The Disquieting Death of Emma Gill: Abortion, Death, and Concealment in Victorian New England

Chicago Review. Jan. 2024. 288p. ISBN 9781641608565. $28.99. CRIME
Journalist Biederman (A Mighty Force) reconstructs the 1898 murder of Emma Gill in Connecticut. Young and single, she sought an abortion. New England in the late 19th century was rife with medical quackery, and board certification for practicing medicine would not become commonplace for another few decades. So, abortions were commonly performed by introducing an instrument or “irritant,” and two enterprising purveyors, Henry and Nancy Guilford, sensed a lucrative market in providing them. Since many women needed as much as a week to recover, they rented out rooms as well, further padding their pocketbooks. Gill sought out their services and ultimately succumbed to septicemia during the procedure. Biederman’s book shows that Nancy was the only one of the duo was was suspected of carving Gill’s body and leaving her dismembered remains under a bridge. Nancy ultimately served prison time for manslaughter but continued providing abortions after her release.
VERDICT This highly researched and detailed book serves as a stark reminder of the sometimes fatal consequences women face when denied the right to safe, legal abortions.
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