Abortion for Wicked Purposes
Author: George Ridenour
Dr. William G. Cox, M.D. was born on April 2, 1831 in Middlebury, Schoharie County, New York. He was born to Quaker parents. He attended school and worked on the family farm until he was 19 years old. Following in the steps of his brother, he decided to pursue the study of medicine. He studied in 1851 in Virginia under the supervision of his brother, a doctor, and taught school to provide himself with income. He was to become a noted homeopathic physician.
In 1854, he settled in Kalamazoo County, Michigan and in 1855 he moved to the Ann Arbor area to continue his tutelage in medicine. In 1856 he entered into the medical department of the University. He moved, while studying, to Ypsilanti to begin the start of his practice. He was a successful physician. He was described in the Representative Men of Michigan (1878) as “...always courteous in manner, genial and sympathetic in nature, he won the esteem of a large circle of friends and patrons.”
William Cox married Josephine S. Bagg, the daughter of one of the pioneers of Detroit, Dr. Joseph Bagg, on December 18, 1862. He then decided in 1871 to move his practice to Detroit. The children of William and Josephine Cox were Charles R. and Jessie (twins) and later Charles E.
The Ypsilanti Commercial of March 15, 1873 had a brief piece which is quoted: “…We are very sorry to learn from the Detroit dailies that Dr. Cox, recently of this city, had been arrested on a charge of abortion for wicked purposes. The Dr. gave bail in the sum of $5,000. We did not allude to the matter last week, in hopes that the report would prove false. We always had a high opinion of the Dr. while a resident of this city.”
The Ypsilanti Commercial received a long explanation of the trial and charges in a piece by Dr. Cox which was published on April 5, 1873. The article cited clarifications and explanations made by Dr. Cox to the people of Ypsilanti. The trial was concerning the death of his patient Mrs. Hoyt. Dr. Cox was alleged to have given her “Ergot of Rye” which induced abortion and her death. Along with the abortion charge Drs. Davenport and Gustin testified that Dr. Cox was guilty of malpractice.
(Note: Ergot of rye is a fungus from the rye plant. This was indeed used by physicians treating pregnant women. Yes, it could induce abortion. In later times ergot was described as a hallucinogen. When there was hemorrhaging or blood flow, the prescribed treatment at the time was lead and opium. Ergot of rye was used for other treatments than abortion by physicians of the time.)
Dr. Cox in his editorial admitted that he had written a prescription but for another patient living miles from Mrs. Hoyt. Finally, the ergot of rye episode was stricken from the record. Again, he states: “…at the time of her death Mrs. Hoyt was NOT pregnant...There was NO mystery in the last sickness and death of Mrs. Hoyt…at the time of her death Mrs. Hoyt was not pregnant and had not been for months or even years prior to her death. She was taken Thursday evening, February 27, 1873 with a violent attack of what is properly called ‘spotted fever…Such is the sum and substance of this great sensation case. It was a case that should have never attracted public attention…it would not have appeared in court…but for the interaction of private parties and private interests.” (Note: Dr. Cox was a famous and established homeopathic physician at the time of this trial).
The Ypsilanti Commercial of March 22, 1873: “The friends of Dr. Cox in this city will be glad to know that. It was proved by competent witnesses of this city, Dr. Tripp and Dr. Baqtwell concerning that the woman who was alleged to have died from the affects of abortion, died from the affects of disease. It was shown that there was no abortion. The trial elicited great interest in Detroit. The Doctor ought to go for the parties implicated, for false arrest. If physicians or any other citizen can be arrested and put to serious inconvenience on such flimsy pretenses, we have come to a curious pass.”
The 1900 United States Federal Census from Precinct 7, Miami, Dade County, Florida shows Dr. William G Cox, Josephine, Charles, and daughter-in-law Addie. He is shown as a physician and owner of a dry goods store. Nothing further is shown of him after this date.
Checking with Highland Cemetery, we find that he bought 12 plots in 1866. There is an
Adeline” listed as interred in the plot. Three other plots are for “others but not listed” and the cemetery is not sure if anyone is buried in the three graves or, if so, who they are!
Thus ends (on a mystery) the story of Dr. William G. Cox.
[George Ridenour is a member of the YHS Archives Advisory Board, a volunteer in the Archives, and a regular contributor to GLEANINGS]