Emily Binney1890s, newyork, illegalmidwife, bornalive, 19thcenturySUMMARY: Emily Binney, age 20, died April 7, 1896 in New York after an abortion attributed to midwife Mary Schott.
A Cry in the Night
On the evening of Monday, April 6, 1896, Tillie Karcher heard moaning in the flat of seamstress Millie Meyers, just upstairs of her at 415 Bushwick Avenue in Brooklyn. She listened again and heard a young female voice crying out, “Oh, let me go home to my mama!”
Alarmed, Mrs. Karchner sought out a policeman on his rounds, who went to the apartment and found a young woman there, ailing and alone.
The girl gave her name as Mrs. Emily Scott.
“What is your husband’s name?” the officer asked.
“Ollie Scott. He is a fireman on a Fulton ferry boat.”
“Do your parents know you are married?
“No; it is a secret.”
“Are you his common law wife or were you married by a minister?”
“Ollie is my husband, and is a true, good husband to me. I believe in him.”
“Who is your doctor?”
Emily named Dr. Cardwell of Halsey StreetAs Emily Lay Dying
The policeman found prescription bottles in the room, so he copied the information from them and went to the pharmacy that had prepared them. The pharmacist said that the medicines were common ones used in treating fevers.
The policeman considered all these goings-on to be fishy, so he reported the situation to the precinct captain, who began an investigation to identify and round up everybody involved in the young woman’s suspicious illness.
Around 5:30 on Tuesday afternoon, April 7, the young woman said that she was going to die soon, told the police that her real name was Emily L. Binney and gave them her address on Rutledge Street in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
Emily’s turn for the worse sent the police rushing for the coroner, leaving the ailing girl in the care of Minnie Meyer. The coroner arrived to find that Miss Meyer had abandoned Emily, leaving her to die alone in the intervening half hour.Finding More Information
Dr. Cardwell was questioned and said that he had indeed cared for Emily but hadn’t believed anything was unusual. The police lost interest in him.
Minnie Meyer, on the other hand, admitted that she’d helped 20-year-old Emily to seek out the abortion services of 33-year-old midwife Mary Schott and had herself been engaged to look after the patient.
The building cleaning woman told police that two men, Mr. May and a man who used both the names Scott and Schmidt, had been coming by the place regularly to see Emily.
A police officer went to the Fulton ferry house and managed to identify Scott/Schmidt as Arthur Robbins, who was a ferry fireman. Robbins was arrested when he showed up at Meyer’s flat to look for Emily at 10:00 that evening. Robbins said that he was a family friend and that a friend had brought a message from Emily that he was to come to see her there.
Mr. May turned out to be Emily’s cousin George May, who boarded with her family.
May, Robbins, Schott, and Meyers were all arrested.Emily’s Baby and an Admission
While the suspects were being questioned, Minnie said that Emily’s baby had been born alive on March 21. Upon hearing that, Robbins burst into tears and told police that about four hours after the child’s birth he had wrapped the baby in newspapers weighted down with a piece of iron and thrown it out a porthole in the ferry. He couldn’t say if the baby had still been alive when it was tossed into the river.
Arthur Robbins then admitted that he had gone with Emily and Minnie to arrange for Mrs. Schott to perform an abortion, paying her $50 that he’d gotten from Emily. Police learned that Emily had gotten the money from her cousin George May, who had taken $100 out of the bank for her the day before the abortion. May admitted that he’d gotten the money for Emily, but insisted that he’d given it to her so she could go away while he and Robbins tried to get her baby’s father, Mr. Fox of Port Oram, New Jersey, to marry her.
The mysterious Mr. Fox never seems to materialize in coverage of Emily’s death. One news item blames the pregnancy on Emily’s cousin George, who worked so hard to arrange the abortion, though Robbins, whom Emily had, albeit with a false name, identified as her husband, remains a strong possibility.Emily’s Parents React
Emily came from a prosperous family. Her father, William, was retired wheelwright. Emily, just recently out of high school, hadn’t told her parents of the pregnancy. She had left home, telling her ailing mother that she was going to Dover, New Jersey, to visit a friend. When police notified the family of Emily’s death, Mrs. Binney collapsed from the shock and was reported to be “in critical condition.”
Emily’s older sister, Beatrice, seemed to have a bit more knowledge, for she had known where her sister had been during the final days of her life, though she insisted to police that she’d previously not even known Emily to have a romantic attachment, Beatrice had learned of her sister’s death when she went to the Meyers home to check on her.
Emily’s father seemed to bear no ill will against Robbins. He actually went to the station house to speak to him, asking “How are you, Robbie?” Robbins, it is reported, “turned his face to the wall and wept.”Final Fallout
Minnie Meyer, who was found guilty of manslaughter. A judge dismissed the charges against Robbins. I have been unable to determine the fate of the others involved.
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 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
- “Criminal Malpractice,” undated clipping from North Towanda Evening News
- “Criminal Malpractice,” Courtland Standard, Apr.9, 1896
- “Four Arrests,” Bay City Times, Apr. 8, 1896
- “Four Under Arrest,” The New York Herald, Apr. 9, 1896
- “Mrs. Meyer Found Guilty,” New York Herald Tribune, Oct. 16, 1896
- “Died Among Strangers,” New York Herald, Apr. 8, 1896
- “A School Girl’s Fate,” York (PA) Semi-Weekly Gazette, Apr. 11, 1896
- “Robbins Goes Free,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Nov. 27, 1896
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