In 19th century Although abortions were very dangerous, as well as socially unacceptable during the nineteenth century, women were not altogether unable to obtain abortions and many suffered accusations of infanticide. Here I will present a few of the more famous cases from the period, demonstrating the occurrence of abortion, the availability of providers, and the consequences faced by those who necessitated the procedure.
One case that dominated the pages of The Revolution, the paper owned by Susan B. Anthony and edited by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Parker Pillsbury, was the sentencing of a young girl to hang for the death of her child. While not a case of abortion, the death was termed an infanticide and drew strong opinions from the public as well as both the editors. The unfortunate Hester Vaughan, an English girl living in Philadelphia, was discovered in a tiny tenement room devoid of furniture February 8, 1868, forty-eight hours after giving birth. Alone during labor, without food or heat, she was found frail and feverish with her baby dead beside her. She was immediately brought to the police and imprisoned, under the assumption that she had killed her child. For thirty dollars, she acquired the services of a lawyer by the name of Goforth and underwent a brief trial. Having never actually confessed to committing the crime, she was nonetheless sentenced to death by County Judge Ludlow, and placed in Moyamensing Prison until her execution.
Once news of the case reached the public, the women of The Revolution unleashed their sympathies in article after article denouncing the indictment. In an August 6, 1868 editorial it was written: