Mary Strugnall

Mary Strugnallteens, 1920s, chicago, illinois, illegaldoctorSUMMARY: Mary Strugnall, age 16, died February 3, 1929 from an abortion perpetrated in Chicago by Dr. Joseph A. Harter.

George Strugnall, a roofer and father of eight, told police the story of how his 16-year-old daughter Mary lost her life:

“[Twenty-two-year-old Vernon] Keyser met my daughter a year ago. She was only 15 then and just out of grammar school, so my wife and I did all we could to discourage his attentions. He worked in his father’s machine shop a few doors from our house and used to stop and see Mary every night. Sometimes he took her out.”

“A week ago my youngest boy, Raymond, 9 years old, was run over by a truck and his leg broken. Last Tuesday [January 29] my wife and I went to the People’s hospital to see him, leaving Mary alone. When we returned, Mary was gone.”

Keyser, the baby’s father, told police:

“About three months ago Mary said she was in trouble and asked me to help her. I didn’t know what to do until a few weeks ago. I met Dr. [J. A.] Harter, who said he would take care of the case for $150 if I brought Mary to his office.”

“On Tuesday, when her parents were away, I took Mary to Dr. Harter’s home. She was frightened ad began to struggle, but the doctor’s brother [Irving Harter] and I held her on a table while the operation was performed. Five hours later I took her to the home of a Mrs. Irma McMullen, 7037 Clarmont avenue.”

Mary’s condition deteriorated, so to avert any suspicion he continued to stop at the Strugnell home daily asking after Mary.

On Friday, February 1, Harter told Keyser that he couldn’t do anything more for Mary and suggested that he consult with Dr. J. A. Goodhart of South Kedqie Avenue. Goodhart immediately ordered that Mary be admitted to the county hospital.

Per Harter’s instructions as to “the simplest way out of it,” Keyser persuaded Mary to lie and say that she had done the abortion herself. She died on February 3.

Dr. Harter was originally sought both at his office on West 63rd Street and his home on West Marquette Road, without success. Eventually he was captured and tried for homicide, but acquitted. His brother Irvine was charged as an accessory. Keyner was charged with rape and accessory to murder.

Mary’s abortion was typical of illegal abortions in that it was attributed to a physician.

Keep in mind that things that things we take for granted, like antibiotics and blood banks, were still in the future. For more about abortion in this era, see Abortion in the 1920s.
For more on pre-legalization abortion, see The Bad Old Days of Abortion


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