Irene Michaelson

Irene Michaelsonnewjersey, 1920s, illegaldoctorSUMMARY: Irene Michaelson died on January 7, 1922 of abortion-related peritonitis after jumping from a window at Bricker Sanitarium in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

On January 5, 1922, Dr. William Mason heard a woman’s voice outside the door of his house in an exclusive, upscale area of Atlantic City, New Jersey. He opened to door to find an injured young woman on his porch, clad only in a light bathrobe and stockings, trying to tell something to a passing milkman. She looked wild-eyed and drugged.

“For God’s sake, let me in,” he said Irene pleaded as soon as he opened the door. “I just jumped off the roof,” she told him.

“You’ve been taking dope, haven’t you?” Mason said he asked.

“They gave me a glass of black stuff to drink,” she responded.

Mason said that he told her that she should have a policeman take her home. “No, no!” Irene reportedly shouted. “I’m afraid!”

“Afraid of what?” Mason asked.

“Dr. Bricker. I’m afraid of what he’d do to me.”

She explained that she had gone to a Philadelphia address, where she was put into a car and brought to the Bricker Sanitarium, a cottage just half a block from Dr. Mason’s door. The sanitarium was run by Dr. William H. Bricker Jr. “I did not know where I was going,” she said.

Dr. Mason called the police. Irene was taken to City Hospital, where she was able to tell doctors that Bricker had perpetrated an abortion. She had jumped from the building, she said, because Bricker had threatened to abandon her without care.

She died at 12:43 the morning of January 7 — not from injuries sustained during the fall, but from peritonitis due to the botched abortion.

One of three women arrested at the sanitarium as accomplices in Irene’s death corroborated Irene’s statement that Bricker had threatened her. This woman, Carrie Riley, formerly of Philadelphia, said that she had previously worked for Bricker’s father.

Mrs. Riley said that Irene had been brought to the sanitarium by car on December 30. The next day, Bricker took Irene to an operating room that had been set up in the basement. After Bricker was finished with Irene in the basement, Mrs. Riley put her to bed.

Bricker was already awaiting sentencing for an abortion case in which the woman had survived. He fled Atlantic City, but was captured attempting to hide on the fire escape of his residence in Philadelphia. Authorities had concerns that Bricker might elude them by fleeing the country, as his father had done after a similar case. The ender Bricker was finally apprehended and sentenced to a term in Philadelphia’s Eastern State Penitentiary.

While awaiting trial for Irene’s death, Bricker received a sentence of two to seven years of hard labor for the non-fatal abortion case. He made bail on that case pending appeal. He also had to pay an additional $20,000 bail for the Michaelson abortion.

During his trial for Irene’s death, Bricker admitted that his chauffer had driven him from Philadelphia to Atlantic City on December 30, but he denied that there was another person in the car. He offered as a corroborating witness Richard Black, a former Philadelphia city detective who were serving time for conspiracy and larceny. Black said that he’d seen Bricker in the car without a young woman.

The jury deliberated for only twenty minutes before finding Bricker guilty of performing the abortion that killed Irene and was sentenced to 10 to 15 years in prison, and fined $5,000. News coverage says, “Bricker collapsed when sentence was pronounced.” He appealed, but his conviction was upheld.

Keep in mind that things that things we take for granted, like antibiotics and blood banks, were still in the future. For more about abortion in this era, see Abortion in the 1920s.

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


  • “Exclusive Den Patient Leaps,” Altoona (PA) Tribune, Jan. 6, 1922
  • “Seek Physician Missing Since Sanitarium Raid,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Jan. 6, 1922
  • “Death of Girl Laid to Doctor,” Ogden Standard Examiner, Jan. 7, 1922
  • “Girl Dies; Doctor Faces New Charge,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Jan. 7, 1922
  • “Exclusive Society Sanatarium Under Investigation Today,” Olean (NY) Evening Herald, Jan. 7, 1922
  • “To Probe Girl’s Death Following Operation,” Asbury Park Press, Jan. 7, 1922
  • “Dr. Bricker Jailed Pending Extradition,” Philadelphia Inquirer, Jan. 8, 1922
  • To Act on Girl’s Death,” New York Times, Jan. 9, 1922
  • “Bricker’s Accuser Found Begging With Neighbor for Help,” Philadelphia Inquirer, Jan. 9, 1922
  • “Dr. Bricker Given 2 to 7-Year Term in Waitress Case,” Philadelphia Inquirer, Jan. 11, 1922
  • “Auto Crash Causes Delay for Bricker,” Philadelphia Inquirer, Jan. 15, 1922
  • “Bricker Convicted and Sentenced for Criminal Operation,” Philadelphia Inquirer, Feb. 18, 1922
  • “Term and Fine for Illegal Operation,” Ogden (UT) Standard Examiner, Feb. 19, 1922
  • “Physician, Convicted, Given 10-Year Sentence,” Ironwood (MI) Daily Globe, Feb. 24, 1922
  • “New Jersey State Briefs”, The Cranbury Press, Mar. 3, 1922
  • “Dr. Bricker Must Serve Sentence, Court Rules,” Philadelphia Inquirer, Nov. 26, 1922






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