Bessie Braun

Bessie Braun20s, 1900s, illegalmidwife, chicago, illinoisSUMMARY: On April 6, 1906, 22-year-old Bessie Braun died in Chicago from an abortion perpetrated by midwife Julia Gibson.

reese.jpgMichael Reese Hospital
Were there really wards full of women dying from botched septic abortions in the days before legalization? Dr. Julius Lackner of
Michael Reese Hospital in Chicago reflected on what he saw there from 1900 to 1914. Five hundred women were treated at this charity hospital for septic abortions — both criminal abortions and miscarriages — during those fifteen years. Of those 500 women, there were only four deaths.

I have verified that two of them were indeed criminal abortion patients: Lizzie Orenstein and Bessie Braun.

Bessie, a 22-year-old homemaker, mother of two, and immigrant from Austria, died at Michael Reese on April 6, 1906. Both verbally and in writing, Bessie named midwife Julia Gibson as the person who had perpetrated the abortion, for a $5 fee, on March 20. It was hardly surprising that Bessie’s abortion had been perpetrated by somebody with medical training, since the majority of Chicago abortions in that era were done by either doctors or midwives, who ran thinly veiled advertisements in the newspapers.

Bessie’s husband, Abraham, testified at the inquest. He said that he had not known anything about an abortion until she became seriously ill on Sunday, though she remained at home until Thursday, when she finally was hospitalized.

He also said that prior to her death, Bessie told him that she had written the guilty midwife’s name and address on a piece of paper which was in the bed at their home. Abraham found the paper and turned it over to authorities during the inquest.

Gibson, who had been at Bessie’s bedside during the declaration, was being escorted out of the hospital by police when she asked to go to the women’s dressing room in the hospital basement. She was permitted to go in while a police officer stood guard outside the door.

BessieBraunAttemptFailsChiInterOcean9Apr1906.pngThe officer soon heard a shot, then forced the door and found Gibson lying on the floor suffering from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest. She was admitted to the hospital for treatment and was kept both under arrest and under suicide watch. As she lay near death, Gibson confessed her guilt. She later recovered.

Gibson had previously been indicted for the November, 1905 abortion death of 18-year-old Dorothy Spuhr, who had died at County Hospital.

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 about abortion and abortion deaths in the first years of the 20th century, see Abortion Deaths 1900-1909.

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

  • Homicide in Chicago Interactive Database
  • Death certificate
  • “Seeks Death to Escape the Law,” Chicago Tribune, Apr. 7, 1906
  • “Midwife is Held; Murder Charged,” Chicago Tribune, Apr. 8, 1906
  • “Wife Dead; Midwife Dying,” Chicago Inter Ocean, Apr. 8, 1906
  • “Attempt at Suicide Fails,” Chicago Inter-Ocean, Apr. 9, 1906



Bessie BraunDeathCert.jpg

  1. 1900s
  2. 1910-1919
  3. 1920s
  4. 1930s
  5. 1940s
  6. 1950s
  7. 1960s
  8. 1970s
  9. 1980s
  10. 1990s
  11. 19th century
  12. 2000-2009
  13. 20s
  14. 30s
  15. 40s
  16. NAF
  17. abortifacient
  18. abortion
  19. abortion mill
  20. abortion mortality
  21. abortionists
  22. abortionists — female
  23. abortionists — male
  24. alabama
  25. anesthesia
  26. arizona
  27. black women
  28. botched abortion
  29. california
  30. chicago
  31. colorado
  32. connecticut
  33. cover-up
  34. death
  35. deaths
  36. deception
  37. delay in transport
  38. delay in treatment
  39. district of columbia
  40. dumped body
  41. ectopic
  42. embolism
  43. falsifying forms
  44. fetal indications
  45. florida
  46. former criminal abortionist
  47. george tiller
  48. georgia
  49. hemorrhage death
  50. hospitals
  51. illegal – doctor
  52. illegal – midwife
  53. illegal – nurse
  54. illegal – paramedical
  55. illegal – post roe
  56. illegal – unknown
  57. illegal – untrained
  58. illegal abortion
  59. illinois
  60. inadequate documents
  61. inadequate equipment
  62. inadequate resuscitation
  63. incomplete abortion
  64. indiana
  65. infection
  66. kansas
  67. legal abortion
  68. llinois
  69. louisiana
  70. maryland
  71. massachusetts
  72. maternal indications
  73. maternal mortality
  74. michigan
  75. mills
  76. missouri
  77. mortality
  78. national abortion federation
  79. new jersey
  80. new mexico
  81. new york
  82. north carolina
  83. ohio
  84. oklahoma
  85. pennsylvania
  86. planned parenthood
  87. pre-roe legal
  88. previous misconduct
  89. prostaglandin
  90. quackery
  91. questionable stories
  92. ru-486
  93. rupture
  94. saline
  95. secret abortion
  96. self-induced
  97. suicide
  98. teens
  99. texas
  100. wisconsin