Mary Dix1870s, illegaldoctor, chicago, illinois, 19thcenturySUMMARY: Mary Dix, age 25, died on November 30, 1874 after an abortion originally believed to have been perpetrated by Dr. W. T. AIken in Chicago.
At around 2 p.m. on November 30, 1874, Charles A. Dix went to the Madison Street police station in Chicago to report that his wife, 25-year-old Mary, had died at around 12:30 that morning at their home on West Randolph Street. He told the police that Dr. W. T. Aiken had perpetrated an abortion on Mary.
The police captain asked Dix if he wanted Dr. Aiken arrested, and Dix said he did. A detective was dispatched to Dr. Aiken’s home and arrested him as he was about to go into his office.
Because the charge was murder, Dr. Aiken was held until the coroner’s investigation could be completed.
A Chicago Tribune reporter interviewed Dr. Aiken in his cell. Aiken said that he had been the Dix family physician for several months. Mr. and Mrs. Dix had two living children, a 6-year-old girl and a 4-year-old boy, having lost three other children. Dr. Aiken said that he had treated Mr. Dix and the little girl prior to Mary’s illness.
On Sunday, December 17, Dr. Aiken said, Mary Dix had come to his office. She indicated that, as it was delicately stated in the Chicago Tribune, “that Dr. White, an eminent physician of Buffalo, had operated on her.”
Since the Dix family had moved to Chicago from Buffalo, this would imply that Mary Dix was telling Dr. Aiken that she’d undergone an abortion in Buffalo prior to the move to Chicago, and was still suffering from the effects. Dr. Aiken examined her and prescribed some medication for her. He advised her not to try to walk home, but she did so anyway.
Evidently Dr. Aiken had made several house calls to look after Mary, because he said that on Friday, November 27, he had gone to the Dix home to check on Mary but had been met by a servant girl who said that they didn’t want him to come by any more. Mr. Dix, who Dr. Aiken said was behaving strangely, also told him that his services were no longer required.
That, Dr. Aiken said, was the last he’d had dealings with the Dix family until his arrest the following Monday. Dr. Aiken said that Mr. Dix was an unsavory character who ran an illegal gambling establishment, and postulated that Dix might be trying to extort money from him. Dr. Aiken said he regretted ever having dealt with the family at all. (N.B. Aiken’s allegation that Dix ran an illegal gambling joint is substantiated; Dix was arrested arrested two years after Mary’s death for running a gambling den.)
When the reporter from The Chicago Tribune went to the Dix house, he was met by a man who said that Dix was, as the reporter conveyed it, “worn out with constant watching at the bedside of his wife, whom he loved dearly, and had spared neither trouble nor expense to render comfortable. The gentleman volunteered to give a statement of the matter as he heard it from Mr. Dix, but which is unfit for publication.”
The reporter was told that Mr. Dix had become alarmed after Mary had come back from a visit to Dr. Aiken the previous Tuesday. On Friday morning, which Dr. Aiken had indicated was the day he’d been told his services were no longer wanted, Mr. Dix reportedly called in three other doctors to care for Mary until her death.
An inquest was held at the police station over several days, with multiple witnesses recalled for repeated questioning.
Mary’s sister, Julia Brown, testified that she had lived with the Dix family, that Mary had never attempted an abortion and was very fond of children, and had complained to her “of Dr. Aikin’s brutality.”
The Dix family servant, Annie Merrett, testified that Julia hadn’t lived at the home, though she was a frequent visitor. Annie said that Mrs. Dix had indeed made several ineffective attempts to perform an abortion on herself.
Dr. Aiken testified that Mary had come to him seeking care after a self-induced abortion attempt and had asked him to examine her to see if she had injured herself.
They finally concluded that “the deceased, now lying dead at 250 West Randolph street, came to her death, Nov. 30, 1874, from primary inflammation of the womb, followed by septicemia, said inflammation being the result of an effort of the deceased to produce an abortion on herself.”
Dr. Aiken was immediately released and the case was dropped.
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
- Homicide in Chicago Interactive
- “The Mary Dix Murder,” Chicago Inter Ocean, Dec. 2, 1874
- “Alleged Abortion and Murder,” Chicago Tribune, Tuesday, Dec. 1, 1874
- “Supposed Abortion Cases,” Chicago Tribune, Friday, Dec. 4, 1874
- “The Mrs. Dix Inquest,” Chicago Tribune, Dec. 3, 1874
- police blotter clipping, Chicago Tribune, Oct. 16, 1876
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