Maggie Gibbons

Maggie Gibbonsmissouri, 1970s, 1870s, teens, 19thcenturySUMMARY: Maggie Gibbons, age 19, died January 2, 1878 after an abortion perpetrated either by or under the guidance of Dr. Thomas F. Smith in St. Louis.

Maggie GibbonsDaily_Commonwealth_Sat__Jan_5__1878_.jpg
A St. Louis grand jury indicted Charles P. Emerich in the 1878 abortion death of 19-year-old Maggie Gibbons.

Maggie was living at Emerich’s home. He owned the laundry where Maggie work and was the father of Maggie’s baby.

When she told him she was pregnant in December of 1877, Emerich went to Dr. Thomas F. Smith, who provided abortifacient powders which failed to produce the desired effect.

It is unclear whether Smith perpetrated the fatal abortion on Maggie or if he just provided the instruments. The abortion in question was performed on December 30.

Maggie took sick afterward and was relocated to her mother’s house. Dr. W. D. Hinckley was called in to care for her. It was then that Maggie’s mother learned about the abortion, though Maggie refused to name the father. Dr. Hinckley called in Dr. J. O’Reilly for a second opinion. Both doctors agreed that she was suffering from a servere case of peritonitis and that there was no hope for her.

Maggie languished, finally dying on January 2 of 1878.

Emerich was found guilty of first-degree manslaughter in Maggie’s death, and was sentenced to five years in prison.

Maggie was buried at Calvary Cemetery in St. Louis, Missouri, in a grave marked only with the number 8.


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

Maggie GibbonsCincinnati_Enquirer_Thu__Jan_3__1878_.jpgSources:

  • 87 Mo. 110, 1885 WL 165 (Mo.) Supreme Court of Missouri. THE STATE, Appellant, v. EMERICH. October Term, 1885.
  • “Death By an Abortion,” Cincinnati Enquirer, Jan. 3, 1878
  • “One More Unfortunate,” Daily Commonwealth, Jan. 5, 1878


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