Lizzie Cook20s, 1880s, newyork, illegaldoctor, 19thcenturySUMMARY: Lizzie Cook, age 25, died July 27, 1884 after an abortion perpetrated by Dr. Ira Richmond in Lockport, NY.
Twenty-five-year-old Lizzie Cook, daughter of farmer Joseph Cook, died suddenly on July 27, 1884, in Lockport, New York.Until shortly before her death, Lizzie had worked in a domestic in several different area homes.
Dr. Ira T. Richmond was arrested. Richmond, age 46, had come to Lockport a year earlier and opened a sanitarium, “which died for want of patronage.” This might be due to the fact that, as the Chicago Inter Ocean reported on July 30, 1884, Richmond “had a dubious character among physicians.” Some doubt was expressed in news coverage as to his credentials, because he said he had graduated from New York Medical College, but couldn’t name any of the school’s faculty.
Evidently Lizzie’s brother-in-law, William, had taken her to Richmond’s practice, where she was examined in his presence and diagnosed with dropsy and blood poisoning.
Two days later, she was put to bed at Bowen’s house at about 11:00 at night, and remained there sick for nearly three weeks before her death in the afternoon of July 27. Richmond attended to her on a daily basis, sometimes visiting more than once a day, during that time.
By Saturday evening, her body had already been packed in ice and taken to her parents’ home. She was buried on Monday morning after a large funeral.
“The secrecy in getting her body removed to her home created suspicion,” so her body was exhumed that afternoon for an autopsy that revealed signs that she had died from a surgically performed abortion.
Richmond was immediately arrested and charged with either first degree murder or first degree manslaughter, according to differing sources. He pleaded not guilty, insisting that Lizzie had not been pregnant when she died and had died of dropsy and blood poisoning. “The evidence is strong against him, however,” said the July 30, 1884 Cincinnati Enquirer. Sentiment against Richmond was so strong there fears that he would be lynched.
Lizzie’s sister, Mrs. William H. Bowen, was charged as an accessory.Richmond was reportedly blase during the proceedings, in contrast to Mrs. Bowen, who clung to her husband and children, crying as she was led away.
Why the wife was charged rather than the husband is unclear; reports might have a misprint about whether it was Mr. or Mrs. Bowen who had accompanied Lizzie to Richmond’s practice.
Adding to Richmond’s ignominy while he awaited trial was his indictment for bigamy. A woman came to the courthouse from Ontario, accompanied by her adult daughter, saying that Richmond’s real name was Ira Richmond Butler, that he was her husband, and that he had abandoned her and their child about ten years earlier. She also told the authorities, the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle reported, that back in Canada “he was engaged in reprehensible practices and was of doubtful reputation.” A local woman, identified in the Democrat and Chronicle as “Mrs. Platt” rather than as “Mrs. Richmond,” also said that he was her husband. She had given birth to his child two weeks before the Canadian wife came to town.
During Richmond/Butler’s trial, a juror took sick and fainted, causing delays and raising the possibility of a mistrial. In the end, Richmond/Butler was convicted of first degree manslaughter on October 21, 1884. I have so far been unable to determine if his Canadian wife’s testimony about his doings there was admitted into evidence. The jury recommended mercy. After requesting and being denied a new trial, Richmond/Butler was sentenced to six years of hard labor at Auburn Prison.
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
- “Charged with Abortion”, Winona Daily Republican, Jul. 30, 1884
- “Grave Suspicions,” Cincinnati Enquirer, Jul. 30, 1884
- “Procured an Abortion,” Decatur (IL) Herald, Jul. 30, 1884
- “Death by Abortion,” Chicago Inter-Ocean, Jul. 30, 1884
- “A Doctor Held for Trial,” New York Times, Aug.14, 1884
- “Indicted for Manslaughter,” New York Times, Sept. 13, 1884
- “Disgrace and Death,” The Ft. Wayne (IN) Daily Gazette, Jul. 31, 1884
- “Alleged Malpractice,” Chicago Daily Tribune, Aug. 6, 1884
- “Released on Bail,” Chicago Daily Tribune, Aug. 19, 1884
- “Dr. Richmond’s Charges,” Rochester (NY) Democrat & Chronicle, Sept. 5, 1884
- “Indicted for Manslaughter,” New York Times, Sept. 13, 1884
- “Murder in the First Degree,” Dunkirk (NY) Evening Observer, Sept. 13, 1884
- “A Juror Suddenly Taken Ill,” Rochester (NY) Democrat & Chronicle, Oct.29, 1884
- “A Lockport Physician Convicted of Malpractice,” Detroit Free Press, Nov. 1, 1884
- “Criminalities,” Belleville (KS) Telescope, Nov. 20, 1884
- “Dr. Butler’s Sentence,” Iola (KS) Register, Nov. 21, 1884
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