.

Rose was taken to the operating room, where the dead three- to four-month fetus was removed and her cervix was packed with gauze. The next day surgery was performed to remove the placenta.

Over the next four to five days, Rose's temperature fell to normal, but then it started to rise again. Rose reported pain in her lower left leg from old inflamed varicose veins. Her temperature rose and stayed elevated for about two weeks, then fell and remained normal for about five days.

On Christmas morning, Rose seemed fine, but around midnight on Christmas night Chalfant was called in because Rose's condition had taken a sudden downturn. He arrived to find that she had vomited and been incontinent in both her bowels and bladder. She was unconscious, with a weak, irregular pulse. Chalfant diagnosed a pulmonary embolism and remained with Rose for about an hour, during which she seemed to be improving. But the next time Chalfant checked on her, she was showing signs of brain damage from an embolism. She held on until about 1 p.m. December 26. She left five children motherless.


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Dr. Charles Schildecker performed the autopsy in the hospital morgue. Rose, 5'6” and 175 pounds, showed no external marks of injury. However, her fallopian tubes and ovaries were enlarged and gangrenous, especially on the left. The lining of her uterus was inflamed, gangrenous, and decomposed. Her pelvic veins were filled with septic thrombi. All of her pelvic tissues were highly inflamed, showing signs of recent pregnancy. Schildecker determined that the cause of death had been septicemia from an abortion. The coroner's jury recommended that the person responsible, the mysterious woman on the South Side, be identified and arrested.

MarieTretylHeadshotPghPress23Aug1915.jpgPolice identified the mystery woman as midwife Marie Treytl. At the time of Rose's death, another of Treytl's patients was in critical condition herself as a result of an abortion. Treytl had also been implicated in the 1915 abortion death of Margaret McCreary.

Treytl had previously been implicated in the 1915 abortion death of Margaret McCreary.

Note, please, that with overall public health 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

RoseKulamerPghPress27Dec1918.pngSources:
  • Coroner Summary 191901-273
  • Death certificate
  • "Woman Dies, Another in Hospital; Police Seeking Midwife," Pittsburgh Press, Dec. 27, 1918


RoseKulamerDeathCertificate.png


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