SUMMARY: Mary Johnston, age 29, died March 18, 1946 after an abortion perpetrated at a sanitarium operated by Margaret Folsom in Seattle.
“When Abortion was Illegal (and Deadly): Seattle’s Maternal Death Toll,” Seattle Civil Rights & Labor History Project, has the following summary regarding the abortion death of Mary Johnson:
One month after her husband, Roy, was discharged from the military, Mary Johnson told him she wanted to end their four year marriage. A week later he returned to the couple’s Capitol Hill apartment to find her gravely ill. She told him had had an abortion at a north Seattle sanitarium run by Margaret Folsom. She died that night in the hospital. The husband may have tried to blackmail Folsom. He was later charged with extortion. Three days later Folsom and nurse Ada Wrench were arrested and charged with manslaughter and abortion. Police claimed that the sanitarium, located in a four bedroom house at was “part of a widespread abortion racket.” Folsom and Wrench soon faced charges in a second fatality (Irene Timmons). Sentenced to twenty years in prison, their convictions were overturned by the State Supreme Court in 1947. In a second trial Folsom was convicted only on an abortion charge and sentenced to ten months in County jail.
The Project cites articles from the Seattle Times dated Mar. 21 and 22, Apr. 2 & 22, May 17, Sept. 17, and Nov. 11, 1946, Jul. 17, 1947, and Jun. 19, 1948 and includes a clipping, “Women, Held in Operation Case, Free on $10,000 Bail,” from the Mar. 22, 1946 Seattle Times.
I have found court documents regarding the case which provide additional information.
Mary’s surname was Johnston, rather than Johnson. Folsom and Wrench evidently made repeated abortion attempts from March 11th through 15th. Mary and the man who had gotten her pregnant went to Folsom’s sanitarium, referred to in court documents as a “hospital,” where the man paid $350 to Wrench.Ada Wrench
Mary was reportedly in good health when she arrived, but was very sick the following day. Her condition continued to grow worse. On March 17, Mary’s lover took her from the sanitarium and settled her in her Seattle apartment.
On March 18, Mary’s husband took her back to the sanitarium. From there she was taken to Columbus Hospital, where she died during emergency surgery.
Folsom argued that Mary’s abortion had been perpetrated elsewhere by a man in the office of a Dr. Patee before she’d come to the sanitarium. There was some weighing of evidence regarding how long Mary had been pregnant and how long before her death she had suffered the injuries that ultimately took her life. The prosecution asserted that Folsom rented Patee’s office and committed abortions there.
As the Project noted, Folsom was successful in getting her conviction overturned.