Aurora Heaton

Aurora Heatonmissouri, 20s, 1860s, abortifacient, 19thcenturySUMMARY: Aurora Heaton, age 23, died in St. Louis, MO January 3, 1966 after taking oil of cedar as an abortifacient.

An inquest was held in St. Louis, Missouri, regarding the January 3, 1866 death of 23-year-old Aurora Heaton.

AuroraHeaton-page-001.jpgClick to enlarge.The deceased was tall and well formed, with prepossessing features, and an attractive appearance. She was a native of Illinois; lately resided at Carbondale, with her mother and stepfather; she sewed for a livelihood, and made herself generally useful. Having arrived at that period of life when her company was sought for by the young men, she became wearied of her rural abode and found no pleasure in the rustic society of her village home. She longed to revel in the gaities of city life, and to associate with the more polished inhabitants of the metropolis. About six weeks ago she came to this city, and through the assistance of friends she obtained employment … where she remained … until about two weeks ago, when she removed to Mr. Gallagher’s.

Before coming to this city, Miss Heaton became acquainted with a young Scotchman named Isaac McDonald, and while here the acquaintance ripened into intimacy, and finally into an ardent attachment. McDonald was a student at Stewart’s Commercial College. Feeling that their intimacy would lead to unpleasant consequences, the young girl took certain medicines to prevent those dreaded consequences.

Aurora and Isaac went out for a walk along the river, evidently discussing Aurora’s symptoms of pregnancy. They bought something at a drug store before Isaac returned to college. He wrote Aurora the following letter:

St. Louis, Dec. 10, 1865

My Dear Little Yankee: How are you this morning? I trust in God you are all right, or at least have some symptoms of becoming so. Under my present circumstances, I hope for, in fact, both of our welfares, that nothing of the kind will occur that we have reasons to be afraid of.


But my present desire in writing to you was to inform you of the fact I have bought your furs; the sale was announced and came off yesterday morning, as I anticipated. ….

I will look for you on Thursday afternoon, sure. I remain your little Scotchman,

Isaac McDonald

Aurora wrote back:

St. Louis, Dec. 10

My Dear Little Scotchman: received your kind note this afternoon, but I am sorry I disturb your mind when I come to see you. I ought to be a comfort to you, but instead of that I cause you nothing but trouble. I am likely to cause you more, for that medicine hasn’t taken any effect. O, Isaac, I feel sorry to cause you so much trouble and expense, when you are not making anything. God knows the trouble I am in about it. I am sorry I let you get the furs, for that would have helped a little; but I hope you haven’t paid any more than what I gave you.

I think you had better go to the doctor and see how much he will ask you. he must do something soon, for I would rather die than have that about me, and me not married.

I pray, Isaac, you will not think any the less of your little Yankee for the trouble and expense she is causing you. I will come own Thursday afternoon, if I possibly can. …. Good night!

From your Little Yankee

OilOfCedar.jpgOil of cedar apothecary bottleAfter writing to Isaac, Aurora went to another drug store, where she bought two ounces of oil of cedar, “medicine used as a diuretic and emenagogue for female sickness and for other purposes; sometimes used by women to procure abortion.” Aurora took a one-ounce dose on Tuesday night. Some time between 10:00 and 11:00 she went into convulsions, then fell into a coma. She was dead just after midnight.

The post-mortem examination found some oil of cedar still in her stomach. Not only were there no signs of sickness in any of Aurora’s organs — there were also no signs of pregnancy.

Legalization didn’t abolish either abortifacient use or abortions on women who only thought they were pregnant.

Penny” decided to perform an abortion on herself in 1978 using pennyroyal, and Kris Humphrey made the same choice in 1994, both with fatal results. in 1971, “Sandra” took her own life in anguish after an abortion, and in 1989, Synthia Dennard bled to death from an abortion; neither woman had actually been pregnant.

In the 1960s, we see the 20th Century downward trend in abortion mortality resumed — until a brief upturn starting in 1968, when some states first started loosening their abortion laws. For more, see Abortion Deaths in the 1960’s.
For more on pre-legalization abortion, see The Bad Old Days of Abortion

Source: “Seduction and Death“, New York Times, Jan. 7, 1866

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