Delia Mae Bell #alabama #1880s #abortifacient #19thcentury

Summary: Delia Bell, age 14, died March 25, 1889 after using an abortifacient she had obtained from barkeeper George Foule in Birmingham, AL.


The Weekly Age Herald of Birmingham, Alabama, tells the sad tale of the March 26, 1889 death of 14-year-old Delia Mae Bell:

At 1 o'clock yesterday afternoon a hearse and a carriage drove up to the main stairway of the Jackson block.... A few men and boys gathered to see what it was there for. Some of the rented rooms on the third floor brought down a casket and placed it in the hearse, and some weeping women got into one of the carriages. Then the simple procession moved slowly toward Oak Hill. There was something peculiarly pathetic about it all. Yet those who gave it a hasty glance did not appreciate the painful story that lay behind it all -- did not know how in that unostentatious casket lay the frail figure of a mere child, whose wrecked life was brought to a close in the throes of maternity, and in all probability the victim of the most heinous of murders.

A few hours before Coroner Babbitt had called six solemn-faced jury men to the side of the coffin where the dead girl lay. Even white in death she was comely. Her lips were parted and all trace of pain had gone out of her face. The frail figure was clad in white, and in the marble hands were blossoms, even whiter, while a cross of heliotrope lay on the dead breast.

"You do each of you solemnly swear to inquire for the State of Alabama into the case now pending -- who she was and how she came to her death, and a true verdict make, so help you God," said the coroner, as he raised his hand; and the six bowed assent.

A few stifled sobs came from the room adjoining. They were from the dead child's grandmother, and a mother's voice said, "My God, has it come to this."

DeliaBellTimes_Picayune_Wed__Mar_27__1889_.jpgDelia had been the product of her mother's first marriage, in Texas. After a divorce, she had moved to Alabama and married a Mr. McDermott. She separated from him, suing for divorce on the grounds of adultery, and set up a small dressmaking shop that she ran with Delia. The two of them lived with a Mrs. Bell, who I presume was Delia's maternal grandmother.

Evidently the women in that house were not of the highest repute, and neighbors reported an unseemly coming and going of men. When Delia took violently ill on a Sunday morning, the neighbors were suspicious. The first doctor called to the scene was L.G. Woodson. He arrived about 6:30 and found Delia in convulsions. He gave her a subcutaneous morphine injection then went to breakfast. When he returned, he found her once again convulsing, so he sent for Dr. W.C. Foster. He took note of the convulsions, and of a suspicious bottle. He called in yet another physician, Dr. W.E. Morris. "All the aids known to medical science were tried without avail, and about 3 o'clock in the afternoon it was decided to resort to an operation." Morris believed, based on his observations during his time there, that Delia's mother knew that she was pregnant, but her grandmother didn't. "There were hurrying feet in the hallways, and then came a hush over the place. The girl was dead." This was Monday, March 25.

The doctors notified the coroner and turned over a bottle to him that had contained an abortifacient traced to a man named George A. Foule of East Birmingham. Foule was a saloon keeper. He called his potion a treatment for "blood diseases and feminine troubles" -- a code for abortifacient.

He had first seen Delia when summoned by her grandmother. "He had talked to the dead girl about the character of her malady several times," and said that she'd told him she'd fallen down the stairs. "He claimed not to have known that the girl was in a delicate condition," though there were sufficient rumors going about for him to have reason to suspect so.


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.


Sources:


  1. 1900s
  2. 1910-1919
  3. 1920s
  4. 1930s
  5. 1940s
  6. 1950s
  7. 1960s
  8. 1970s
  9. 1980s
  10. 1990s
  11. 19th century
  12. 2000-2009
  13. 20s
  14. 30s
  15. 40s
  16. NAF
  17. abortifacient
  18. abortion
  19. abortion mill
  20. abortion mortality
  21. abortionists
  22. abortionists -- female
  23. abortionists -- male
  24. alabama
  25. anesthesia
  26. arizona
  27. black women
  28. botched abortion
  29. california
  30. chicago
  31. colorado
  32. connecticut
  33. cover-up
  34. death
  35. deaths
  36. deception
  37. delay in transport
  38. delay in treatment
  39. district of columbia
  40. dumped body
  41. ectopic
  42. embolism
  43. falsifying forms
  44. fetal indications
  45. florida
  46. former criminal abortionist
  47. george tiller
  48. georgia
  49. hemorrhage death
  50. hospitals
  51. illegal - doctor
  52. illegal - midwife
  53. illegal - nurse
  54. illegal - paramedical
  55. illegal - post roe
  56. illegal - unknown
  57. illegal - untrained
  58. illegal abortion
  59. illinois
  60. inadequate documents
  61. inadequate equipment
  62. inadequate resuscitation
  63. incomplete abortion
  64. indiana
  65. infection
  66. kansas
  67. legal abortion
  68. llinois
  69. louisiana
  70. maryland
  71. massachusetts
  72. maternal indications
  73. maternal mortality
  74. michigan
  75. mills
  76. missouri
  77. mortality
  78. national abortion federation
  79. new jersey
  80. new mexico
  81. new york
  82. north carolina
  83. ohio
  84. oklahoma
  85. pennsylvania
  86. planned parenthood
  87. pre-roe legal
  88. previous misconduct
  89. prostaglandin
  90. quackery
  91. questionable stories
  92. ru-486
  93. rupture
  94. saline
  95. secret abortion
  96. self-induced
  97. suicide
  98. teens
  99. texas
  100. wisconsin