Mary Russell #20s #1870s #infection #newyork #19thcentury

SUMMARY: Mary Russell, age 22, died on September 4, 1871 after an abortion perpetrated by a New York lay abortionist identified only as Mrs. Burns.

On Wednesday, August 23, 1871, 22-year-old Mary Russell, who worked at an envelope factory, went to the home of her brother-in-law, William Albright, "a highly respectable gentleman, who is foreman in a printing office." Mary confessed to her family that she was pregnant and sick, and "threw herself upon the mercy of her relatives. They did not cast her off, but instead summoned Dr. Warren A. James and treated her with every possible kindness."

Dr. James had been Mary's family doctor for about four years. When he first saw her, she admitted to an abortion, saying that she'd taken an abortifacient a Dr. Tully had provided to her on August 23.

Dr. James had to leave the city for some reason, and turned the care over to Dr. Jeremiah P. Bliven, a former police surgeon. Bliven quickly became suspicious, and succeeded in urging Mary's family to ask her to come clean.

In the mean time, Mary's health took a turn for the worse. On Sunday, August 27, Bliven went to the police and reported his reasons to suspect an abortion. A coroner's detective was dispatched to the house. He questioned Mary. As she was too week to write, Detective Walker wrote a dying declaration for her based on the information he'd gotten.

Mary had been pregnant for about two months. Two weeks before the interview with Detective Walker, she'd gone to a Mrs. Burns for an abortion. While a housekeeper held her up against a wall, Mrs. Burns had used instruments on Mary, without producing any immediate effect. Burns told Mary that if anybody questioned her, she was to blame the abortion on a Dr. Tully. She then sent Mary home.

Mary took ill immediately "with severe pain in my head, accompanied by vomiting." She expelled her dead baby three or four days later. But she grew sicker and went to her family for care.

Mary reported that the baby's father was Harry Pullen, who had given her $10 to pay for the abortion and then evidently vanished from her life.

In the early morning hours of Monday, September 4, Mary died.

The police quickly went to Mrs. Burns' house and arrested Ann Brice, the housekeeper, and found out from her that Mrs. Burns had gone to her other home in Long Island. Before going after her, the police arrested Mary's lover, Harry Pullen, and Mary's roommate, Nellie Ryan, who had gone with her for the abortion.

Off to Long Island the police went. "They found the abortionist living in an elegant mansion, furnished throughout in the most splendid manner, of which she was the owner, as also of one hundred acres of fine land adjacent to it, all of which was in a high state of cultivation."

Mrs. Burns didn't seem at all alarmed to see the police, and had no evident thought of Mary Russell. Instead, Burns seemed to be operating under the assumption that she was wanted in connection with "the trunk tragedy" (almost certainly referring to the abortion death of Alice Bowlsby), which she'd not been involved in. The police allowed Mrs. Burns to operate under this assumption until they had her at the station, at which point they informed her that she was actually being arrested for Mary Russell's death. "Without giving any explanation of her deed, or almost without taking the trouble to deny it, she was taken away to a cell and locked up."

The coroner performed the autopsy on Mary, and confirmed that she'd died of an infection caused by the abortion.



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
Source:



  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