Ruth Camp19101919, colorado, illegaldoctorSUMMARY: Ruth Camp died on February 2, 1916, after an abortion perpetrated in Denver, CO. Dr. Bennett Graff was convicted, but won a new trial.
In early 1916, two women lay dying at Mercy Hospital in Denver. Police and doctors concluded that both women were suffering from abortions after having been attended to by Dr. Bennett Graff at his offices at the Panama rooming house there in Denver, where he had his offices.
Ruth Camp, whose 4 1/2-month abortion had been perpetrated on January 27, died on February 2. The second woman, 24-year-old Beulah Hatch, lingered until mid-February.
Ruth had come to Denver from Medicine Bow, Wyoming, on a visit. Her husband, a rancher, had wanted the baby. A friend of the family found out about Ruth’s plans and sent him a telegraph. Mr. Camp had to drive 45 miles just to catch a train to Denver, arriving too late.
Graff insisted during the trial that a woman named Mrs. Fitch had called him to the boarding house, where he’d found Ruth ailing. He said Mrs. Fitch had accompanied him and Ruth to his office for an examination and “found that it was necessary to operate upon her, which he did.” Had the jury believed his story they would have acquitted him.
Graff was found guilty of murder in Ruth’s death, and sentenced to 11 – 13 years in prison. Graff protested “stoutly” and appealed the conviction.
Graff was also charged in the death of Mrs. Beulah Hatch.
Graff appealed and won a new trial when he brought forth an affidavit by Mrs. Kate Dunn. Dunn, a trained nurse, said that she had been visiting a woman named Mrs. Lewis when a young woman came seeking the person who had run a thinly veiled abortion ad. The young woman was about 5’3″, 130 – 135 pounds, light-complected, with brown eyes and brown hair. The brown-eyed young woman told Dunn that she had taken at least $20 worth of abortifacients, to no avail, and was thus seeking a surgical abortion.
Dunn said that she had admonished the young woman that this course was dangerous and that since she was young and strong she should have her baby. The young woman, Dunn said, replied that she’d rather die than have the baby and that she was going to get rid of it.
The following day. the young woman returned and went behind closed doors with Mrs. Lewis. Lewis passed through the room where Dunn was waiting and removed a speculum, probe, and pair of forceps from a closet and took the instruments into the room where the brown-eyed woman waited.
After about 40 or 50 minutes, Dunn said, Lewis came out and said, “I have an A B case, and I want you to nurse her.” Dunn declined. Lewis went into an adjoining room, and Dunn heard snippets of phone conversations in which Lewis seemed to be trying to find somebody to provide nursing care to the brown-eyed woman.
About an hour later, which would have been about 5 p.m., Dr. Graff arrived and spent about 15 minutes in the room with the brown-eyed woman. About fifteen minutes later he emerged with her. The young woman was pale and week and seemed to be in distress.
Dunn said that she gave the matter no more thought until later, when she learned that Graff had been convicted of perpetrating a fatal abortion on Ruth Kamp. She made the connection between Graff having said that he had met Ruth at the premises of Mrs. Lewis and realized that Ruth Camp was the brown-eyed woman.
Other testimony was found that identified Ruth as the brown-eyed woman who had gone to Mrs. Lewis, that Graff had gone to her premises in response to a telephone call, and that he had indeed escorted Ruth from the premises.
Graff said that Ruth had told him of attempts to abort the pregnancy and doctors she had consulted in search of an abortionist. He examined Ruth and found her to be in serious condition. On his advice, Ruth sent for her husband. Graff then said that he took steps to try to save both mother and unborn child, but that Ruth’s condition deteriorated and he had been forced to complete the abortion in order to save her.
The judges agreed that this new testimony warranted a new trial. I’ve been unable to determine if the trial actually took place, or if anybody else was charged in Ruth’s death.
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. For more information about early 20th Century abortion mortality, see Abortion Deaths 1910-1919.
For more on pre-legalization abortion, see The Bad Old Days of Abortion
- “Heard on the Street”, Colorado Transcript, Jun. 22, 1916;
- “Graff Gets Heavy Sentence”, Colorado Transcript, Jul. 20, 1916;
- “Colorado State News”, Weekly Ignacio Chieftain, Jul. 21, 1916;
- San Juan (Colorado) Prospector, Jul. 22, 1916;
- Colorado Transcript, Aug. 13, 1916
- “Local Paragraphs”, Colorado Transcript, May 3, 1917
- “Dr. Bennett Graff to Face Jury for Death of Woman,” The Denver Post, Jun. 11, 1916
- “Dr. Graff Ordered Re-Arrested as Second Girl Dies,” The Denver Post, Feb. 18, 1916
- “West Side Jury Convicts Dr. Graff of Murder in Second Degree,” The Denver Post, Jun. 17, 1916
- Graff v. People, No. 9031, Supreme Court of Colorado, Jan. 6, 1919
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