Merl Williams1930s, oklahoma, 20s, illegalmidwifeSUMMARY: Merl Williams, age 21, died on April 24, 1937 after an abortion at the practice of midwife Cordelia Moore in Oklahoma.
On April 24, 1937, Miss Merl Williams of Watonga, Oklahoma, died of peritonitis. She was 21 years old, a worker in a poultry packing plant. Her death was attributed to a botched abortion.
A midwife, 57-year-old. Cordelia Moore, was charged with abortion murder. An investigation found evidence that Moore, formerly a registered nurse, had perpetrated hundreds of abortions in her home in Longdale, Oklahoma.
After her arrest, Moore “unworriedly set her glasses on the end of her nose and continued her quilting in the county jail.” Her husband, John, actually got up in his cell and jigged when a jaunty tune came on the radio.
W. C. Mouse, a railroad engineer, testified that he had taken Merl to Moore’s 3-room farm house on April 11, not knowing the reason for the visit. He said only that he had heard Merl ask Moore, “Will it be dangerous?”Cordelia Moore
The state also gathered 14 additional witnesses in the case against Moore, including women swearing under oath that Moore had done abortions on them.
The prosecutors were also investigating the possible abortion death of a married woman a few years previously.
Cordelia Moore was tried for the crime; her husband, John, was arrested but released.
I have been unable to determine that outcome of any trial in Merl’s death.
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 1930s.
For more on pre-legalization abortion, see The Bad Old Days of Abortion
- “Murder Is Charged In Abortion Death,” Miami (OK) Daily News-Record, April 28, 1937
- “Midwife Nabbed In Abortion Racket In Oklahoma; 500 Case Are Aired,” (Harlingen, TX) Valley Morning Star, April 29, 1937
- “Abortions Admitted By Watonga Midwife,” Pampa (TX) Daily News, April 29, 1937
- “Death of Girl is Basis of Couple’s Arrest for Murder,” Miami (OK) Daily News-Record, April 30, 1937
- “State to Help Push Charge on Abortion”, The Oklahoman, June 1, 1937
- “Watts is Assigned to Aid in Murder Case,” Miami (OK) Daily News-Record, June 1, 1937
- “Officer Seeks 11 Patients in Abortion Quiz”, The Oklahoman, May 1, 1937
- “Mrs. Moore is Bound Over on Murder Count”, The Oklahoman, May 14, 1937
- “Abortion Death Hearing is Set,” Brownsville (TX) Herald, May 2, 1937
- “Huge Abortion Racket Found,” Greensboro (NC) Record, April 29, 1937
- “Seek New Evidence of Illegal Operations,” Cleveland Plain Dealer,” April 29, 1937
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