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Violet Morse, Illegal Abortion Death
Surgical nurse implicated in death
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On August 1, 1929, 23-year-old schoolteacher Violet Morse, of Anaconda, Montana, died from a botched abortion. Abortionist Gertrude PitkanenHer death certificate was signed by Gertrude Pitkanen (pictured), who was listed as the attending doctor even though Pitkanen was actually a surgical nurse and a chiropractor. Pitkanen attributed Violet's death to myocarditis, a heart condition.

Violet's father requested a coroner's inquest, which revealed that Violet had actually died of complications of an induced abortion. Pitkanen insisted that she had only been called to Violet's bedside after her death. With no way to verify that Pitkanen had performed the abortion, she was simple censured for failing to notify proper officials about the death, as well as for falsifying the death certificate.

Pitkanen, born in 1878 in Lincoln, Nebraska, completed her nurse's training at Cook County Hospital in Chicago. She moved to Butte in 1907, and was one of the first surgical nurses at St. James Community Hospital, assisting her husband, Dr. Gustavus Pitkanen. Dr. Pitkanen was an abortionist until he was jailed for sedition in 1917, whereupon his wife took up the curette.

Pitkanen was also charged with the abortion deaths of Margie Fraser and Hilja Johnson. A woman who was a student nurse at St. James Hospital in Butte remembered Pitkanen's victims. "They died horrible deaths from infection," she told a reporter from the Montana Standard.

Violet's abortion was unusual in that it was likely performed by a nurse, rather than by a doctor, as was the case with perhaps 90% of criminal abortions.

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.

Illegal by Doctors Illegal by Paramedical Illegal by Amateurs Self Induced


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

Source: "Black Market Adoption", Denver Post, August 4, 2002; "Gertrude Pitkanen -- Butte's Notorious Abortionist", by Peter Chapin; "Gertie's Babies", People, October 7, 2002

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