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Clementina Anderson, Illegal Abortion Death
Died after lover arranged abortion
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A Heavy Blow

James Anderson, an elderly New York sexton and undertaker, had already suffered much as autumn of 1862 passed. His eldest son, a soldier, had been killed in the line of duty in September. His wife had been so stricken with shock and grief at the loss of their son that she herself had died shortly thereafter. Then in October, his 20-year-old daughter, Clementina, disappeared.

She had left the house on Saturday, October 25, ostensibly to visit relatives in Newburgh. Her father had wanted her to stay close to home, and offered to let her have somebody come stay with her if she was lonely. But Clementina was adamant. She wanted to visit her mother's friends, to be with people dear to her mother. As Anderson took his leave from his daughter at lunchtime, he begged her to reconsider. He came home at dinner time to have the household report that nobody had been able to dissuade Clementina from her plans. Her brother, James Anderson Jr., reported that she had taken her black valise and headed off to Newburgh.

But word came on Wednesday, October 29, that the expected visitor had never arrived. What had become of Clementina? James Anderson and his brother asked the young woman's suitor, 26-year-old Augustus L. "A.L." Simms, if he knew anything of Clemetina's whereabouts. All Simms would say was that perhaps she had gone to the country to visit friends. This didn't set the frantic father's mind at ease. For three weeks, he unflaggingly searched for his missing daughter, asking Simms again and again for any clue as to where she might have gone. Simms insisted that he had no idea where Clementina was, but reassured James that she'd probably be home soon.

The evening of November 19, the doorbell rang at James Anderson's home. He answered to find Edward Donohue, a hackman, on the doorstep, accompanied by an unfamiliar woman. The hackman held what at first appeared to be a bundle of quilts in his arms. The strange visitors came into the house. But when Donohue lay the bundle down on the sofa, Anderson saw that it was actually Clementina. Taken completely by surprise at the sight of his long-missing daughter, he cried out joyfully to his brother and the hired man that Clementina had come home.

Agnes Mann, who boarded with the Andersons, heard the commotion from the basement and came up to see what was going on. She found people gathered around Clementina, who lay apparently lifeless on the sofa. James Anderson left the room briefly, overcome with emotion. Agnes drew nearer and saw that Clementina was still breathing, but very slowly. In the moment her father was gone to compose himself, she breathed her last.

Fate had dealt James Anderson a third tragic blow.

How Had it Come to This?

A. L. Simms had begun courting Clementina about two years earlier, but after about six months Clementina's parents had hard words with the young man. Anderson suspected that Simms was still visiting his daughter behind his back. And as the summer of 1862 turned to fall, he began to have darker suspicions about the young man's intentions. And he had voiced suspicions to Clementina that she might be pregnant.

The official investigation into how Clementina had died would vindicate her father's suspicions in spades.

Simms made a confession, painting himself as meekly going along with Clementina's every request, but as stalwart defender of his beloved, standing firm in all of his dealings with the abortionist. That the confession was self-serving we can not doubt. Still, it's the only record of what happened between the time Clementina left her father's house and when she returned there to die, and as such we must take it -- albeit with quite a few grains of salt.

The Arrangements

Simms said that he'd known Clementina for about two years. He'd called for her at her home openly for about six months, but her father had disapproved of him, he'd started timing his visits for when her father was out -- something he said he was doing at Clementina's request.

Around the 6th or 7th of July, Clementina had told Simms that she was pregnant, and, he said, asked him to buy an abortifacient for her. She had said that there were several kinds advertised, but that Hooper's pills were the best, that she'd known a married woman who had used them with success. Simms said he got the pills, but they had no effect.

Clementina, Simms told investigators, had pressured him to find another way of heading off the impending baby lest her parents learn of the pregnancy. But there is some doubt cast on Simms' claim that it was Clementina pressing for the abortion. Clementina had confided in Agnes Mann, who she had known since childhood, that she might get married while in Newburgh. This indicates that Clementina was holding out hope for a wedding rather than an abortion.

Meanwhile, Simms went to Dr. Browne and priced an abortion. Browne said that he'd "have her all right in two weeks at the furthest, or perhaps sooner, for the sum of $50". However, Brown said, he already had a lady patient at his practice, and he never had more than one there at a time.

The deaths of Clementina's brother and mother put the abortion arrangements on a back burner for a few weeks. On October 25, Simms met with Browne again, who tried to raise the price, saying that his most recent patient had paid him $100, so he'd not do the abortion for less than $75. The two men haggled and finally Browne agreed to the originally quoted price of $50. He told Simms to bring Clementina there at about 9 or 10 that evening.

Simms arranged to meet Clementina near Broadway at about 5 p.m., about the time the boat would depart for Newburgh, which again is an indication that Clementina had hoped that Simms would accompany her there and marry her after all. Even though Simms had arranged to bring Clementina to the abortionist that night, the two of them spent the night in a hotel -- which might mean that Clementina was refusing to go for the abortion and Simms was refusing to accompany her to Newburgh.

Clementina balking at a surgical abortion after supposedly having requested abortifacient pills may seem unlikely at first glance, but at the time, it wasn't well known that the unborn baby was alive prior to "quickening", when the mother first felt movement. The very word "quickening" means "coming to life". This is usually at about 16 weeks or four months. If Clementina had confirmed the pregnancy in early July, by late October she would have been at least five or six months pregnant. It is one thing to take "menstrual regulation" pills which you can convince yourself easily are just setting your periods back on schedule. It's another thing entirely to go through with aborting a baby that you have felt moving for weeks -- especially when it's the child of a man you love and want to marry. More especially so when you've already faced the deaths of your mother and your brother. Also, the pills were percieved as perfectly safe, while everybody knew that a surgical abortion was a risky undertaking. And we only have Simms' word that Clementina wanted either the pills or the abortion in the first place.

In any event, regardless of Clementina's original preferences, over the course of the night and the following day, the abortion was evidently finally resolved upon, and the couple went to Browne's house at about 9 p.m. Browne took them upstairs and left them together in a room. Simms went downstairs, paid Browne, and got a receipt, which he later gave to the coroner:

Received of Mr. -------, the sum of $50, for board and treatment until well. (signed)
EDWARD M. BROWNE

According to Simms, the two quibbled over how often Simms would be allowed to visit, with Browne wanting him to stay away until Clementina was ready to go home, and Simms wanting to visit her daily. Simms said Browne had finally relented and said that Simms could visit daily as long as Clementina was well enough to see him.

Simms said he then went upstairs and helped Clementina to bed. She asked him to tell Browne not to come up that night, since she had already gone to bed -- another indication that Clementina was not nearly so eager for an abortion as Simms claimed.

The Abortion

Simms returned the next evening around 7 p.m. Brown said he'd performed two operations, one in the morning and one in the afternnoon, and "they wre very successful, and that she would be over her trouble the next day".

Simms went upstairs and found Clementina crying and in a lot of pain. He helped her to undress and go to bed. She'd described the two operations, reporting that they'd been very painful. She showed him the instruments Browne had used on her.

When Simms went back downstairs, he said Browne told him to make arrangements to take Clementina away on Friday or Saturday. Simms returned the next day, October 28. Browne told him that all was well, and Clementina seemed in good spirits, saying that the doctor had never seen a patient get along so well. Evently she'd expelled the baby, for she told Simms she'd seen it.

Simms returned the next day, and Browne said that Clementina was a bit unwell, but that this was normal and no cause for concern. When Simms returned on the 29th, Brown said that Clementina was sick with childbed fever and that he'd been up all night with her. He let Simms see her, and she said that she felt very sick. She was shivering and said she'd been stricken with chills and fever all night.

Simms returned again on October 31. The housekeeper met him and told him Browne was upstairs and that Simms wasn't to be admitted. He returned again on Sunday, November 2, and found the place dark and locked up. He went again on Monday and saw Browne, who assured him that Clementina was out of danger and that he could take her away on the next Friday or Saturday. Over the next few days, Simms returned for updates. He was told Clementina had suffered a relapse and was kept from seeing her.

It's important to remember that through all this, Clementina's distraught father and uncle were looking for her, begging Simms for word of her whereabouts. And though it all, Simms glibly lied to them. He had ample opporunities to tell them where she was, ample opportunity to give them a chance to at least see her and be with her as she fought for her life. It's unlikely that, just having lost his son and his wife, James Anderson would have cast his ailing daugher off.

But it's also likely that Simms figured that James Anderson, who already mistrusted Simms and wanted him to keep away from his daughter, would have gone to the cops to complain about the way she'd been debauched and brought to the brink of death.

Clearly Simms was capable of acting with more prudence than compassion.

The Homecoming

Finally, on the 19th of November, Browne told Simms he could have Clementina taken away, but not to bring a carriage to the house. A Hackman named Edward Donohue was at the Lafarge House stables on that evening. At about 7:30, a stranger -- later identified as Simms -- came and asked how much Donohue would charge to take him to the corner of Fourteenth-street and Eighth-avenue. Donohue quoted a price of $1. The stranger said that he wanted to pick up a lady at that address and bring her to a place two or three blocks further on. The hackman said he would not charge more for this.

Here, again, we get conflicting stories, for Simms said he'd had the hackman stop the coach about a block away from Browne's house. But Donohue, the hackman, said he'd stopped in front of the house and watched the tall, respectable-looking, black-clad youth persist at ringing the bell for rougly fifteen minutes before being admitted.

Simms said he found Clementina dressed and sitting on the sofa. It was she, Simms said, who insisted that they should stick with the story that she had come from Newburgh. Simms said he helped her into the coach, which Donohue also reported, but Donohue noted that a woman was helping Clementina, who he identified as "the sick lady", as well. Donohue reported also seeing another man at the house, who he later identified as the doctor, as well as a boy that he said Simms summoned to help the two women into the cab.

Simms insisted that it was on Clementina's request that he did not go with her; he was, she told him, to keep away for two or three days. At any rate, he paid Donohue his dollar and instructing him to take the sick lady to 370 Bleecker-street. He also told him to drive slowly and that if anybody asked, Donohue was to say that he had picked the women up at the foot of Jay-street. Donohue reported that Simms seemed very agitated, and was trembling.

Donohue took off with the two women. As for Simms, he spent a night at a hotel then left for Albany.

Upon arriving at the address, the woman who had helped Clementina into the cab didn't want to go in, but Donohue told her she would have to. He took Clementina into his arms, as she was unable to speak or walk. She only moaned slightly as he took her from the coach. He rang the bell and made the woman who had accompanied him enter the house ahead of him. He lay the sick lady down on a sofa with a pillow under her head, and asked the woman what was wrong with her. The woman replied that she had been drinking brandy.

An elderly man at the house asked Donohue for the number of his cab. Donohue lied and told the man his cab number was 95. The elderly man asked where Donohue had picked up the sick lady, and Donokue told him at the foot of Jay-street. Donohue said he'd given false information because of the apparent respectability of the tall man who had engaged his services.

But Clemetina's death changed everything. No longer would glib lies to James Anderson suffice. A coroner's inquest, a hearing, and a trial followed, bringing out more evidence about how Clementina had met her tragic end.

The Housemate's Testimony

Agnes said that she had known Augustus L. Simms for about two years. She'd first met him when Clementina had brought him to Agnes' sister's house to spend an evening. She saw little of Simms until July two years previous, when she had gone to board at the Anderson home. Simms was there almost every evening, generally arriving about 7 or 8 in the evening, sometimes later. Clementina would walk Simms to the door at about midnight, and Agnes wouldn't see her again that night. Agnes was aware of Simms remaining overnight about three times, with Clementina claming that the pair had fallen asleep on the sofa.

Agnes said she never suspeced a sexual relationship between the two, and had no idea that Clementina was pregnant, in retrospect noting that Clementina had for weeks before her death had a great craving for pickles. Agnes later learned that Clementina's father voiced suspicions to Clementina on the subject.

Agnes identified some clothing, jewelry, and "other small articles" as belonging to Clementina. The clothing had been found in the possession of the woman who did Dr. Browne's washing. The jewelry and other items had been found at Browne's home.

Other Testimony About Clementina and Simms

Charles H. Simms testified that he had last seen his brother, Augustus, on the previous Tuesday. "I understood from my sister that he was going out of town." Charles pointed out that while Augustus, a sign-painter who didn't keep his own shop, was not "a man of means", he didn't know his brother to be in debt. He'd never heard of Clementina Anderson, though he had known his brother to sometimes be absent all night. He admitted that his brother and a man named David Cole had been arrested a year earlier and tried "for indecent treatment of a lady".

Samuel Towner, who boarded at the Anderson house, knew Simms by sight and had seen him coming and going from the house at all hours. He had last seen Simms and Clementina together at the house two or three days before Clementina's departure.

Clementina's brother, James, testified that he was present about four weeks earlier, when his sister had departed at around 4 p.m. She said she was taking the Hoboken ferry and going to Newburgh. She brought a black valise with her. About two weeks after his sister's departure, James had seen Simms on the corner of Bleecker and Perry Streets, and he had asked James to bring clothes for Clementina. James had asked of his sister's whereabouts and been told she was in Newburgh.

Mary E. Simms, Augustus' sister, testified that she believed Augustus to be the respectable-looking man in black who had arranged for Clementina to be taken to her father's house. She had last seen him the previous Tuesday evening, when he had left home, saying he was going out of town and would return the following day.

Augustus' friend David H. Coles testified that he had known Simms for about ten years as a friend and confidant. He had last seen Simms the previous Monday evening. He had never heard Augustus speak of Clementina Anderson. He had heard Augustus speak of Dr. Browne as "an insulting man" who ran a place that "was the resort of ladies".

Testimony About Dr. Browne

Oficer Andrew C. Blauvelt testified that he had been a beat cop on Eight Avenue, and that for many months he had noticed that carriages would frequently drive up to 82 Eighth Avenue at 1 or 2 a.m., sometimes as late as 4 a.m., and "ladies would get out and go in closely veiled". He added, "I have known the reputation of the house for some time past, six months at least; it has a bad reputation in the neighborhood; Dr. Brown himself told me some time ago, that he had one lady patient there for whom he was to have $500 if he effected a cure".

A woman named Mary Ann Bickford, whose store was two doors down from Browne's house, testified that Eliza Gordon, Dr. Browne's housekeeper, had come to her about a year ago, on an errand from Dr. Browne, to ask Mary Ann to take charge of an infant that had been born at their house. About a week before the inquest, Eliza had come to her, saying that "they had a young woman there, whom they thought would die; that she had been up with her for two nights, and was tired out." The sick woman had been at Browne's house for about three weeks, Eliza had said.

A woman named Mrs. Stewart testified that Browne had once offered her an abortifacient, which she had declined.

Much of the next section of the clipping is difficult to read. Some police officers testify about the arrest of Browne and of Eliza Gordon, and about what was found at Browns's house. The finds included the abortion instruments, blood, clothes, jewelry, and bloody rags. Eliza Gordon testified, but the report of her testimony is virtually unreadable. She did indicate that Clementina Anderson had been at the house five or six weeks previous to the inquest and that she had left some soiled clothes there which Gordon had sent to be washed for her.

A doctor whose name is illegible examined about 40 medical instruments confiscated from Browne's house and testified that they were abortion instruments. Several other physicians concurred.

The Verdict

"We find that Clementina Anderson came to her death by inflammation, produced by an abortion at the hands of Dr. Edward M. Browne; further, the Jury say that Augustus L. Simms was accessory before and after the fact."

The case was delayed going to trial, mainly due to political and prosecutorial wranglings. When it finally went to trial in 1863, testimony certainly indicated that Clementina had died from a botched abortion. Simms testified that he knew of the pregnancy and had arranged for the abortion, to be performed by Browne. The physician who had performed the postmortem examination described the signs of recent pregnancy -- enlarged breasts, darkened areolae, an enlarged uterus, signs of where the placenta had detached from the uterine wall. But the defense found doctors to explain away all of these signs.

Browne ran a drug store with attached boarding house for his "cases" to stay while they recovered. The police had confiscated abortion instruments from Browne's office. But the defense argued that just because Browne could have performed an abortion didn't mean that he actually did, especially, the defense held, when you couldn't prove merely from examining the dead woman's body that she'd had an abortion, much less that the abortion had killed her.

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: "The Late Abortion Case: Confession of Simms, the Alleged Accessory", New York Times, November 26, 1862;"The Eight-avenue Abortion Case", New York Times, December 10, 1862; "The Ninth Ward Abortion Case", New York Times, November 23, 1862; Abortion in America: The Origins and Evolution of National Policy, 1800-1900, James C. Mohr, Oxford University Press US, 1978; Classics of the Bar Stories of the World's Great Jury Trials and a Compilation of Forensic Masterpieces Part One, Alvin Victor Sellers, Kessinger Publishing, 2004; Celebrated Trials, Henry Lauren Clinton, \Harper & brothers, 1897

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