Feb 2 1876
Kate McCormick, also reported in one paper as Kate Simpson, died in 1876 after having an abortion in Memphis. She was about 21 years of age and from Humboldt Tennessee. After finding herself in "the family way" she decided her only course of action was to terminate the pregnancy. Kate and her mother told everyone she was going up north for a visit but she came to Memphis. The child, a girl, was delivered dead on Saturday, January 29, 1876. Kate died February 1. Dr. D. S. Johnson was indicted but found innocent of any wrong doing.
This is Kate's story as reported in period newspapers.
Originally posted in the Public Ledger, February 2, 1876
"Testimony Introduced Before the Coroner's Jury of Inquest
In Monday's Ledger was published an account of an inquest held upon the body of an infant found dead in Mrs. Widrig's boardinghouse, on the corner of Second and Winchester streets. From information received yesterday by Chief of Police Athy Dr. d.s. Johnson, who keeps a private infirmary at No. 18 Jefferson street, was arrested this morning, the mother of the infant above referred having died last night. Yesterday Chief Athy called at Mrs. Widrig's and talked to the sick woman. she said her name was kate McCormick and resided at Humboldt, Tenn. Chief Athy at once telegraphed to Mrs. McCormick at Humboldt, but when she arrived last night her unfortunate daughter had been dead a few hours. The girl Katie had been seduced by a man at Humboldt, and she came to this city to give birth to a child to hide her shame. This forenoon our special reporter attended the inquest held on the body of Katie McCormick by Coroner Spelman.
THE DEAD GIRL
The boardinghouse of Mrs. Widrig is in a double one-story frame tenement on the corner of Winchester and Second streets. The body of the deceased was laid out on a board and was covered with a white sheet. The room was neatly furnished, and on the table were a number of books, among others a bible, hymn book and prayer book. Katie McCormich lay there, her white face turned up toward heaven, her eyes closed, and with an expression upon her cold face as if in prayer. She was a blonde, with a clear cut and handsome face, tall and large in size. A wealth of golden hair was coiled up on her head--hair that resembled that painted by idealistic artists in their pictures of the Madonna of the Cenci. She appeared to have been about twenty-one years of age.
Coroner Spelman summoned a jury of citizens and the following testimony was heard:
Mrs. Widrig was sworn and stated that the girl came to her house some time before Christmas, but only stayed one night that she came back three weeks ago, and on Saturday night, or, rather, Sunday morning, she was delivered of a dead child; that Dr. Johnson had been attending her; that her suspicions were aroused and she asked Katie to tell her the whole truth; on Sunday Dr. Frayser had been sent to see Katie by Chief Athy and told her that the girl would die; this she told to Katie, who seemed much affected and made a confession; she said: "Mrs. Widrig, I think my time is short," and then she added: "Dr. Johnson gave the medicine to destroy my child; tell Dr. Johnson that I promised not to deceive him or tell any person but the time has come when I can keep the secret no longer; I paid Dr. Johnson twenty-five dollars for the medicine; he gave me the medicine some three weeks ago, and said if it did not do its work in six days it would be a failure; I took the medicine from Dr. Johnson to kill my child and paid him twenty-five dollars for it."
Mollie Brown sworn: Katie told me last night that Dr. Johnson sent her medicine by express; she said to me she was satisfied she was going to die, and that Dr. Johnson was the cause of it.
Mrs. Keith sworn: Katie told me she asked Dr. Johnson for medicine to destroy her child, and that he advised her not to take it, and if she took his advice he would befriend her; I did not see her until Sunday last; she said she came here to hide her shame; that no one knew of her coming but her mother; her other friends thought she had gone North on a visit.
Dr. Marable testified as follows: On Sunday morning was called by Dr. Johnson to make a call; he told me about the case, and said he had prescribed for diarrhea; the treatment was correct as stated by Dr. Johnson; he said that he had discovered that she had a baby last night, but that she was in danger of dying from the afterbirth; I attended to her immediately, and gave her the necessary remedies to stop the flooding, and the remedies resulted successfully; the girl appeared very weak; Dr. Johnson and I went to see Chief Athy at once with reference to the dead child, and at my instigation Dr. Johnson called upon coroner Spelman to hold an inquest on the dead infant, which inquest was held on Sunday; I advised Dr. Johnson as to the necessary treatment to place the girl under with a view to her recovery; the girl had diarrhea and I prescribed with Dr. Johnson for its treatment; the girl was nervous and troubled in mind; she said she was out of money and had no friends; trouble of mind and excitement very often cause abortions or miscarriages, and the greatest trouble physicians have in such cases is to keep the patients quiet; I think flooding and mental anxiety was the cause of her death.
Dr. Johnson testified as follows: Three weeks ago I first saw the deceased; she came to my office and told her story, and wanted to hide her disgrace; I advised her not to commit abortion as it was against the law; I called to see her at Mrs. Widrig's boardinghouse and prescribed for diarrhea; on Sunday morning I called and found that she had a miscarriage; I then called on Dr. Marable; the prescription given her by me was ascitate of lead and morphine; the girl seemed troubled and said she would sooner die than live; she said this both before and after the abortion had taken place.
Mrs. Widrig recalled: Dr. Frayzer called yesterday afternoon and told me that death was inevitable; I told this to Katie McCormick and then she made the confession above stated; when Dr. Frayser left Katie asked me: "Is the doctor going to do anything for me?" I replied: "No, Katie; the says you must die;" she then commenced praying and crying; she said she gave Dr. Johnson twenty-five dollars for the medicine to procure an abortion; the medicine was sent to her by express, and she said Dr. Johnson told her that if the medicine did not relieve her in six days it would do no good; Dr. Johnson on Saturday morning took the bottle of medicine away; she was confined on Saturday evening; before her death she put her arms around me and kissed me; she was perfectly rational; I pressed her to tell me all about it, and she said she wanted to see Dr. Johnson first; she said she had made the arrangement with Dr. Johnson when she was here first--before Christmas; she then returned to Humboldt and came back three weeks ago last Friday; when she was here before Christmas she only stayed one night at my house; said she was poor and wanted to get some sewing to do; she was absent about two weeks.
The girl's trunk was examined by the Coroner's jury and a letter from Allegheny, Pa., was found therein. It was signed by a female friend. The inquest closed and the body of the unfortunate deceased was left in charge of her mother, to be carried back to Humboldt for interment.
The jury of inquest was unable to agree up to 1 o'clock to-day, and adjourned over to 5 o'clock this afternoon to consider a verdict. In the meantime, by request of Chief of Police Athy, Drs. Willett and Henning will hold a post mortem examination of the body of the deceased this afternoon in order to discover, if possible, some trace of the medicine given to and taken by the unfortunate girl.
Originally posted in the Memphis Daily Appeal February 3 1876
A LESSON OF LUST
The Victim of a Seducer Becomes
in Turn the Victim of an Abortionist,
and Goes down to an Early Grave
The Sad Story of Scandal and Shame--
Evidence Before the Coroner's
Jury--Dr. Johnson Arrested
as the Abortionist
Our readers will remember that the following article was published in Tuesday's Appeal: "saturday night Doctors Johnson and marable were called in to see a young lady who boarded on Winchester street, near Second. She gave birth to an infant, which, being examined, was found to be dead. A jury of inquest returned a verdict that the child's death resulted from accidental causes. The young lady refuses to tell her name, parentage, or place of residence. She says that she was sent here by a shoemaker, who promised that he would follow and marry her. The unfortunate woman's given name is Kate and her home is said to be at Humboldt."
ARREST AND INVESTIGATION
At a late hour Tuesday night, the unfortunate young woman whose name was ascertained to Kate Simpson, alias Kate McCormick, died at the place where she was boarding, the house being that of Mrs. Widrig's, on the corner of Second and Winchester streets. Mrs. M'Cormick, mother of the young woman, being telegraphed for by Chief Athy, came to this city from her home at Humboldt, and yesterday Dr. D.S. Johnson, who keeps a private dispensary at No. 17 Jefferson street, was arrested on suspicion of having produced the abortion and thereby caused the death of the girl. Deputy Coroner Spelman summoned a jury and proceeded to Mrs. Widrig's boardinghouse to hold an inquest.
THE DEAD GIRL was robed in white and laid out on a plank board. She had been seduced by a man at Humboldt and in order to hide her shame from the world, fled from home and kindred to seek concealment in a strange city. Her face was never beautiful, but in the cold immobility of her features, as she lay in death, there was a something strangely pathetic, arousing the compassion, even of the stout-hearted men who were called there to give their judgment, and find, if possible, the author of the base crime. The jurors, whose name appear below, were duly sworn, and then Coroner Spelman proceeded to hear the evidence of a number of persons.
NOTE- The next section of the article was a repeat of the testimony given in the Public Ledger the day before and posted above. For that reason, I am skipping to the next segment of the article.
STILL IN DOUBT.
Dr. Johnson was released upon his own recognizance by Justice Spelman, and the jury adjourned to meet at five o'clock.
THE JURY'S VERDICT
The jury of inquest met in Chief Athy's office at five o'clock yesterday afternoon, and heard the evidence of Dr. B.G. Henning, who with Dr. Frayser, was called to see the unfortunate woman the previous afternoon. His evidence was given in full, and as no post-mortem examination had been made of the body, because such had not been ordered or desired by the coroner or his jury, it was determined by Justice Spelman to have the same done this morning.
Dr. Henning being sworn, stated that about five o'clock Tuesday evening he visited the young woman, in company with Dr. Frayser. He asked her whether any medicinal or instrumental interference was used in delivering her of the child/ She answered, "No." After Dr. Frayser left, he again urged her to confess it, if such was the case. She then confessed that she came to Memphis about three weeks before Christmas to see Dr. Johnson and have the child taken from her. He (Dr. Johnson) told her he could give her medicine to kill the child, but he feared she was too far gone. She returned to Humboldt, and again came to Memphis about three weeks ago. Having Said this much she declined to reveal any more until she could see Dr. Johnson.
The jury then returned the following verdict:
State of Tennesse, County of Shelby
An inquisition holden at Memphis, in the county and State aforesaid, on the second day of Fegruary, 1876, before John Spelman, justice of the peace and coroner of said county, upon the body of Kate Simpson, alias Kate McCormick, who came to her death in the following manner, to-wit; By reason of the premature birth of a female infant still-born, and that the premature birth was occasioned by means of medicines adminsitered for the producing of abortion under the direction of Dr. D.S. Johnson. In testimony wereof the said jurors have hereunto set their hands the day and date above written.
M.H. Reilly, foreman
In verdict I non-concur.
DR. JOHNSON RE-ARRESTED.
After the inquest, Justice Spelman issued a warrant for the arrest of Dr. Johnson, who is therein charged with murder by committing an abortion. The warrant was placed in the hands of Constable Tom Garvey, who proceeded to the office of Dr. Johnson, No. 17 Jefferson street, where he made the arrest of the accused. When Constable Garvey entered the office, Dr. Johnson was found in consultation with General Wm. Wallace, who had been on the jury of inquest, and dissented from the verdict above entered. Constable Garvey delivered the prisoner over to Justice Spelman, who went with the accused to a number of the latter's acquaintances, whence bail was expected in the amount of three thousand dollars.
A post mortem examination will be made to-day of the dead body, which last night was placed in the keeping of County Undertaker Jack Walsh. The mother will permit the body to be buried here, as she has no desire to have it interred near her home. It isproper to state here that Dr. Marable had no connection with Dr. Johnson, but was called in by way of consultation as above stated. Drs. Henning and Frayser attended the girl at the solicitation of Chief Athy who has been led to suspect that there was foul play in the matter.
Originally posted in the Daily Avalanche February 3 1876
A REVOLTING CRIME
"Yesterday morning acting coroner Spelman held an inquest on the body of a young woman named Katie McCormick who died from childbirth at a boardinghouse kept by Mrs. Widrig, at the corner of Winchester and Second Streets. The child was born Saturday night and the fact being made known to chief Athy, inquiries were made which resulted in his placing under arrest yesterday morning, Dr. D.S. Johnson who keeps a private infirmary at No. 17 Jefferson street. The testimony given at the inquest developed the following facts:
The deceased, Katie McCormick who was a handsome young woman of about twenty-one years of age, came to this city from Humboldt some time before Christmas but remained only one night. Returning again to Memphis some three weeks ago, she secured board at Mrs. Widrig's. The testimony of Mrs. Widrig was as follows: "The girl came to her house some time before Christmas but only stayed one night, that she came back three weeks ago and on Saturday night, or, rather, Sunday morning, she was delivered of a dead child; that Dr. Johnson had been attending her; that her suspicions were aroused and she asked Katie to tell her the whole truth; on Sunday Dr. Frayser had been sent to see Katie by Chief Athy and told her that the girl woudl die; this she told to Katie who seemed much affected and made a confession. She said, "Mrs. Widrig, I think my time is short," and then she added, "Dr Johnson gave the medicine to destroy my child; tell Dr. Johnson that I promised not to deceive him or tell any person but the time has come when I can keep the secret no longer; I paid Dr. Johnson twenty-five dollars for the medicine; he gave me the medicine some three weeks ago and said if it did not work in six days it would be a failure; I took the medicine from Dr. Johnson to kill my child and paid him twenty five dollars for it."
Dr. Johnson's state was the following effect, "Three weeks ago I first saw the deceased; she came to my office and told her story and wanted hide her disgrace; I advised her not to commit abortion as it was against the law; I called to see her Mrs. Widrig's boardinghouse and prescribed for diarrhea; on Sunday morning I called and found that she had a miscarriage; I then called on Dr. Marable; the prescription given her by me was ascetate of irad and morphine; the girl seemed troubled and said she would sooner die than live; she said this both before and after the abortion had taken place."
After considering the matter four hours the jury was unable to arrive at a verdict and adjourned at 3 o'clock to meet at Chief Athy's office at 5 o'clock. In the meantime Dr. Johnson, who was held under arrest, was released by order of Esquire Spelman. The Jury of Inquest met at Chief Athy's office at 5 p.m. Dr. Henning was introduced and being sworn stated that he visited the woman in company with Dr. Frayser about 5 o'clock Tuesday afternoon. He asked her whether instrumental or medical interference had been used in delivering her child. she at first said there was not but upon being urged to confess it, if such was the case, she said that three weeks before Christmas she came to see Dr. Johnson and told him she wanted to get rid of the child. Dr. Johnson siad he could give me medicine to kill the child but feared that she was too far gone for that. She went back to Humboldt but returned to Memphis in about three weeks. She would reveal nothing more to Dr. Henning, stating that she wanted to see Dr. Johnson before she told any more. Dr. Henning left about 6 o'clock and after he left, it is asserted by Mrs. Widrig the woman made the confession to her. After discussing the testimony adduced, the following verdict was presented: State of Tennessee, shelby County. An inquisition, holden at Memphis, in the county and state aforesaid, on the 2d day of February, 1876, before John Spelman, J.P., Corner of said county, upon the body of Kate Simpson, alias Kate McCormick, came to her death in the following manner, to wit: by reason of the premature birth of a female infant, stillborn; and that the premature birth was occasioned by means of medicines administered for the producing of abortion under the direction of Dr. D.S. Johnson. In testimony whereof the said jurors have hereunto set their hands, the day and date above written."
Originally posted in the Public Ledger, February 4 1876
THE MEMPHIS MORGUE
Where the Dead Body of Katie McCormick
Lay in State for Twenty-Four Hours.
The Shelby County Dead-House With an Accurate
Description of the Same
In all civilized lands there exists a respect for the dead, and the dust of a pauper is, as a general rule, properly cared for by the authorities, but the exception to this rule is, we regret to say, Shelby county. On Wednesday evening last the dead body of the unfortunate girl, Katie McCormick, who fell a victim to the malpractice of the abortionist, was taken charge of by the county undertaker and removed from the boardinghouse of Mrs. Widrig, on the corner of Winchester and Second streets, to a stable on Union street, near Second, which stable is occupied by the county undertaker and is the Shelby county morgue for paupers. The county undertaker, Mr. Walsh, was prohibited from interring the remains up to 10 o'clock on yesterday, as it was expected that a post mortem examination would be had, but this examination was abandoned. Our reporter, late yesterday afternoon, was informed that the remains of the unfortunate girl had not yet been buried, but were in the stable in a rough box or pauper's coffin. Being of an investigating turn of mind, our representative, at half-past six o'clock last evening, visited the stable above mentioned and found it filled with horses, hacks and wagons. Accosting a negro and expressing his desire to see the body of the dead girl, our reporter was invited to light a match and to follow the negro. The stable was in darkness, but by the light of the match our man kept clear of the heels of the horses stalled on either side, and after winding around wagons he arrived at the back part of the stable, where wagons, sawdust and other things were stored. "here is the box," said the black guide. At this moment the match went out, and our reporter lit another. The negro pulled the lid of the box aside, and there lay the body of Katie McCormick in a shroud; her hair had tumbled down and lay in disorder on the bottom of the box. "When are you going to bury her?" asked our man. "At three o'clock to-morrow," was the reply. "She will be buried as a pauper, and will be taken out in a wagon."
Our man lit another match, looked around over this Shelby county morgue, where in darkness, filth and unwatched the pauper dead are left preparatory to interment. It was a horrible sight and well calculated to produce unpleasant reflections.
Other Arrangements Made for Burial
Leaving this stable for live horses and dead paupers our representative hurried up town, and meeting Captain George W. Miller, of the Cut-Off saloon, on Madison street, state the condition of things, and it was at once resolved that the dead girl should have a decent burial. Visiting Messrs. Holst & Bro., the undertakers, arrangements were made for a coffin and an interment at Elmwood Cemetery more in accordance with Christian and humane usages that that intended intended under the pauper system. A visit to No. 99 Main street, the residence of Coroner Spelman, was then made, and an order was obtained on undertaker Walsh to turn the remains over to Messrs Holst & Bro. for interment. The stable was again the box carried from the back part of the stable to the office in front by undertaker Walsh, Capt. G.W. Miller and two negroes, our man carrying a candle, leading the strange and weird procession, all of which presented a picture worthy of the brush of Rembrandt. The body was lifted tenderly from the box into the coffin and conveyed to the office of Holst & Bro., on main street. There it was rearranged, the sawdust was carefully brushed from the hair, face and clothing of the dead, and the lid of the coffin was fastened down on Katie McCormick. Messrs. Holst & Bro. were quite liberal as to the matter of interment, our representative and Captain Miller becoming responsible for the amount; and the interment will take place this afternoon. On Wednesday afternoon Mrs. McCormick, mother of the dead girl, left the city and returned to Humboldt, seemingly not feeling any more interest in the dead and having no desire to pay the last sad tribute to the ashes of her daughter. Of such conduct we do not feel at liberty to express any opinion, but it was that Mrs. McCormick was more troubled about the publicity given to the affair than about the fate of her erring and unfortunate child.
The Humboldt shoemaker, George Burgess, did not put in an appearance here to aid and assist in decently interring the remains of the girl whose ruin he had wrought. In justice to County Undertaker Walsh, we must state that he placed the body where all other bodies of paupers are placed preparatory to interment, and would have buried the girl yesterday but was prevented from so doing the snow storm and rains. The back part of the stable has been and is the Shelby county morgue, and there the pauper dead rest peacefully amid old wagons, saw dust, horses and stable boys, unwatched and uncared for at night, but awaiting the wagon next day, to be carried out to potter's field. This fate was fortunately avoided, so far as Katie McCormick was concerned, and our beautiful Elmwood cemetery will contain her remains. The lines of the poet Pope are not out of place in this connection:
Thy fate unpitied and thy rites unpaid!
No friend's complaint, no kind domestic tear
Pleased thy pale ghost, or graced thy mournful bier.
By foreign hands thy dying eyes were closed;
By foreign hands thy decent limbs composed;
By foreign hands they humble grave adorned;
By strangers honored, and by strangers
The Mortuary Report, published in the Memphis Daily Appeal, February 6, 1878 said the following:
K. McCormick, age 21, sex female, color white, cause abortion
The Public Ledger reported on February 8 1876 that Dr. D.S. Johnson was indicted by the Grand Jury for second degree murder in the case of Katie McCormick for performing the abortion. The following day the Ledger reported more extensively the charges in the indictment:
"The indictment found by the Grand Jury against D.S. Johnson is quite a lengthy document and charges that said D.S. Johnson did on the 25th of January 1876, unlawfully administer to one Kate McCormick, then and there, a single woman, divers large quantities of deadly, dangerous, unwholesome, deleterious and pernicious pills, herbs, drugs, potions, teas, liquids, powders and mixtures with intent thereby to cause and procure the miscarriage and abortion of said Kate McCormick and the premature birth and destruction of her said child, with which the said Kate McCormick was then and there pregnant.
The second count alleges that, by means of said drugs, etc, the said D.S. Johnson did cause said premature birth and miscarriage.
The third count alleges that by means of said drugs, etc., the said D.s. Johnson did feloniously cause the death of the said Kate McCormick. And the grand jurors do charge upon their oaths that the said D.S. Johnson by means of said drugs, etc., aforesaid, did then and there feloniously, willfully, deliberately, premeditatedly and with malice aforethought kill and murder the said Kate McCormick against the peace and dignity of the State.
The indictment is indorsed (sic) "A true bill, R.S. Jones, Foreman Grand Jury." The witnesses summoned before the grand jury were Drs. John R. Frayser and D. Henning, Mrs. Widrig, Mollie Brown, J.G. Widrig and Rev. L.C. Taylor.
The defendant, D.S. Johnson, will be arraigned in a few days by the Attorney General and the case set for trial or disposed of according to law."
Dr. Johnson was acquitted in May. The Milan Exchange, May 18, 1876, reprinted the following article from the Memphis Avalanche:
"The case of Dr. D.S. Johnson, charged with having committed an abortion on Kate McCormick, tried and honorably acquitted by the Criminal Court, on Tuesday, deserves more than passing mention. The evidence showed that injustice had been done by the verdict of the Coroner's jury, and that no indictment should have been found. The prosecution was pressed with more than usual vigor, and the Doctor was ably defended by ex-Attorneys General Wallace and Horrigan. The result was a complete vindication of Dr. Johnson from any improper or unprofessional act in connection with the case, the jury, after a very brief consultation, bringing in a verdict of not guilty. The press will, doubtless, by publishing the result of the trial, in some measure repair the injustice done the accused in giving publicity to the grave but unfounded charge."
Kate McCormick was interred at Elmwood Cemetery on February 4, 1876 in an unmarked grave. In 1997, a volunteer with a kind heart paid for a marker. The marker, which says 1875 instead of 1876, reads: "Kate McCormick Seduced and pregnant by her father's friend, unwed, she died from abortion, her only choice. Abandoned in life and death by family. With but a single rose from her mother. Buried only through the kindness of unknown benefactors. Died Feb. 1875 age 21." We can now state that one of the people who paid for her burial was Captain George W. Miller while the other was an unknown reporter with the Public Ledger. I do wonder about the rose from her mother since her mother didn't even want to take her back home for burial!
In life Kate McCormick may not have had many benefactors but in her death kind people saved her from burial in Potter's Field and from the anonymity of an unmarked grave. Her benefactor, George W. Miller, died in 1909 and rests in the Turley section of Elmwood. Dr. Daniel S. Johnson died in 1902 from congestion and is also interred at Elmwood Cemetery.