Alice White19thcentury, arizonaMrs. Alice White, age 22, “came to her death in the city of Phoenix, county of Maricopa, Territory of Arizona, on the 21st day of July, 1891, from the effects of an abortion. As to who performed said abortion the jury are unable to agree.” — Coroner’s Jury, July 27, 1891
The Prescot Weekly Journal Miner described Dr. Scott Helm as “one of the best and most prominent physicians in Phoenix.” It should come as no surprise that citizens were shocked when 22-year-old Alice White implicated him as an abortionist in a statement she made as she lay dying:
“Sunday at 11:00 I went to Dr. Helm’s office and told him I was two months of pregnancy and wanted him to (illegible in source) said he would do for (illegible) put me on my back in a (illegible) examined me with instruments. Hurt me very much and a keen and sickening pain ran through me. He said I was not only pregnant but suffering from a venereal disease; that he would bring me around all right (illegible) condition and afterward doctor me for the other disease, this would be $50 extra. He said I would be better the next day, but feeling no better he went back at 12 o’clock and he repeated the performance. He hurt me still and (illegible) this time and blood (illegible) He assured me (illegible) believe I had any venereal disease till Dr. Helm told me, as I had no symptoms.”
She also made a formal deathbed confession reading:
On Sunday, July 12th, 1891, I went to the office of Dr. Scott Helm and told him that I was pregnant about two months and came to have an abortion performed.
He (Dr. Helm) used a speculum and then introduced a long instrument, which was probably over a foot long and about the size of a rye straw. He produced a sharp pain in my back and told me I would become unwell and every thing would come away the next day. On the next day (Monday) I (not having come unwell as he said I would) returned according to his directions and told him nothing had passed, and he again repeated the same as before, except with more pain and this time producing a flow of blood sufficient to stain my clothes a place as large as my hand. Dr. Helm told me he was sure that this operation would bring me out all right.
I am sure I told him I was pregnant and I wanted him to produce the abortion and came for that purpose. I know other girls who have had the same thing done by him. I have told Dr. Titus and Hughes all about it, and make this affidavit of my own free will and accord without any threat or undue influence from anyone, only the request of Dr. Hughes to protect him from misrepresentation in the matter, who has treated me together with Dr. Titus since Tuesday, July 14, 1891.
Sword and subscribed before me this 19th day of July, 1891.
W. O. Huson, Justice of the Peace
Alice’s mother said that her daughter had said that she was in a lot of pain during the abortion, but that Helm had told her, “I have performed similar operations on several women not as robust as you, and they came out all right. You are a strong woman and need have no fear.” However, Alice told her mother, Helm cautioned her, “Don’t get scared when you get sick and give me away, for it would go hard with me.”
Attempts to Save Alice
Dr. Hughs, the family doctor who had previously delivered Alice’s first child was called in by Alice. She instructed him to go to Humphries — who was Helm’s attorney — with bills for her care.
Hughs gave her medicine to reduce her fever. He asked a Dr. Rawlings to assist, but Rawlings wanted nothing to do with an abortion case, so Hughs called in a Dr. Titus, who assisted in Alice’s care. “We made two examinations,” Hughs said, “found no veneral disease existed but that an abortion had been performed and that she was suffering from blood poisoning from which she died. She was conscious save a few delirious moments near her death and was aware of the gravity of her situation.”
Dr. Titus said that when he was called in, Alice had a fever of 105 and a pulse of 120. “She was suffering with intense pain; she feared death.” He said that when he examined Alice the fetus was dead and still in her uterus. He and Hughs used a combination of drugs and instruments to remove the fetus and placenta.
Titus said that the odor from the uterine infection was so powerful that it was difficult for the doctors to remain in the room.
The Blame is Spread Around
Hughs heard through the rumor mill that Helm was planning to blame him for any abortion perpetrated on Alice, so Hughs went to Justice Huson’s office and wrote out a statement of his own involvement.
Hughs said that when he went to Humpries about the medical expenses, Humprhies fetched in a man named Mr. Vincent, who “said he wanted to do what was right but wasn’t responsible for her condition. He was willing to pay for the best medical assistance that could be procured.” Vincent said that he had $300 in the bank and needed $50 for his own use so he would pay Hughs $250 for Alice’s care.
Hughs also said that when he spoke to Alice’s grandmother, she “made some bitter remarks about Mr. Vincent and seemed to blame him.” Hughes urged Vincent to leave town, which he did.
Alice’s mother, Mrs. Bridgeman, on the other hand, testified that when Alice told her that her despondency was due to being “in trouble,” she named Humphries as the father. She said that it was Humphries who had told her that Helm was a friend and would “fix it.”
There could be no doubt that Alice died from abortion complications. Dr. Carroll Rawlings helped with the autopsy. When he opened the abdomen this released a massive amount of pus. The area around the uterus was full of adhesions. The uterus had a putrid odor when opened. The surface of the uterus was covered with clots. There were no signs in Alice’s vagina of a venereal disease.
Coverage of Alice’s death was melodramatic. The Arizona Republic lavished column-inches on her funeral:
It was a very sad affair, and all who attended felt that one who was loved and cherished by some people had gone away leaving them lonely without her. The little parlor of the house in which the lady lay was crowded with relatives and friends. The coffin containing the body rested in the corner of the room, covered profusely with flowers.
As the remains of all that was mortal of the beautiful dead creature were closed from view, the sobs that filled the room were enough to bring tears to the eyes of everyone.
The women in the room wept, and among the men there was not a dry eye.
Threat of Lynching
The outrage reached such a fever pitch that rumors began to circulate that a lynch mob was going to attack Helm, along with his attorney, Abram Humphries. When Humphries’ friends warned him of the impending trouble, “He poo-pooed the idea, and later, when other friends approached him about the matter, he stated that those cowardly scoundrels had better put their little scheme on ice else it would not keep; that he understood that a certain individual could furnish the ice without any cost to himself, and that it would be a pleasure for him to meet this spawn of whoredom. About that time the individual referred to was at the bar of the Capitol saloon, and when Mr. Humphries appeared, business of an urgent nature called him elsewhere.”
Humphries’ blase attitude proved appropriate, as nothing ever came of the threats.
Charges but No Evidence of Trial
When Humphries was questioned at the inquest, he refused to answer any questions beyond how long he had known Dr. Helm and Alice White, insisting that
Though Dr. Helm was charged with murder, directories for Phoenix still showed listings for Helm as a physician in 1892 and 1895, which would indicate that he did not go to prison over Alice’s death.
- “The Woman Dead,” San Francisco Chronicle, Jul. 22, 1891
- “The Last Sad Rites,” Arizona Republic, Jul. 23, 1891
- “How She Died,” Arizona Republic, Jul. 24, 1891
- “Talk of Lynching,” Arizona Republic, Jul. 25, 1891
- “Coroner’s Verdict: The Jury in the White Abortion Case,” Arizona Republic, Jul. 28, 1891
- Untitled clipping, Prescott (AZ) Weekly Journal Miner, Jul. 29, 1891
- Untitled clipping, Phoenix Republican, Nov. 10, 1891
- “Court News: Dr. Helm’s Counsel File a Demurrer,” Arizona Republic, Nov. 21, 1891