Mary Schwartz

Mary Schwartz1930s, chicago, illegaldoctor, illinoisSUMMARY: On May 20, 1934, 22-year-old Mary Schwartz died from complications of an abortion perpetrated by Dr. Justin Mitchell in Chicago.

Arranging an Abortion
justinmitchell.jpgDr. Justin L. MitchellIn May of 1934, 22-year-old Mary Schwartz asked Marie Hansen, a coworker at the Illinois Meat Company in Chicago, to help her arrange an abortion. Marie told Mary that she would try to help the best she could. That same day, a Monday, Marie took Mary to Dr. Justin L. Mitchell’s office south of Chicago’s meatpacking district.
Marie had undergone an abortion at Mitchell’s hands three years earlier, and, telling him that her friend “wants to get fixed up,” she negotiated a discount from the usual price of $50 to $30. Marie co-signed on a $25 loan, and lent Mary $5 “in dimes” from her own money.
The Abortion and Complications
The next morning, the two women again went to Mitchell’s office. Marie waited outside during the abortion, then took Mary home with her to recover.
That evening, Mary took ill, so Marie called Mitchell and told him that Mary “was bad sick.” Mitchell told Marie to give Mary castor oil, and place warm towels on her abdomen to help with the pain. This did not alleviate Mary’s pain, so on Marie took her back to Mitchell’s office on Thursday evening and Friday morning. Marie told Mitchell, “Don’t forget to scrape her. . . . and do a good job.”
Hospital and Death
At 4:00 Saturday morning, Marie was very concerned and called Mary’s lover, Joe Henja, who was a foreman at the meat plant. Joe complied with Marie’s request that he come right away and get Mary. He called his own doctor then rushed Mary to a hospital, where Mary died on May 20, 1934.

More Deaths Attributed to Mitchell

Mittchell was later implicated in the abortion deaths of Alice Haggin and Mary Nowalowski in 1936.


Note, please, that with overall public health 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.

In fact, due to improvements in addressing these problems, maternal mortality in general (and abortion mortality with it) fell dramatically in the 20th Century, decades before Roe vs. Wade legalized abortion across America.

For more information about early 20th Century abortion mortality, see Abortion Deaths 1910-1919.

external image MaternalMortality.gifexternal image MaternalMortality.gif


  • Leslie Reagan, “When Abortion Was a Crime”
  • People v. Mitchell (The Mary Nowakowski case goes into some detail about Mary Schwartz’s death.)