Alma Heidenway

Alma Heidenway19101919, 20s, chicago, illinois, illegaldoctorSUMMARY: On August 20, 1918, 28-year-old secretary Alma Heidenway died at 329 South Ashland Avenue in Chicago at the home of Dr. James A. Stough.

At age 28, Alma Heidenway had worked for 13 years at Sears, Roebuck & Co. in Forest Park, Illinois. She became the private secretary of the head of the company’s restaurant department.

She had a two-week vacation from her job. On Sunday, August 18, 1918, Alma packed a suitcase and told her parents, John and Elizabeth Heidenway, that she was going to spend the vacation with a friend in Milwaukee.

Two days later, on the evening of August 20, a neighbor came to the Heidenway house. The neighbor had gotten a phone call from a Dr. James A. Stough in Chicago asking them to tell Alma’s parents that she was dead.

Though Alma had been treated for high blood pressure, she had been in otherwise good health. Her shocked parents demanded an explanation. Police sent their ambulance surgeon to Stough’s house, where he made a preliminary examination of Alma’s body. She had slight discolorations on her head, face, arms, and legs, but they didn’t seem to be caused by violence.

Police took Stough to the station for questioning. He said that Alma had shown up at his office on the afternoon of Monday, August 19 reporting to be very sick. He said she seemed to be in a lot of pain, which he attributed to neuralgia. He gave her a morphine injection and put her to bed. At around 2:00 the afternoon of the 20th she again seemed to be in a lot of pain so he administered more morphine, followed up by another dose at around 4:00 p.m. When he went to check on her at around 6:00, he said, she looked moribund so he sent for Dr. J. J. Stoll. At about 6:30, before Stoll arrived, Alma died. She had, he said, whispered her name and the neighbor’s phone number to Stough before her death so that her parents could be notified.

After the preliminary examination of Alma’s body, and the discussion with Stough, authorities postulated that the morphine administered to a young woman with high blood pressure had caused her death. Stough was sent home with instructions to return at 10:00 the next morning for an inquest.

Alma’s parents indicated that she’d been healthy and hadn’t missed a day’s work for many months. She didn’t have a man in her life that they knew of. However, the autopsy found that Alma had died from peritonitis caused by an abortion.

Stough, along with a man named Fred Cordray and a woman named Alice J. Kennedy, were held by the Coroner on September 5. Corday, a 38-year-old married man, was identified as the father of Alma’s baby.

A woman named Eunice Magill was brought to Chicago from Forest Park. Alice and Eunice were not prosecuted. Stough and Cordray were tried, and were acquitted on May 29, 1919.

Note, please, that with overall public health 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 information about early 20th Century abortion mortality, see Abortion Deaths 1910-1919.

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.

During the first two thirds of the 20th Century, while abortion was still illegal, there was a massive drop in maternal mortality, including mortality from abortion. Most researches attribute this plunge to improvements in public health and hygiene, the development of blood transfusion techniques, and the introduction of antibiotics. Learn more here.

external image MaternalMortality.gif
For more on pre-legalization abortion, see The Bad Old Days of Abortion


  • Homicide in Chicago Interactive Database
  • Death certificate
  • “Girl’s Death in Doctor’s Office Starts Inquiry,” Chicago Tribune, August 21, 1918
  • “Married Man Arrested in Girl’s Death Case,” Chicago Tribune, August 23, 1918


AlmaHeidenway DeathCert.jpg

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