Kate Crandell (c1885-1943)
(not her real name)
An abortionist on the South Road
In the late 1930s it was estimated that
there were at least 4,000 illegal abortions
in New Zealand each year. There was little
access to contraception. Information on
sex was also hard to come by. Young people
were often very naïve. Even the married
were sometimes quite ignorant about sexual
matters. Unwelcome pregnancies could come
as a terrible shock. Families often disowned
'disgraced' daughters and left them to cope
with the scandal on their own. Married women
were much less inclined to have lots of
children than earlier generations. Abortion,
illegal and unsafe, was a desperate remedy
to the problem of unplanned pregnancy. Kate
Crandell was a 39 year old married woman,
who lived on Caversham's Main South Road.
She and her labourer husband had five children
and struggled to make ends meet. Kate had
endeavoured to earn extra money from laundry
work. Much more lucrative were her efforts
helping women who found themselves 'in trouble'.
For a £5 fee she administered the
common household cleaner Lysol to the pregnant.
This brought on miscarriage. Word of her
services as an abortionist had spread as
far as Port Chalmers and Middlemarch. It
had also come to the notice of the police
who arrested her on in March 1923. Three
of her clients - technically her accomplices
in the crime of 'procuring an abortion'
gave evidence against her. The jury took
less than an hour to find Mrs Crandell guilty.
She was sentenced to four years imprisonment.
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