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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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