Amanda McCoy

Amanda McCoy1870s, illegalmidwife, 19thcentury, illinoisSUMMARY: On December 22, 1871, Amanda McCoy died in the Chicago home of Dr. Fahlsbusch from abortion complications.

On December 28, 1871, an Illinois coroner’s jury was called to investigate the December 22 death of Mrs. Amanda McCoy.

Amanda, a young widow who worked as a milliner in Crestline, OH, had died at the home of Dr. Fahlbusch, a German woman practicing as a midwife and described as “of good reputation.”

At first, Amanda’s body was being transported out of the city for burial, but due to the suspicious circumstances of her death, her body was ordered returned to Chicago for an inquest. The man accompanying the body, said to be engaged to marry Amanda, was taken into custody.

Dr. Fahlbusch was cleared of any suspicion in Amanda’s death.

The Coroner’s Jury concluded that Amanda had undergone her fatal abortion before coming into the city.

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 general 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 on this era, see Abortion Deaths in the 19th Century.

For more on pre-legalization abortion, see The Bad Old Days of Abortion


  • “Illinois: The Abortion Case”, Winona Daily Republican, Dec. 28, 1871
  • “Detectives at Fault,” Nashville Union and American, Dec.19, 1877
  • Bloomburg, IL, Pantagraph, Dec. 28, 1871
  • “The Trunk Mystery at Chicago,” New York Times, Dec. 29, 1871



Adolph Schadel (Mrs. S’s husband), knew “Billy” Shorb as frequenter of his saloon. Came with lady on 19th to S home. didn’t see woman’s face, woman complained she was chilly. Didn’t think anything was suspicious.

Expressman G. W. Swast was called on by Shorb Thurs or Fri evening to haul a corpse to the depot at about 8 the next morning. Waited near address 20 – 30 min. until Shorb came and told him that he needed a certificate from the Health Officer. Swast returned the next day, undertaker helped load corpse down two flights of stairs, Shorb wasn’t there. Shorb met Swast at depot at around 8:30, paid him $3 for the two trips, left Shorb at depot waiting for certificate.

Mary B. Raymond, seamstress, rented room at Fahlbusch house, never saw sick lady except Amanda, who had died on her (Mary’s) bed, where she’d been taken because the room was warm. Amanda had been there 2.5 days.

Mrs. Amanda E. McCoy
Investigation at First Precinct Police Station

“The case has excited much comment throughout the city, and the results of the inquest have been looked forward to with more than usual interest. It has been generally expected that the parties under arrest would be implicated, their connection with the affair having been such as to warrant the steps taken by the police authorities to bring to light the details of what has the appearance of being a terrible crime, with attendant circumstances more than ordinarily harrowing.” (ChiTrib 12/29)

Coroner’s jury found definite abortion but no definite perp.

Testimony of County Physician Ben C. Miller. Postmortem found brain, heart, lungs healthy, but peritoneum inflamed and covered with pus, about half a pint in the area of the pus-fulled and inflamed uterus. Abrasions near cervix and on posterior wall of uterus, which could only have been done with an instrument of some sort.

Inflammation could have been from miscarriage, but the abrasions no.

No sign of the calcification in the gall bladder Dr. Sherman had blamed on the death certificate.

Fortune teller Catherine Schadel, knew Shorb slightly. He went to her house on December 19 with Amanda. Mr. Schadel asked Catherine if Amanda could stay for two days until Shorb returned for her. Amanda was a stranger to her.

Catherine said she had shopping to do and didn’t run a boarding house, referred to Mrs. Fahlbusch on State Street.

Knew Fahlbusch for over three years, midwife.

Amanda didn’t look pregnant, said nothing about pregnancy. Mrs. S. accompanied Amanda to home of Fahlbusuch, at first didn’t want her but agreed to let her stay.

Amanda complained of being cold and sick. Cath introduced her as acquaintance.

On 21st, a.m., F went to Cath and said Amanda was ill with “liver and heart sickness.” Mr. S told his wife Amanda died that day. Mrs. S said she didn’t know Mrs. F as anything but an ordinary midwife.

Dr. Julian S. Sherman said he was called to make charitable call to see Amanda at Mrs. F’s house around 7 p.m., doesn’t remember day. Lucid, complained of pain in area of stomach and liver. When asked about uterine trouble or pain, denied. Insisted problems were in stomach. Sherman administered injection of morphine w/o examination, script for calomel and morphine for pain.

Went next afternoon, found her dying, decided it was a gall stone blocking the gall duct. He said other symptoms would have been visible in abortion case. Attempted to percuss abdomen but patient insisted there was no problem there. Said he didn’t suspect abortion because of where patient was indicating pain.


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