A Case of Abortion?

Ellen Amila Reser

Daughter of Anthony Reser
(5th Generation Shedden)

The following information and story came from:
  • Nemaha County District Court files
  • Seneca, Nemaha County, Kansas Courier Newspaper
  • Blue Rapids, Marshall County, Kansas Times Newspaper
  • Marysville, Marshall County, Kansas The Locomotive Newspaper
  • Kansas census records and History of Marshall and Nemaha Counties
  • The Internet
A special thanks to Diana (Shedden) Peppersack
for tracing down most of this information.

Ellen Amila Reser was born January 2, 1853 in Plato Center, Illinois, the daughter of Anthony and Phylecta (Soule) Reser.

She came west to Marshall County, Kansas with the rest of the Resers and Sheddens in the fall of 1870. Ellen was about 17 years old at the time.

Ellen married Thomas D. McCampbell May 8, 1872. Although the place of their marriage has not been established, they were probably married on her father's and mother's farm in Reserville, Kansas or at least in Reserville. On their license she gave her age as 22 not 19 and Thomas gave his age as 24 not 25. They obtained their license April 22, 1872 in Marysville, Kansas, 16 days before they were married.

Thomas D. McCampbell was born October 1846 in Jerome Township of Union County, Ohio, the son of William and Grace McKee (Beard) McCampbell.

    For the record William McCampbell was born August 18, 1809 in Rockbridge, Virginia and died February 1, 1882 at the age of 70; his wife, Grace, was born May 22, 1811 in Rockbridge, Virginia, and died September 24, 1887 at the age of 76. Both are buried in the Morrison Cemetery in Vliets, Marshall County, Kansas. They were married January 28, 1830 and were the parents of at least 12 children.

In 1869 the William McCampbell's family came from the Dutch Creek Township of Washington County, Iowa (that is where they were counted in the 1860 census) and probably later Keokuk County, Iowa. They settled in Vermillion Township of Marshall County, Kansas.

Before coming to Kansas, Thomas had enlisted in Company H, 47th Regiment, Iowa Infantry May 14, 1864. He was one of 992 soldiers that served with the Iowa volunteers in Helena, Arkansas and eastern Arkansas. They were mustered out in Davenport, Iowa, September 28, 1864 after serving 100 days. He was 18 years old at the time.

According to the 1870 census for Kansas, Thomas was living with his parents near Barrett, Marshall County, Kansas. He was listed as being 22 years old with pathfinder listed as his occupation.

After their marriage, Thomas and Ellen (Reser) McCampbell resided about seven miles southwest of Barrett's Mills in Marshall County which may have been close or even in Reserville, Kansas.

Now the story:

On Sunday, July 14, 1872, Thomas McCampbell took his young wife to Centralia, Kansas which was in Nemaha County. He placed her in the care of Dr. John S. Hidden. In those days the small towns normally did not have hospitals per se. The patients from out of town would normally stay at the doctor's office or at some residence in the area. It was stated that she was in apparent good health.

Nowhere did it state why Thomas had taken his wife to Dr. Hidden and left her there in his care? or why Centralia? - and not Frankfort? or Blue Rapids? which were much closer. (Centralia is located about 16 miles due east of Frankfort, Kansas).

Ellen Amila (Reser) McCampbell died there in Centralia on Tuesday, July 16, 1872, only 19 years old. Ellen and Thomas had only been married about 68 days

Thomas McCampbell did not see his young wife until the next day, Wednesday, July 17, after she had died.

The post mortem examination was under the direction of John Frazier, the Marshall County coroner. In the company of Doctor Hidden, Thomas took her body to the Elliott Strong residence which was about two miles east of Frankfort, Kansas. Elliott was the husband of Catherine (McCampbell) Elliott who was the younger sister of Thomas McCampbell. From there they took the remains to Frankfort for examination. The physicians who made the examination and testified at the hearing were the following:

  • Dr. W.H. Clutter II of Frankfort -- Came to Frankfort in 1869.
    Note: another sister of Thomas McCampbell, Martha L. (Mattie) McCampbell, was a servant for Dr. Clutter in 1875.
  • Dr. H.H. Tenney
  • Dr. P.C. Garvin of Frankfort -- Came to Frankfort in 1870
  • Dr. Horace D. Cornish of Centralia
Dr. Hidden had testified at the hearing and to newspaper reporters that he treated Ellen McCampbell for an ulcer and that the woman was positively not pregnant. That the acute pains brought on by the application of caustics producing spasms, which at intervals relapsed with such severity that they caused her death. He said that after the first spasm he made the inquiry of her as to whether she had been subject to such attacks and that she replied that she had been subject to them at an early age, but thought she had outgrown them. He then told her that she should have informed him of this fact before and he would then have adopted a milder treatment.

The other doctors at the hearing testified to the effect that there were no signs of any treatment for ulcers and that her death was caused by an abortion performed by Dr. Hidden.

Neither the testimony of Thomas McCampbell or her father, Anthony Reser, showed whether the deceased was with child or not, although Anthony Reser signed an affidavit on July 20, 1872 claiming that John S. Hidden killed his daughter, Ellen (Reser) McCampbell, in performing an abortion or miscarriage. To my knowledge this is the only paper showing Anthony Reser's signature.

The post mortem hearing established reasonable grounds that Dr. John S. Hidden did kill Ellen McCampbell on July 16, 1872, while performing an abortion. A warrant was sworn out for his arrest on July 20, 1872.

Dr. Hidden told reporters that two of the physicians who made the examinations are his bitter and unrelenting enemies. That they were worthless quacks and envious of his success and have endeavored with all sorts of low cunning to undermine his reputation and practice.

Dr. Hidden had gone to Marysville with his attorney, Mr. Edgar, for the purpose of taking the necessary steps to have another post mortem examination made by more skilled medical men that were not tainted with prejudice in the case. He was arrested there and put in jail. He posted a $5,000 bond and released until his case came before the District Court.

There was a great deal of excitement in the area caused by the case and when Dr. Hidden called some of the doctors doing the post mortem "quacks", these doctors demanded that their professional standing be fairly stated.

The August 22, 1872 issue of the Blue Rapids Times provided a summary of two of the doctors' lives:

  • Dr. H.D. Cornish was a graduate of Eclectic College of Medicine and Surgery of Pennsylvania. He practiced medicine in New York 22 years before coming to Kansas.
  • Dr. W.H. Clutter graduated from both Evansville College of Medicine and Surgery in 1858 and from the Cincinnati College of Medicine and Surgery. During the Civil War he was Assistant Surgeon of the 64th Illinois volunteers.

The District Court set a date of October 23, 1872, to hear the case in Seneca, Nemaha County, Kansas. This was the county in which the murder took place and where Dr. Hidden lived and practiced, which probably didn't hurt his case. There was to be a Grand Jury.

The following subpoenas were issued:

  1. Anthony Reser, Thomas McCampbell, Elliott Strong, Dr. W.H. Clutter, Dr. H.D. Cornish and John Frazier (Marshall County Coroner). They were ordered to bring the stomach of the deceased with them. Note this was three months after she died.
  2. Dr. Charles Spraque and Dr. Herman McNutt - two additional doctors to testify for the state.
  3. William H. Laraway and Dr. P.C. Garvin - both to testify for the state.
No listing of persons testifying for the defense was found.

There was no clear statement of the outcome of the case or what actually transpired during the trial from the District Court records or newspapers. The only record came from the November 1, 1872 issue of the Seneca Courier newspaper which read:

From several members of the Grand Jury, we learn that in the case of Dr. J.S. Hidden there was a unanimous vote of innocence on the Doctor's part in the charge of abortion for which he was held.

We record this verdict with unusual gladness, esteeming as we do Dr. Hidden was the best practitioner in the state. His professional character has heretofore sustained an unspotted reputation - - - (the rest could not be read but it talked about quacky professionals and enemies) - - - The Doctor has our honest congratulations.

The last write up in the December 6, 1872 issue of the Seneca Courier newspaper really didn't clear the matter up as it stated as follows:

One strong fact in the Doctor's favor was that he was cleared on the sole testimony of the prosecution - - the defense not having been permitted to have a hearing before the Grand Jury at all. With an acquittal under such circumstances the doctor may well feel proud. No one acquainted with him believed Dr. Hidden guilty in the first place, and his enemies are now compelled to acknowledge that this case clearly proves him innocent in a professional point of view.

Probably the main reason he was acquitted was his biography, that follows:

    DR. JOHN S. HIDDEN is one of the best known men in Northern Kansas, both in a business and a professional view. He is the oldest regular practitioner in Nemaha County and one of its wealthiest men, and as a man and citizen has few, if any, peers. He was born in 1820, in Tamworth, New Hampshire. There John received a liberal education in the schools of the area, and when twenty years of age removed to Saco, Maine, where he began the study of medicine, entering the medical college at Dartmouth, New Hampshire. He graduated with unusual credit as a physician and surgeon in 1846. Practiced three years in Maine, then spent a winter in the Bellevue Hospital College, New York, perfecting his knowledge of surgery. In 1857, he was a member of the New Hampshire Legislature. His settlement in Kansas dates from the fall of 1858. He was one of the founders of old Centralia and the first graduate to practice medicine in Nemaha County. The Doctor's practice took him long rides in the old days, often going as far west as Waterville, east to the river, and north into Nebraska. The Central Pacific Railroad employed the Doctor as chairman of the board of appraisers for the adjustment of claims for the right of way which he was paid for. When the present Centralia was laid out, Dr. Hidden was owner of one-sixth of the town, and no man has done more for the advancement of the town and its interests. While devoted to his chosen profession, obtaining each year a greater prestige as a careful physician and skillful surgeon, still he found time to buy and improve farms, to build stores, opening the first drug store in 1869, and to breed fine stock. He has been United States Examining Surgeon for twelve years; is both a royal Arch Mason and an Odd Fellow Home Lodge No. 89, A. F. & A. M., of Centralia, having had no other treasurer since it was started. He is a consistent Republican, and in 1863 and 1864 represented his district in the Kansas Legislature. Mrs. Hidden was Miss Hannah M. Wadleigh, of Parsonfield, Maine, a lady of fine attainments. Two daughters resulted from the union, both now married to the Messrs. Birchfleld, a couple of brothers who enjoy a first-class reputation among Centralia business men. When the Centralia Bank opened it's doors in April of 1882, he was its first president.

The present town of Centralia has a park named "Hidden Park" named after Dr. Hidden.

Ellen (Reser) McCampell was buried in the Reserville Cemetery which is located south of the Marshall County line in Pottawatomie County. Her name is also listed on the Reser monument in the Udina Cemetery in Kane County, Illinois where Anthony Reser and Phylecta (Soule) Reser were buried.

Thomas McCampbell then married Mattie R. (Simantha) Harris December 16, 1873 in Keokuk County, Iowa. Mattie was born in June of 1856 in Ohio. At the time Thomas was 27 years old while Mattie was only 17 years old. They were the parents of one daughter:
            Grace McCampbell - born about 1875 in Iowa
Mattie and her brother, Alva Harris, appeared in the 1870 census of Keokuk County living with the J. K. Long family in Lancaster Township of Keokuk County. Alva was 18 years old working as a farm laborer while Mattie was 14 years old working as a domestic.

It appears that the Thomas McCampbell family came back to Kansas before 1880 as he appears in the 1880 census of the Vermillion Township of Marshall County as a border with Daniel Dhiel but his wife and daughter, Grace, were listed as living as a border in the home of Andrew Bolby. Living in the same rooming house with Thomas McCampbell was an Albert Harris which may have been Mattie's brother, Alva Harris. No occupations were listed for any of them. They may have just came to the area and had not had time to find suitable housing.

An ad appears in the February 12, 1886 issue of the Frankfort Bee that Thomas McCampbell was proprietor of City Bakery, a restaurant and confectionery.

The 1885 census for the area listed Thomas as an insurance agent living with his wife, Mattie, and their daughter, Gracie. Her brother, Alva, was also living with them as was a George Wood, a 77-year-old gentleman.

The 1900 census listed Thomas as being a carpenter. Living with him and his wife was Alva Harris, the brother of Mattie. Alva was born in October of 1853 in Ohio. The 1900 census indicated Thomas and Mattie McCampbell were married 25 years and that she was the mother of one child. Their daughter, Gracie, was not living with them but was still living.

By 1910 all three had moved to Kansas City, Missouri where the two men were listed as being carpenters. It appears that they were living at 2505 E. 24th Street.

After the death of his wife, Ellen (Reser) McCampbell, Thomas had a varied life -- pathfinder, (unknown in Iowa), proprietor of a bakery and restaurant, insurance agent, and carpenter.

No other record has been found about Thomas McCampbell after 1910.

The write up of this case leaves more questions that need to be answered but probably never will be:
  1. Was Ellen (Reser) McCampbell pregnant with child?
  2. Why did she give her age as 22 for her marriage license when she was only 19? Did she want to hide the wedding from her family until the last minute?
  3. Was there an abortion?
  4. Why did Thomas take his wife to Centralia when Frankfort was closer? Was Dr Hidden the family doctor or a doctor that performed abortions?
  5. What was her illness that Thomas needed to take her to the doctor in the first place or did he take her to Centralia to obtain an abortion?
  6. If it was abortion, why were they having it? Was Thomas the father or had she maybe been raped?
  7. Why was none of this information in the Clair Mann records? Was it a "no - no" to talk about?