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Eliza Sowers, 19th Century Abortion Death
Died after abortion by Dr. Henry Chauncey
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A Philadelphia boarding house owner reported that in early October of 1839, a Dr. Henry Chauncey appeared at breakfast time. "He made me make some tea of a powder that looked like black pepper."

The tea was given to 21-year-old Eliza Sowers, a paper mill worker. She'd been brought to the boarding house by Chauncey the day before.

At around 2:00 the following morning, Eliza called to the boarding house owner. "She said she was very bad. She said, 'I won't take any more of that doctor's medicine; it will kill me.'"

Chauncey returned later, performing some sort of procedure upon Eliza with something "which shined and looked like a knitting needle," according to the owner of the boarding house.

Chauncey said that Eliza was "the most difficult person he had ever operated on. Said the medicine he gave her was too powerful, and had acted too quick."

Eliza died from the ministrations of Dr. Chauncey. The trial revealed that Eliza had been seduced by William Nixon, her superintendant at the paper mill.

Eliza's abortion was typical of illegal abortions in that it was performed by a physician.

Illegal by Doctors Illegal by Paramedical Illegal by Amateurs Self Induced

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: Abortion Rites: A Social History of Abortion in American, by Marvin Olasky

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