Sarah Hoover Weddle: Lost to a “Criminal Operation”

“State’s Attorney Worthington is investigating the death of Mrs. Sarah E. Weddle, widow, who died near Myersville April 14th. Certain discoveries have aroused the suspicion of the authorities.”

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Although is advert looks innocent enough, terms such as “special strong for obstinate cases” and “will quickly bring about the desired result” indicate these pills were meant to induce miscarriages.

Dayton (Ohio) Herald, 25 February, 1903: “Mrs. Amy Snyder, 52, the wife of Aaron Snyder, an expressman, of 223 South Montgomery Street, was arrested Tuesday afternoon by Sergeant Fair and assistants, on suspicion of having performed a criminal operation on Miss May Smith, 19, of Xenia, which resulted in her death.”

Louisville (Kentucky) Courier-Journal, 26 March, 1903: “Miss Stella H. Stork, a pretty young woman whose home was at Huntingburg, Ind. … died at the private hospital of Dr. Sarah Murphy, 1018 West Chesnut Street, Tuesday afternoon. While peritonitis was the direct cause of death, this was brought on by a criminal operation….. George Lemp, a Southern Railway conductor, who came to Louisville with the girl last week, was arrested … but denied he had any knowledge of the girl’s condition.”

Scranton (Pennsylvania) Tribune, 27 March, 1903: “The sudden death of Mrs. Martha E. Rosengrant, widow of the late William Rosengrant, was the occasion of an inquest by Coronor Tibbins…. Mrs. Rosengrant was found dead in her bed at her home on Foundry Street on Wednesday morning…. The verdict of the jury was that Martha Rosengrant came to her death from a criminal operation performed upon her by someone to the jury unknown.”

Frederick (Maryland) News, 30 April, 1903: “The people of Myersville and vicinity are excited by the discovery of what appears to be evidence that the death of Mrs. Sarah E. Weddle, which occurred April 14, was due to a criminal operation. Mrs. Weddle was sick for about two weeks before her death.”

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When she died during the quickening Spring of 1903, widow Sarah Weddle left five young children as orphans. The lingering evidence shows she was but one of the untold thousands of Victorian and Edwardian women who, when they fell pregnant, turned to “female pills”—herbal abortifacients advertised openly albeit with coded language—or to “criminal operations,” as illegal abortions were termed in the press.

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Widow Hitchcock and Her Clan

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Albumen Cabinet Card of Abigail Hitchcock in widow’s weeds, circa 1872. Written on reverse: “Aunt Abby Hanks Hitchcock. Gubelman, 77 &79 Montgomery St., Jersey City.” Ann Longmore-Etheridge Collection.

Abigail Irena Hanks was born on 10 November, 1816, in Mansfield, Tolland County, Connecticut. She was the daughter of Rodney Hanks (1782–1846), a Mansfield, Connecticut, manufacturer of silk machinery, woolen goods, cannon swabs, and other machinery, and Olive Freeman (1783–1816). The extended Hanks clan were large-scale makers of silk, a business that had begun with the family importing English mulberry trees to Connecticut for the nurture of silkworms.

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Abigail’s renowned uncle, Benjamin Hanks, cannon, bell, and clockmaker.

The Hanks family was also associated with the Meneely (Watervliet) foundry, which closed the mid-20th Century after more than a hundred years providing bells for various carillons and chimes throughout the Western hemisphere. The bell foundry was established 1826 in Gibbonsville, New York, on the west bank of the Hudson River, a few miles north of Albany, by Andrew Meneely, a former apprentice in the foundry of Benjamin Hanks (1755-1824), Abigail’s uncle, who is generally credited with being the first bronze cannon and church bell maker in the United States. Hanks is believed to have worked at a foundry connected with patriot Paul Revere and was a drummer during the Revolutionary War.

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