Mary Foorman

Mary Foorman1870s, teens, illegaldoctor, indiana, dumpedbody, 19thcenturySUMMARY: Mary Foorman, age 19, died on November 11, 1875 after an abortion perpetrated in Indiana by Dr. J. F. McIlwain.

On November 8, 1875, 19-year-old Mary Alice Foorman left her home in Eaton, Indiana. She had, the family said, been on the way to visit a brother at Dunkirk, about ten miles away. At the beginning of December, she had failed to return home, and was reported missing by her family. “No traces could be found of her, and grave suspicions were entertained.”

Detective J. H. D. Rodgers of Chicago went to Eaton and spent eight days on an investigation. He learned that she had become pregnant by a man named Nathan Smith, who had given her $100 to arrange an abortion. Mary had confessed this to her family before leaving home, but had told them she would return in a few months. This seems to indicate that at least some of Mary’s family members believed that she had gone away to have her baby secretly.

The Chicago detective was satisfied, but the local deputy prosecutor continued to investigate the case.

On April 24, the case broke. Dr. J. F. McIlwain and Nathan Smith were arrested and charged with murder in Mary’s disappearance. Dr. H. V. Manzer (Mauzer?) had moved to Michigan since Mary’s disappearance and was extradited back to Indiana a few days later. On May 2, a local man named Robert Brandt was also arrested and charged with murder.

Mary’s brother John also finally broke down and confessed that he knew what had become of her. On May 7, 1876, he led authorities to a swamp a few miles south of town. There, “under the root of a fallen tree, loosely covered with twigs, dirt, bark, etc.,” authorities “all that remained of the unfortunate girl …, as indicated by the brother.”

“The body was buried in a wet portion of ground; the grave was about two feet deep, dug in an excavation caused by at tree having been blown over by its roots. About six inches of soil and some pieces of wood were thrown over the body, and all under water of some depth. The soil was so loose that the finder dug out the corpse simply with his hands. The body was dressed in a pair of cotton hose, cotton drawers, chemise, and night-gown. A woolen shawl lay across the chest, and the body was wrapped in a coarse woolen blanket.”

Mary’s remains, identified by her brother and multiple witnesses, were carried to a nearby house for a post-mortem examination.

Two doctors, W. C. Ransom and P. Drayer, examined Mary’s body. “The features were well preserved, and looked quite natural for several hours after disinterment.” The water and freezing weather were credited for the excellent state of preservation after being buried for six months. Ransom and Drayer, from the lack of blood in Mary’s body, concluded that she had bled to death.

Dr. Kemper examined Mary’s body when it was brought to the village of Eaton for burial. He was concerned that the autopsy hadn’t been thorough enough, and telegraphed for the original medical examiners to join him in a second autopsy. By that time, Mary’s body had decomposed considerably. Her uterus had been removed and preserved, and was in good condition and showed evidence of pregnancy.

“During the day thousands of persons of both sexes and all ages viewed the corpse.” Mary was given a proper burial in Eaton.

John Foorman told the authorities that he had allowed Mary’s body to be disposed of by Mauzer and Brandt rather than reveal that she had gotten pregnant out of wedlock and submitted to an abortion. Her other four or five brothers were told what had happened to their sister. Stories conflict as to exactly what they were told — either that Mary had performed the abortion herself or that their mother had arranged it. The entire family agreed to keep the secret rather than risk the arrest of Mrs. Foorman for murder.

Dr. McIlwain testified that Mary had consulted with him three times in October of 1875, “in regard to the cessation of her menses.”

“I refused to give her medicine,” he said, so Mary asked him to speak to her mother. Mrs. Foorman indicated that Mary was engaged to Nathan Smith, “but she preferred that she should not marry while in that condition.” McIlwain said that he again refused an abortion, and offered a referral to the Home of the Friendless at Fort Wayne, where she could have her baby. He said he agreed to take her there, and picked her up at her home on November 8. Instead of proceeding to Fort Wayne, he took Mary to his home, where he was detained by business for several days, during which he kept Mary there.

On the morning of the 11th, McIllwain said, Mary reported a chill, She became progressively more chilled as the day progressed, McIlwain said, so he gave her an extra quilt, but didn’t examine her. Early that evening he found her “shaking; muscles rigid.” He went for Dr. Mauzer, and, making “no close examination” he “found her pulse rapid. She was in spasms, hands clenched and arms rigid.” Mary “complained about nothing but cold, and called frequently for water. She was conscious until a few minutes before she died. After death blood issued from her mouth and nose.” He said she’d had no other hemorrhage at all while at his house.

Dr. Mauzer testified that Mary’s pulse had been between 100 and 130. “Her face was flushed, more or less protruded, and pupils dilated.” Mauzer said that Mary told him she’d been taking oil of tansy and oil of savin. She died at about 6 p.m. After helping to bury her, he said, he returned to McIlwain’s house and found “a broken goblet” with a bit of dark fluid and white precipitate. He concluded that Mary had died of strychnine poisoning.

McIllwain insisted that he had not known Mary to be pregnant, and had not performed an abortion on her.

“During all this time,” Dr. Kemper wrote, “they state no effort was made to administer an antidote, or in any way to alleviate her sufferings.”

Kemper reviewed the presented evidence, which he indicated clearly showed a pregnancy of about five months, as well as instrumentation from an induced abortion. The cause of death was likely hemorrhage. There was no evidence of poisoning.

“The very manner of disposing of the body is stamped with guilt, and the lashing of a guilty conscience in John Foorman, brother of the deceased, who was cognizant of all the facts, would not let him rest, and he eventually confessed all, adding additional proof to the maxim that ‘murder will out.'”

Evidently Mary had been beloved in the town, and the crime against her considered particularly heinous, for “it was all the officers could do to keep the people from breaking into the jail and lynching the doctors and seducer.”

McIlwain served out a two-year sentence as an assistant surgeon in the state prison’s hospital before being pardoned due to ill health and good behavior, and a sense that he was singled out from among the participants for more punishment than the others involved. Mauzer spent about eight months in the Delaware County jail until the case against him was dismissed.

MaryFoorman3.jpgI 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 overall public 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


  • “Mary Foorman”, Winona Daily Republican, May 10, 1876
  • “A Contribution to Medical Jurisprudence”, G. W. H. Kemper, M.D., Atlanta Medical and Surgical Journal, Vol. 15
  • “Mary Foorman’s Murder,” The Fort Wayne (IN) Weekly Sentinel, August 8, 1877
  • “A Victim of Lust,” The Fort Wayne (IN) Weekly Sentinel, May 10, 1876
  • Annual Reports of the Officers of State of the State of Indiana, Administrative Officers, Trustees and Superintendents of the Several Benevolent and Reformatory Institutions, 1879


  1. 1900s
  2. 1910-1919
  3. 1920s
  4. 1930s
  5. 1940s
  6. 1950s
  7. 1960s
  8. 1970s
  9. 1980s
  10. 1990s
  11. 19th century
  12. 2000-2009
  13. 20s
  14. 30s
  15. 40s
  16. NAF
  17. abortifacient
  18. abortion
  19. abortion mill
  20. abortion mortality
  21. abortionists
  22. abortionists — female
  23. abortionists — male
  24. alabama
  25. anesthesia
  26. arizona
  27. black women
  28. botched abortion
  29. california
  30. chicago
  31. colorado
  32. connecticut
  33. cover-up
  34. death
  35. deaths
  36. deception
  37. delay in transport
  38. delay in treatment
  39. district of columbia
  40. dumped body
  41. ectopic
  42. embolism
  43. falsifying forms
  44. fetal indications
  45. florida
  46. former criminal abortionist
  47. george tiller
  48. georgia
  49. hemorrhage death
  50. hospitals
  51. illegal – doctor
  52. illegal – midwife
  53. illegal – nurse
  54. illegal – paramedical
  55. illegal – post roe
  56. illegal – unknown
  57. illegal – untrained
  58. illegal abortion
  59. illinois
  60. inadequate documents
  61. inadequate equipment
  62. inadequate resuscitation
  63. incomplete abortion
  64. indiana
  65. infection
  66. kansas
  67. legal abortion
  68. llinois
  69. louisiana
  70. maryland
  71. massachusetts
  72. maternal indications
  73. maternal mortality
  74. michigan
  75. mills
  76. missouri
  77. mortality
  78. national abortion federation
  79. new jersey
  80. new mexico
  81. new york
  82. north carolina
  83. ohio
  84. oklahoma
  85. pennsylvania
  86. planned parenthood
  87. pre-roe legal
  88. previous misconduct
  89. prostaglandin
  90. quackery
  91. questionable stories
  92. ru-486
  93. rupture
  94. saline
  95. secret abortion
  96. self-induced
  97. suicide
  98. teens
  99. texas
  100. wisconsin