Emma Wolfer

Emma Wolfer1860s, infection, newyork, illegaldoctor, 19thcentury

SUMMARY: Emma Wolfer, age 18, died May 4, 1865 after an abortion perpetrated by Dr. Charles Cobel in New York.

  • Another frightful incident has taken place in New York city, which stamps the prevalent immorality of the day darkly and blurringly upon the local records of the time. The tragedy to which we refer was enacted during the past week, in a small bed-room on the second floor of a tenement house, in the rear of Columbia street. The victim was Emma Wolfer, a German girl, aged eighteen years, of respectable parentage, whose death was the result of an abortion, alleged to have been produced by Dr. Charles Cobel, whose name has become a household word in the annals of New York for crimes of a similar nature.

The evening of Sunday, May 4, 1865, Mrs. Mary Cressin went to the Eleventh Precinct station house and reported a suspicious death an hour earlier, in the neighboring apartment of Mrs. Harriet Ellars. The victim was a young girl.

Captain Ulman investigated. Emma Wolfer had been working as a child’s nurse in Dr. Charles Cobel’s family home. For some reason she went to Ellers’ on Sunday to arrange board, and Monday to move in. She was very sick, with Dr. Cobel coming two or three times a day to attend to her — always alone in the room with her.

By Wednesday afternoon, her condition was deteriorating. Mrs. Ellars, alarmed, sent for Emma’s family. Two brothers and a sister arrived. At first she told them she had a fever, but on Sunday evening she asked to speak with her sister, Frances, alone. She said that she was dying, and said that she had been seduced by Dr. Hoffman, who had left her pregnant. Hoffman had given her powerful abortifacient drugs, and Dr. Cobel had shifted her to the Ellars home.

Frances later testified that during her visit to the Ellars home, Dr. Cobel came and went often, going alone into Emma’s room.

The abortion had caused peritonitis, which killed the girl.

Everyone involved was arrested. Cobel was charged with having performed the abortion, and Hoffman and Ellers as accessories before the fact.

Cobel, a known abortionist, was also implicated in the deaths of Catharine DeBreuxal, Catherine Shields, Antoinette Fennor and Amelia Weber.

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.

  1. 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


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