Mary Faulkner1880s, chicago, illinois, illegaldoctor, 19thcenturySUMMARY: On August 20, 1880, Miss Mary Ann Faulkner died in Chicago under the care of Dr. Thomas J. Cream during the commission of an illegal abortion.
At 1058 West Madison Street in Chicago stood a two-story frame house, broken down into three separate accommodations. In August of 1880, the bottom floor was occupied by a Black man, George Green, and his family. The second floor was occupied by a Black nurse named Hattie Mack (or Mackey), her three children, and “a drunken negro” that was living with Mack while her husband was away. The third floor was occupied by a Black laundry employee named Ellen Hackle.
By early August, the Greens and Ellen Hackle grew suspicious of the goings-on in the Mack apartment because a white doctor began making frequent visits there, sometimes as much as three times a day, bringing with him what the neighbors considered suspicious-looking packages. Even more remarkable, notes the August 22, 1880 Chicago Tribune, was the fact that, on or about August 11, Mack took in “a pretty, and ladylike, and quite delicate-looking young white woman.”
At around 4:00 in the morning of August 20, 1880, Mr. Green heard unusual noises coming from upstairs. He looked out and saw Mack leaving the house with her children. That afternoon a strong odor from the Mack apartment became noticeable. When Mr. Green was unable to open the door to investigate, he summoned police officers who broke the door down.
There the officers found, lying on a bed, the decomposing remains of the young white woman. The combined gruesomeness of the sight and power of the stench sent the officers outside for air. Eventually they searched the apartment and found that the young woman in question was Mary Anne Matilda Faulkner, of Ottawa, Canada.
The police got a description of the doctor and began a search. They found the doctor, identified as Thomas J. Cream, at his dwelling on the premises of a nearby drug store, along with a note written to him by Hattie Mack informing him of Mary’s death and saying that she and her children were leaving town. Her plans came to naught, as police managed to capture her before she was able to spirit herself and her children out of the city.
An autopsy showed conclusively that Mary had been pregnant. There was also strong evidence that an abortion had been perpetrated, but the county physician concluded that due to the state of decomposition he could not assert this with 100% certainty.
Cream, a white physician, and a Black nurse named Hattie Mack (or Mackey) blamed the other for the fatal abortion. Cream had been a suspect in a prior abortion charge, but had escaped prosecution by leaving town and waiting for the brouhaha to blow over.
A reporter spoke to Cream and Mack separately after their arrests.
Mack said that she had owed Cream $15, and that he had demanded that she take Mary in as payback for the debt. Mack said that Mary had identified herself as a married woman separated from her husband. Upon discovering that she was pregnant she sought out an abortion in order to avoid losing her job.
Mary had been given a business card for a Dr. Greer. When she asked him to commit an abortion, he had referred her to Cream. Greer, Mary reportedly told Mack, demanded a $5 referral fee, and since Mary hadn’t had the money he took her bold watch as collateral.
Cream, Mary said, had assured Mary that he was quite proficient in abortion and had several patients who owed him money and would thus board her during the abortion and recovery.
After Cream had moved Mary into Mack’s dwelling, he began making visits, at one point bringing instruments with him. Mack didn’t know the names of the instruments but was able to describe them well enough for the officials to be able to identify them as abortion instruments. Cream went into another room with Mary. Mack said that she didn’t go in with him but concluded from Mary’s moans that he was performing an abortion.
Mary expelled the dead baby after Cream left, but instead of recovering she grew progressively more ill. Cream made multiple visits, trying remedy upon remedy to reverse the putrid infection that had set in. Finally, Mack said, Mary recognized that she was dying and finally gave Mack her name along with contact information for her mother in Ottawa.
When Mack told Cream about Mary’s death, she demanded that he provide her with money to escape. Cream, on the other hand, demanded that Mack accompany him to the apartment to get rid of the body. Finally Cream told Mack he’d buy her furniture from her for $30. She asked him what he planned to do and he told her, “Cover the whole business over with tar and burn the place down.”
Mack protested against this plan, so Cream told her to go back home and wait for him to come by at 2 a.m. and remove the body. Mack pointed out that nobody could possibly stay in the apartment with the decomposing body, and that the neighbors would surely notice the smell and discover the corpse before Cream could remove it. She was, of course, proven right.
Cream’s story was that Mack had come to him asking for help caring for Mary, who was already very sick and had just expelled a 3-month fetus. He insisted to the reporter that Mack admitted to him that she had an abortion practice and had also performed several successful abortions on herself.
Cream said that he had questioned the two women and that at first they’d said that Mary had taken cotton-root and ergot as abortifacients, and when this hadn’t worked Mack had used instruments to dislodge Mary’s unborn baby.
Police managed to locate and question two of Mary’s friends, who had known her for about four years. She had worked for different families as a domestic servant and had kept company first with a cobbler named Billy McAdams then with a man named Tommy Burns. About six weeks before her death, her friends said, Mary had told her employer that she was leaving to get married. That was the last any of her friends had seen of her.
Cream’s attorney filed for severance of the cases, which was granted. He was tried for murder but was acquitted.
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
- “Double Murder,” Chicago Daily Tribune, August 22, 1880
- “Lightning Flashes,” Deadwood, SD, Black Hills Daily Times, August 24, 1880
- “County-Building,” Chicago Daily Tribune, November 16, 1880
- “Discharge of Cream,” Bloomington (IN) Pantagraph, November 20, 1880
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