Ellen Matson

Ellen Matson20s, 19101919, chicago, illinois, illegaldoctorSUMMARY: Ellen Matson, age 29, died on November 18, 1917, after an abortion perpetrated in Chicago by Dr. Lillian Hobbs.

I came to know about the death of 29-year-old Ellen Matson in a roundabout way, in studying the case in which Lillian Hobbs was convicted of murder in the 1916 abortion death of 21-year-old Alda Christopherson. During the trial, the prosecution brought up, as evidence of guilty intent, the fact that Hobbs had been indicted already for the abortion death of Ellen.

HooperBox.jpgBox of vintage abortion pills
Ellen was 29 years old, daughter of Swedish immigrants. In October of 1917, she told her boyfriend, Charles Morehouse, that she was pregnant, and had been taking quinine unsuccessfully to try to abort. Morehouse accompanied Ellen to a doctor, from whom he bought a box of “brown pills.” Ellen took these every hour for over two weeks, but like the quinine, they failed to cause an abortion.

Morehouse found another doctor and started borrowing money from relatives to pay for an abortion. Ellen confided in her mother, Mrs. Emma Matson; her sister, Mabel Matson; and her aunt, Mrs. Guelle Matson. Though the two older women thought the abortion was a bad idea and tried to dissuade her, Ellen’s aunt lent her $5.
Morehouse took Ellen to Dr. Lillian Hobbs’ office on November 1, and evidently stayed with her throughout the actual procedure, since he later testified that the doctor had used “a spray” on Ellen’s “privated [sic] parts.” He left her with the doctor for aftercare, returning later to take Ellen home. She took ill and was taken to Hobbs’ home, where her mother and sister visited her.
Ellen was taken to West End Hospital in Chicago, where she died on November 18.

Dr. Jacob Meyer, part owner of West End Hospital, and Dr. D. E. Boissonneault, the head intern, also testified at the inquest, along with several nurses from the hospital.

LillianHobbs.jpgDr. Lillian HobbsThe inquest began the next day, and Lillian Hobbs was identified as the guilty abortionist. Ellen’s sister Mable had perjured herself at the inquest. Later at the trial she explained, “I knew everything but I could not answer all of them on account of all the men around. . . . Because there was so many men around I hated to talk about my poor sister more than I had to.” The question she could not answer was, she explained, “about her body. . . . He asked me if the doctor had used any instrument, and I said no at that time.” (Reagan, “When Abortion Was a Crime”)

Hobbs was convicted and sentenced to 14 years at Joliet.

Hobbs was also implicated, but never tried, for the 1917 abortion death of Ruth Lemaire.

These fatal abortions were typical of pre-legalization abortions in that they were performed by a physician.

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 information about early 20th Century abortion mortality, see Abortion Deaths 1910-1919.

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

  • 297 Ill. 399, 130 N.E. 779 Supreme Court of Illinois, People vs. Hobbs No. 13390 April 21, 1921, appeal on behalf of Lillian Hobbs
  • Homicide in Chicago Interactive Database
  • “Quiz Witnesses in Girl’s Death After Operation,” Chicago Tribune, November 25, 1917



  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