Mary Colbert20s, 1930s, illegaldoctor, illinois, chicagoSummary: Mary Colbert, age 21, died March 25, 1933 after an abortion perpetrated in the Chicago office of Dr. Emil Gleitsman.
Dr. Emil Gleitsman
In the spring of 1933, Edward Dettman’s 21-year-old girlfriend, Mary Colbert, told him that she’d missed her period and asked him, “What can be done?” Later, during the inquest over her death, he said that he’d responded, “I don’t know, that was up to her.” He had, he said, offered to marry her, but she’d refused, saying she didn’t want to marry “in disgrace.” Her aunt, on the other hand, said that Mary told her that she didn’t want to marry anybody at all at that point in her life.
Once Mary elected to seek an abortion, Edward took her to Dr. Emil Gleitsman.
Afterward, Mary took ill and confided in her aunts. One, Annie Cullinan recalled having asked her, “Mamie, why did you not tell me, and I would get a good doctor.”
Mary died on March 25.
Evidently Gleitsman was a persistent abortionist. The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) noted in 1943 that the Illinois Supreme Court had upheld Gleitsman’s 1942 murder by abortion conviction, for which he was sentenced to 14 years in prison. I’ve been unable to determine if this conviction was for Mary’s death.
JAMA.also indicated that the Chicago Tribune traced Gleitsman’s legal troubles back to 1928 when a grand jury refused to indict him for abortion — which is intriguing, since Gleitsman was indicted for 22-year-old Lucille van Iderstine’s abortion death that year. Did one source screw up, or was Gleitsman implicated in two abortion deaths during that time perior? JAMA also notes that the Tribune reported Gleitsman being convicted three times on a single charge of manslaughter by abortion in 1934 (I’m assuming related to Mary’s death), but each time his lawyer got a reversal and eventually the prosecutors gave up.
Gleitsman had also indicted for the fatal abortion on Jeanette Reder in 1930.
Note, please, that with overall public health 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.
In fact, due to improvements in addressing these problems, maternal mortality in general (and abortion mortality with it) fell dramatically in the 20th Century, decades before Roe vs. Wade legalized abortion across America.
external image MaternalMortality.gif
For more on pre-legalization abortion, see The Bad Old Days of Abortion
- Leslie Reagan, When Abortion Was a Crime
- “Jury Convicts Dr. Gleitsman of Girls’ Death,” Chicago Tribune, Oct. 3, 1933
- “Dr. Gleitsman Draws Mistrial From Third Jury,” Chicago Tribune, 19 May, 1934