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.
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 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
- 19th century
- abortion mill
- abortion mortality
- abortionists — female
- abortionists — male
- black women
- botched abortion
- delay in transport
- delay in treatment
- district of columbia
- dumped body
- falsifying forms
- fetal indications
- former criminal abortionist
- george tiller
- hemorrhage death
- illegal – doctor
- illegal – midwife
- illegal – nurse
- illegal – paramedical
- illegal – post roe
- illegal – unknown
- illegal – untrained
- illegal abortion
- inadequate documents
- inadequate equipment
- inadequate resuscitation
- incomplete abortion
- legal abortion
- maternal indications
- maternal mortality
- national abortion federation
- new jersey
- new mexico
- new york
- north carolina
- planned parenthood
- pre-roe legal
- previous misconduct
- questionable stories
- secret abortion