Ethel Smith

SUMMARY: Ethel Smith, age 20, died November 29, 1934 in Greensboro, North Carolina, after an abortion perpetrated by Dr. C. C. Stewart.

Ethel Irene Smith, age 20, had been in a romantic relationship with Ollie Parish, age 35, for about two and a half years. He seldom visited her at the home she shared with her father, farmer William A. Smith, six miles north of Greensboro, North Carolina. Instead, the two of them met elsewhere nearly ever week.

At around 6:30 on the evening of Monday, November 5, 1934, Ollie pulled up in front of the Smith home and blew the horn. Ethel put on her coat and hat and went out to the car. The two drove off in the direction of Greensboro.

It was about a fifteen-minute drive from the Smith home to the Greensboro home of Ethel’s sister, Mrs. Eli Brewer, but Ethel and Ollie didn’t arrive until about 8:30. Ollie stayed for about fifteen minutes before leaving Ethel to spend the night. Ollie said he would come by the following day.

He didn’t return.

Ethel remained at her sister’s home all through Monday night and Tuesday into Wednesday morning, November 7. At around 6:30 that morning, she called her sister to her room. Mrs. Brewer found her to be in severe pain, so she called Dr. W. P. Knight, who arrived at around 7:00.

Dr. Knight examined Ethel and found that she was in the process of expelling an aborted fetus. Dr. Knight quickly admitted Ethel via ambulance to St. Leo’s hospital. He reported the abortion to the authorities, who arrested Ollie Parish.

While she was at the hospital, doctors performed a curettage on Ethel to try to clean out the tissue remaining in her uterus.

Minnie D. Hinton, a case supervisor for the Guilford County Board of Public Welfare, went to the hospital to speak with Ethel, who was in very poor condition, on Friday, November 9. She returned to the hospital on November 16 and spoke to Ethel again. “She said she was quite sick,” Mrs. Hinton testified later, “and was afraid that she would not get well. She appeared very weak and I had to get close to her to hear what she said.”

“I knelt down by her bed,” Mrs. Hinton continued. “She told me that she was pregnant, and that Ollie Parish was responsible for her condition; that he had taken her to a Negro doctor to get rid of the ‘young’un,’ as she expressed it. She said she did not want to do it, but that Ollie Parish told her it would do her no harm. She said the Negro doctor was Doctor Stewart, whose office was on East Market Street, beyond the underpass. She said that he put her on a table and used an instrument, and that she went to the doctor three times, the last time being Monday night, 5 November, 1934. He then put her on a table and placed a tube in her. He told her to leave the tube in her until Tuesday night, and that if anyone asked her what had happened to her, to say she had taken quinine.”

What Ethel was describing sounds like a catheter abortion, which was a common abortion method of the era.

Mrs. Hinton was called back to the hospital about four or five hours later to find Ethel’s condition had deteriorated further. A stenographer, Mrs. Long, took shorthand notes. Mrs. Long’s husband and a man named Ballinger were there as well.

Mrs. Hinton questioned Ethel, who repeated the information she had previously given.

Ethel died from septic pneumonia and septic infection at 7:00 on the morning of November 29.

When questioned, Ollie Parish said that he’d known Ethel since she was a child. He denied ever having sexual relations with Ethel. “I was in love with her. I think she was fond of me. We were not particularly engaged. I did not have a job sufficient to marry. We never discussed marriage.”

He admitted that he had borrowed a car and taken Ethel from her home to her sister’s house the night of November 5, but denied knowing that she was pregnant or having anything to do with connecting her with Stewart or any other doctor.

Police arrested Dr. C. C. Steward, who was a licensed physician and surgeon. When shown a photograph of Ethel Smith, he said that she looked like a white woman who had come alone to his office between 7:00 and 8:00 the evening of October 15. “She seemed to be excited. I asked her what I could do for her. She said that she was pregnant and asked me if I could do something for her. I told her no. She said somebody must do something for her. I said, I am sorry. She then left the office, and I have not seen her since.”

In spite of evidence that Steward had a good reputation in Greensboro, and some evidence corroborating his story, he was convicted of manslaughter, as was Ollie Parish. Stewart was sentenced to seven to twelve years, and Parish for twelve to fifteen years. Both men appealed on the grounds that Ethel’s statements to Mrs. Hinton constituted only hearsay, not a dying declaration.

They were granted new trials

Sources:

  • State v. C. C. Stewart and Ollie Parish, 30 June, 1936
  • Choice & Coercion: Birth Control, Sterilization, and Abortion in Public Health and Welfare, Johanna Schoen, Nov. 11, 2009
  • death certificate
  • 1930 United States Federal Census

  • EthelSmithDeathCertificate.png