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Ada Hawk, Illegal Abortion Death
Died after abortion arranged by the man who seduced her
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John O. Edmonson was convicted of manslaughter in the second degree after an abortion he arranged resulted in the death of his paramour, 20-year-old Ada Hawk. He was sentenced to three years in prison.

Edmonson was a widower living with his mother in Greene County, Missouri. Edmonson hired Ada, who lived with her parents, as a housekeeper for his mother in April of 1893. The trail found that Edmonson seduced Ada, resulting in her pregnancy.

Edmonson tried to cajole two different men, Harry Creed and L.B. Harper, into marrying Ada. Ada resented this move on Edmonson's part.

Edmonson began asking around for the best way to "get rid of it." He and Ada first tried inserting a rubber catheter, to no effect. Edmonson consulted with a druggist, Mr. King, who said he didn't know how to cause an abortion. Edmonson asked King if whiskey and "Indian turnip" would do the job. King indicated that there was a place near Walnut Grove where "Indian turnip" could be found.

Edmonson then took Ada to Springfield, where a doctor and "an old woman" agreed to perform an abortion for $50. The "old woman" in question "was keeping the Commerical Hotel." Evidently some sort of concoction was given to Ada. After Ada returned from Springfield, she was ill. Edmonson admonished her parents not to seek care for Ada from Dr. Hardin, the family physician. Edmonson said that he would arrange for a Dr. Perry to care for her. Perry made a great issue of getting his fee from Edmonson.

Edmonson coached Ada on how to hide the abortion from her mother. Some two or three weeks passed during which Ada kept her secret, while she continued to take some greenish medicine Edmonson had provided. The medicine seemed to make Ada more ill. Ada bled heavily and passed a clot, which led her mother to conclude that her daughter had been pregnant and had aborted.

Ada had soreness of the bowels, and became "wasted." Finally, realizing that she was dying, Ada confessed the abortion to her mother, and lay blame on Edmonson for bringing about her "ruin" and for failing in his promise to care for her.

After the girl's death, Edmonson asked a Mr. Brown to help him dig a grave, telling Brown that "he wanted her buried quick" and that "the family wanted a shallow grave." The coroner had Ada's body exhumed, but it was too decomposed for him to be able to perform a satisfactory autopsy.

The Dr. Perry whom Edmonson had hired to attend to Ada did not see her until after the abortion. He attributed her symptoms to typho-malarial fever.


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: 131 Mo. 348, 33 S.W. 17; Supreme Court of Missouri, Division No. 2.STATEv.EDMONSON.Dec. 3, 1895.

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