May E. Parmenter

May E. Parmenter19thcentury, massachusetts, illegaldoctorSUMMARY: 21-year-old May Parmenter died June 10, 1891 in Athol, Massachusetts from the effects of an abortion perpetrated by an unnamed doctor.

From the New Mexican, June 20, 1891

Died on Her Wedding Day.

Athol, Mass., June 19. — Miss May Parmenter, one of Athol’s prettiest and brightest girls, was to have been married yesterday to Leroy Felton, a well-known young man of Orange. on the morning of the wedding she was taken violently ill, and died during the afternoon.

It now transpires that Miss Parmenter was the victim of malpractice, performed by a well-known physician. She was urged to take the step by a very near relative, against the wishes of her intended husband.

Massachusetts death records indicate that she died not on June 18, but rather on June 10, at the age of 21.

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 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


  • “Athol,” Fitchburg (MA) Sentinel, June 12, 1891
  • “Cause of Miss Parementer’s Death,” Hazleton (PA) Plain Speaker, June 17, 1891
  • “Died on Her Wedding Day,” The New Mexican, June 20, 1891