Nov. 21, 1907: Mother, 17, Throws Baby From Train to Hide ‘Shame’ From Family

Note: This is an encore post from 2006.

Nov. 21, 1907
Los Angeles

The woman who threw her baby from an inbound train was arrested at her mother’s home at 12th Street and San Pedro after the girl’s nurse contacted authorities, saying that she read about the incident in the newspaper and suspected the woman because she took the baby on a trip while leaving all the infant’s clothes at home.

Louise [or Louisa] Williams, who is in custody in San Bernardino, says the baby’s father “is a worthless mulatto, sometimes employed as a porter on the Salt Lake Overland trains,” according to The Times.

Despite initial reports that a passenger saw the infant thrown from the train and leaped off to rescue her, The Times says that the baby girl was found by a tramp who contacted Mr. Mattock, a nearby rancher. Mattock was afraid to move the injured baby without official permission, so left her there until he could contact police.

Mattock took the baby to his home, but she died of her injuries shortly after a doctor arrived.

On Feb. 19, 1908, Louise Williams pleaded guilty to manslaughter. Cramer B. Morris, her attorney, noted that Williams was only 17 and said she threw the baby off the train because “she was suddenly overwhelmed with the shame of meeting her mother and sisters at Los Angeles, who had not learned of her ruin.”

On March 2, 1908, Williams was sentenced to five years in San Quentin, despite testimony that she was mentally unstable. “After sentence was pronounced, women in the courtroom broke into heartbroken cries, but the girl smiled, apparently unaffected, The Times said.

About lmharnisch

I am retired from the Los Angeles Times
This entry was posted in 1907, 1908, African Americans, Crime and Courts, Homicide, LAPD, Streetcars, Transportation and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Nov. 21, 1907: Mother, 17, Throws Baby From Train to Hide ‘Shame’ From Family

  1. Gretchen Crumpacker says:

    Oh my. Well, I may be Catholic, but here is an illustration of why the history of illegal abortion is awash in the blood of babies and mothers alike. Sounds melodramatic? It’s not. It’s accurate. An uneducated, unsophisticated teenage girl (of color, no less) — how on Earth could she be expected to avoid an unwanted pregnancy, or even the event that brought it on? It’s so morally problematic. (Aside to Larry: sorry if too controversial to print)


    • lmharnisch says:

      Whenever I go through old newspapers, I always have an eye out for stories on abortion. It’s a challenging subject to research because newspapers — or at least the Los Angeles Times — were so squeamish about the term “abortion.” They used all sorts of euphemisms like “criminal operation” or “illegal operation” or that sort of thing. The use of code words also extended to “rape” (“criminally attacked,” “mistreated”) or “homosexual” (“unmarried,” “bachelor,” etc.) You can find stories about men living as women and women living as men, but they are inadvertent discoveries. There is almost no way to craft search terms that will dig out these stories.

      Of course, the only time abortion was written up in the newspaper was when some poor woman died, and the accounts are always harrowing: i.e. a woman left on the railroad tracks to be hit by a train to hide the fact that she died of a botched abortion; a dying woman dumped outside a hospital because an abortion was botched.

      It’s not like these things never occurred in the old days (they were quite common, sadly), but the newspapers used oblique, coded language to avoid “offending” readers. A headache for researchers.


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