Sophia Berghusen

Sophia Berghusen1880s, newyork, 19thcentury, illegalmidwifeSUMMARY: Sophia Berghusen, age 33, died in Brooklyn, NY from abortion complications on April 28, 1880 while under the care of midwives Mary and Margaret Kaufmann.

Mrs. Sophia Berghusen, age 33, of Brooklyn died on April 28, 1880, under the care of the mother-and-daughter midwife team of Mrs. Mary Kaufmann and her 18-year-old daughter, Margaret “Maggie” Kaufmann. The coroner concluded that Sophia had died of abortion complications. Sophie had been found moribund at the Kaufmann house. Before her death she indicated that the two women had been her abortionists.

The police went to the midwives’ home on Stanton Street on April 26 and knocked on the door. When nobody answered, they threatened to force the door. They were admitted to the home and took the younger Kaufmann woman into custody, but discovered that her mother had fled through a second-floor bedroom window onto the roof of a shed, thence she climbed several fences and vanished. The police staked out the house and the following day were able to follow her son to her hiding place and arrest her as well.

Mrs. Kaufmann was described as “handsomely dressed,” the daughter as “richly attired,” and “handsome and ladylike in appearance” in The Brooklyn Eagle. The two refused to give a statement to the police. In contrast, Sophia had buried two of her five children and was the wife of a milk dealer.

Sophia had made the abortion arrangements without her husband’s consent, making two visits to the Kaufmann home for their ministrations.

Both the Kaufmann women were arrested and tried but acquitted, though the sources do not say what was lacking in the case against them. Given the strength of the evidence, it’s likely that Sophia’s deathbed statement had been ruled inadmisable.

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.


  • City and Suburban News“, The New York Times, Apr. 29, 1880
  • “Mrs. Berghusen’s Death,” New York Sun, Apr. 29, 1880
  • Brooklyn“, The New York Times, Jul. 17, 1880;
  • “Dying From Malpractice,” The Brooklyn Eagle, Apr. 27, 1880



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