Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Inventors and Inventions in Grinnell

Have you ever invented anything? I have not, but, as my colleagues Ann Igoe and Bill Hammen have pointed out to me, Grinnell has been home to a surprisingly large number of inventors. According to the Iowa Inventors Database, 305 separate inventions—about three-fourths of the 460 recorded in Poweshiek County—first saw the light of day here in Grinnell. Many of these inventions are fairly recent. For example, the database credits Claude Ahrens (1912-2000) with 48 patents—mostly for playground equipment—filed between 1955 and 1990.
Undated Advertisement for Randolph Header, manufactured by Craver, Steele & Austin, Grinnell, Iowa
(Image Courtesy of Grinnell Historical Museum)
But long before Claude Ahrens invented the Miracle Whirl Merry-go-round, Grinnellians were imagining new devices to simplify work, improve safety, and make life more enjoyable. In this post we examine three of the earliest Grinnell inventors and their inventions, tracking their impact upon this small town on the prairie.
Grinnell was little more than a spot on an Iowa map when William Beaton (1829-1907) filed his first patents. Born in Canada in 1829, Beaton arrived in Grinnell in 1855, only a week after his June 21 Cleveland, Ohio wedding to Loretta Hubbard. The 1860 census caught him in Grinnell where at age 31 he was working as an "instructor"—presumably in voice, which he taught privately for a time. He and his wife Loretta were named with two children—Caroline (2 yrs) and William (3 months old); ten years later the Beatons, who lost William as an infant, added another child, then only one month old and still unnamed (but later known as Henry). By the time census officials appeared in 1880 Grinnell, Beaton and Loretta were both 50 years old; Caroline was married and gone, while Henry had died before reaching his sixth birthday. Daughter Isabella, however, was 10 years old, and attended local school. An expert pianist and possessor of an admired contralto voice, Isabella went on to a successful career as composer and performer before her 1929 death.
Undated photograph of William Beaton (ca. 1900)
His daughter's musical success was no accident, for, although William Beaton's obituary says nothing about his inventions, it emphasizes the man's musical vocation. Said to have been in possession of a "tenor voice of rare timber and quality," Beaton directed the Grinnell Congregational Church choir, organized and directed the first Grinnell civic orchestra, and was also organizer and member of a vocal quartet. The first principal of Grinnell's public school, he was also a Civil War volunteer in the 4th Iowa Infantry.
Photograph of Beaton Home at 1227 Broad (ca. 1890; razed in 1934)
When first recalled in the 1878 city directory, the Beatons were living at First and Park. But by 1895 the family occupied a spacious Italianate home at 1227 Broad. William lived here into the new century, but by 1905 he and his wife had moved into a much smaller home at 1216 Main, and it was here that William died.  

A man "known for the sterling uprightness and perfect purity of his character," Beaton had also been a cabinet-maker and spent most of his life as a piano tuner. This background helped prepare him to become an inventor. The Iowa Inventors Database credits Beaton with three of the earliest patents registered in Grinnell: a churn (patent no. 44,505; 1864); a device for measuring cloth in the piece or roll (no. 45,131; 1864); and a washing machine (no. 48,894; 1865).

Beaton's idea of a churn was one of 42 for which patents were sought in 1864, but this device, once imagined, did not exhaust the man's ingenuity. That same year he filed a patent which had less immediate competition—a device to measure cloth, an invention that he intended for the country's dry goods stores.
Report of the Commissioner of Patents for the Year 1864, Volume 2 (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1866), pp. 919-20.
His third invention—a washing machine—might be thought to have had more impact. When all clothes-washing required lots of muscle and benefitted from little mechanical help, any improvement on the basic wash tub attracted attention. Beaton's description of his invention (regrettably not accompanied by a drawing) makes it difficult to see exactly how the machine might have worked. Apparently the spring was intended to assist in a process that remained fundamentally manual, which may explain why no great rush to manufacture such a machine presented itself.
Report of the Commissioner of Patents for the Year 1865, Volume 1 (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1867), p. 552.
So far as I know, none of these patents found a willing manufacturer, and Beaton seems not to have attempted any more patents in his later years. Perhaps his private life, which was riddled with family deaths, sucked away the inventiveness that had driven his earlier inventions. In addition to the deaths of two young children (mentioned above), Beaton also had to endure the deaths of two wives—first wife, Loretta, in 1887 and second wife, Maggie Tichnor, in 1893. His third wife, the former Margaretta Ella Asay, survived Beaton, who died January 16, 1907, taking his place in Hazelwood beside his deceased wives and children. His inventions, too, withered, unattended.
Another inventor lived alongside William Beaton in nineteenth-century Grinnell: Charles Francis Craver (1842-1925). Unlike the piano-tuner, however, Craver met with great success with his inventions, at least for a time.
Charles Francis Craver (1842-1925) as Young Man
Craver was born in Franklinville, New Jersey in 1842, but by 1860 was living with his farmer father in Sugar Creek Township. In 1861 he volunteered for the 4th Iowa Volunteer Cavalry. Promoted several times during the war, he was one of a small group of soldiers who surrounded Jefferson Davis and his cabinet in Atlanta in 1865. The following year Beaton married Angeline (sometimes Angelena) Hambleton, and the couple settled in Grinnell where they welcomed two sons—Arthur (b. 1870) and Frank (b. 1878). Cravers were living in a house at the southeast corner of Seventh and Broad when the 1882 Cyclone blew away their home. Mrs. Craver and the children were out of town, and therefore escaped harm; Charles and the housekeeper took shelter in the basement and survived without injury. The house, however, was a complete loss.
House of Mr. & Mrs. Charles Craver after the 1882 Cyclone
Although Craver served one term in the Iowa State House of Representatives, he is best remembered for his part in the firm known as Craver, Steele and Austin. Founded in 1871, the new company produced farm implements, including various rakes, the Steele Mower, and the Clement windmill. But the center of their success was an early horse-driven harvester known as the Randolph Header.
Undated photograph of Walter F. Randolph (1833-1903)
The original patent belonged to Walter F. Randolph (1833-1903), who in 1874 filed patent number 155, 256 for an "Improvement in Harvesters." Renewed in 1880, Randolph's patent aimed to raise seed heads before cutting and then deliver the grain onto a series of endless "aprons," moving the grain along and up.
Exactly how or when Craver adapted this scheme is not clear, but we know from his follow-up patent that he managed to build Randolph's plan onto a wheeled, horse-driven apparatus that became the Randolph Header. US Patent number 347,692 (filed November 10, 1885) described a "Harvesting-Machine" that would make history.
Drawing for Harvesting Machine (Official Gazette of United States Patent Office, v. 36[1886]:799)
The cutting surface could be adjusted so that it cut just below the seed head, leaving stalks behind. The grain then fell onto a belt with small paddles that ferried the seed heads along, depositing them within an elevator box from which another belt lifted the grain up toward an adjacent wagon. The Header, in tandem with a rolling wagon alongside, could harvest 40 acres a day using just three men—one operating the Header, one driving the wagon, and one spreading the grain as it accumulated in the wagon. Small farms could not easily benefit from the Header, but large farms in the Midwest and abroad could, and business quickly expanded.
Perhaps the only extant Randolph Header in the world, now owned by Grinnell Historical Museum (2017 photo)
Although initially Craver manufactured the Headers as a sideline, they soon became the center of business. With markets in Canada, Russia, Argentina and Australia, business flourished in the 1880s. At the firm's peak in 1888 some 230 employees were at work in the company's factory on 4th Avenue. Workers loaded five or six railroad cars every day; altogether some 10,000 Randolph Headers were manufactured before business collapsed.

The end began with passage of the Interstate Commerce Act in 1887, after which Craver lost the preferential railroad rates he used to ship machines from Grinnell. In order to minimize the loss, Craver decided to move his entire operation to Harvey, Illinois, leaving Grinnell in 1890. Soon, however, the collapse of harvests in the early 1890s put Craver's business into tight circumstances, with the result that he sold the entire operation in 1895 for his debts.
Notice of sale of Craver & Steele (Iron Age, vol 56[1895]:641)
The 1900 US Census found Craver, 57 years old, living in Harvey, along with his wife, two sons, his mother-in-law, Philena, and sister-in-law, Loretta. Charles identified himself as a manufacturer, but clearly things were not going well. By the time of the next census, Charles and Angeline were living with their son Arthur in his home in St. Joseph, MO. Arthur, married and father of a little girl, served as an officer in a local bank, while father Charles, 67 years old, had found a new vocation, working as foreman in an oil plant. The 1920 US Census found Charles and Angeline in Tulsa, OK, drawn there by Charles's work in oil, the Randolph Header now long forgotten. The end, however, was near. Angeline died in 1922, and Charles Craver died a little more than two years later; he and his wife are buried in Tulsa, the city in which they spent their last years. Grinnell and the Header were mere memories in a life lived hard and fast.
Some twenty-five years after Charles Craver abandoned Grinnell, Edwin R. Talley (1860-1932) arrived in town. Born in Cincinnati, Ohio, Talley married Iowan Harriet La More in 1898, and they became parents to two daughters and two sons. Having previously lived in Algona and Hampton, around 1913 the Talley family reached Grinnell, taking up residence at 733 East Street. Regularly declaring on census forms that he was an optometrist (his Grinnell business address was at 831 1/2 Main Street), Talley seems to have thought of himself primarily as an inventor. Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of his inventing success is that Talley could neither read nor write—at least that is what he consistently reported to census officials.
Undated Photograph of Edwin R. Talley (Grinnell Herald, March 23, 1917)
While still living in Algona, Talley had registered three different patents: a beet topper (patent no. 1,124,072); a nut lock (no. 1,159,618); and bifocal lens (no. 1,136,060). This last invention he brought with him to Grinnell where, with the assistance of two Grinnell men, he tried to organize a manufacturing facility for bifocals.
Ottumwa Semi-Weekly Courier, January 12, 1917
For reasons that remain unclear, Grinnell Lens Manufacturing seems to have failed promptly. None of this undermined Talley's busy mind, however. The Iowa Inventors Database reports that Talley filed patents for at least three more inventions during this stay in Grinnell: artificial rubber (no. 1,285,463); a massage apparatus (no. 1,212,845); and a device for purifying water (no. 1,217,365).
Sketch attached to E. R. Talley's Patent for Water-Purifying Device (no. 1,217,365)
Talley's rubber substitute drew attention from the press at least as early as 1913, when the Marshalltown Times-Republican (January 16) reported on it. According to the newspaper, Talley had recently produced sixty pounds of his substitute at the Armour Institute in Chicago. In another demonstration at Iowa State University in Ames, Talley's "rubber" was tested with heat, and began to melt at 530 degrees, whereas rubber itself began to melt at only 270 degrees. Allegedly much cheaper to produce than rubber, Talley's substitute should have attracted commercial interest, but apparently it did not. Six years after the Marshalltown report, Talley's artificial rubber was still commanding nothing more than newspaper praise. But a 1929 article in the Greene Recorder (March 13) announced that Talley had sold his substitute-rubber patent to a group of investors for $25,000, which was no mean sum in 1929.
Scarlet and Black, January 29, 1919
Given the hard water that Grinnell wells produced, Talley's water softener seemed guaranteed to please locals. But the Grinnell Herald observed that interest was likely to reach much further: the invention seems "destined to find a place in almost every home in the entire country, as it not only softens the water, but...eliminates all danger of...typhoid and other virulent forms of disease" (March 23, 1917). The newspaper reported that Grinnell College professors Harry F. Lewis and George O. Oberhelman had tested the device in a college laboratory, and announced that Talley's machine had reduced "hardness" in Grinnell's water by three-quarters. The report included precise counts for calcium and magnesium, in both cases considerably less than in untreated Grinnell water. Another news article explained the machine's operation:
The water is forced under pressure into a large tank in one end of which are two revolving paddles which rotate at a high speed. In the same tank is a large carbon electrode. By the electric current and the violent motion of the water, the water is broken up. It then passes into a large settling tank from which it comes with the solid removed (Quad City Times, March 19, 1917).
Even as he gathered plaudits for his water softener, Talley was at work on an "iceless refrigerator." According to a notice in the Grinnell Register (April 12, 1917), the machine "consists of a fan enclosed in a metal casing and operated from the outside by a motor." Refrigeration was accomplished by means of compressed air; a thermostat inside the refrigerator regulated the motor, either demanding that the fan operate or, when the desired temperature is achieved, shut down.
Grinnell Register, April 12, 1917
Talley's name is also attached to patents for a "life-protecting body-guard" (no. 1,290,799) and a telephone recorder (no. 1,131,439), among other inventions. Like Charles Craver, however, Talley did not live out his days in Grinnell. The Cedar Rapids Evening Gazette of October 1, 1920 reported that among the newcomers to town was Edwin R. Talley, who settled in at 1924 B Avenue. As he had in Grinnell, Talley attracted the attention of the local press. The Cedar Rapids Republican (April 18, 1926) introduced the "versatile" Talley to Cedar Rapids readers, remarking on the man's "fertile brain" and the sixty-seven inventions he now laid claim to. Describing yet another invention, the newspaper reported on "an electric device to prevent the stealing of automobiles." According to the newspaper, "when a bandit steps on the starter, the sound of a siren will ring through the streets for six blocks." If the siren did not dissuade the thief, "a constant chain of electricity will run through his hands as he grasps the steering wheel." In the interview, Talley also enthused about other inventions: an automobile that ran on compressed air; imitation leather; the "Economy steam generator," a railroad signal said to be able to stop any train, coming or going; and "automobile head lights that turn as the car turns, always keeping the light in front of the car."

Talley's inventive brain reached its end  February 18, 1932 when cardiac failure and pulmonary edema cut short the life of Edwin Talley. He died in University Hospitals, Iowa City, and was later buried in Cedar Rapids. Back in Grinnell, which Talley had left only twelve years earlier, no one seems to have taken notice.
In this post we have barely scratched the surface of Grinnell's inventors and their inventions. We might have examined John Berg who in the 1880s patented a series of fire extinguishers. We might also have looked at George W. Lewis (1861-1951) whose several inventions contributed to the prosperity of Grinnell Washing Machine Company. Clearly there were many more inventions in Grinnell than the few considered here. These three men, however, remind us that, in the first place, invention was present in the earliest days of J. B. Grinnell's town. Men like William Beaton practiced vocations well-known to their fellow townsmen, but in their spare time they tinkered with machines about whose future they dreamt. And if their inventions did not immediately lead to fame or fortune, these inventors continued to practice their professions so that, at death, they could still be remembered, if not for their inventiveness.
Grinnell Washing Machine Factory (ca. 1920) (Digital Grinnell)
By contrast, Charles Craver's part in Grinnell's past is written in bold. With his adoption and adaptation of Randolph's harvesting machine, Craver created a tool which almost immediately attracted a brisk business, not only in the American Midwest but also on distant foreign farms. For a little over a decade Craver could savor his success, nourished by the creativity he brought to solving an important agricultural problem. Grinnell could hardly miss this success when so many locals were at work in Craver's factory. And then even more suddenly than the firm's prosperity had risen, Craver, Austin and Steele abandoned Grinnell, leaving behind the factory buildings into which Spaulding Manufacturing would soon come. Nevertheless, when Craver died in distant Oklahoma in 1925, thirty-five years after he deserted Grinnell, the Grinnell Herald printed a lengthy obituary. Craver's invention had mattered to Grinnell, and therefore he was not forgotten.

Edwin Talley constitutes still a third case, inventions springing from his brain before and after his Grinnell sojourn. Even more than William Beaton, Talley invented a wide array of devices—one to purify water, another to cool foodstuffs, a third to safeguard automobiles, and a fourth to harvest beets. By his own count, Talley created 67 different inventions. Like Beaton, however, Talley was an avocational inventor, practicing optometry during the work day. Also like Beaton was the fact that most of Talley's creations died on the vine, never to generate that flow of cash and economic well-being that Charles Craver enjoyed with the Header. And so, despite the occasional Grinnell newspaper article, Talley left town almost unnoticed, and when he died in 1932, just up the road in Iowa City, no one here thought to report the news of his death to the folk in Grinnell.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Mary Aikin—the First (Only!) Grinnell Woman Imprisoned for Causing an Abortion

In the early years of the twenty-first century we are perhaps accustomed to discussions of abortion. Even on the heels of Roe v. Wade, the case that the Supreme Court used to make abortion legal in the United States, some groups continue to press for more limits upon abortion even as other groups defend women's right to choose. In nineteenth-century Iowa, there was perhaps less public disagreement, but that does not mean that abortion was unknown or uncommon. According to a recent study, in the early days of statehood Iowa law tolerated abortion so long as the act preceded "quickening," the first movement of the fetus (estimated to occur usually in the fourth or fifth month of pregnancy). Experts estimate that, because of this leniency, as many as a quarter or a fifth of all Iowa pregnancies in this era ended in abortion. Only in 1878 did the Iowa Supreme Court uphold the conviction of an abortion performed prior to quickening, and in 1882 the Iowa legislature lengthened imprisonment for crimes of abortion—from one to five years (along with a $1000 fine).
Grinnell Herald, September 27, 1898
Into this environment came Mary Herma Aikin (also known as Aiken or Aikins—all three forms will appear in this post), one of the first women to practice medicine in Grinnell. Sometime around 1878 she opened an office in Grinnell, specializing in gynecology. In the male-dominated medical profession (in a male-dominated town), Aikin was definitely an outlier, unlikely to have blended successfully into the deeply conservative society of early Grinnell. Moreover, especially after the Haymarket Affair of 1886 and the highly-publicized 1887 execution of the men judged to have been its instigators, Aikin embraced an increasingly radical politics that put her at odds with many of her Grinnell neighbors. And perhaps for that very reason, despite the rarity of convicting Iowa doctors of the crime of abortion and the general rarity of convicting women of crime, in September 1898 Aikin was indicted for having performed an abortion. When she came to trial the next spring, despite her denials, and despite her poor health and advanced age, Mary Aikin was promptly convicted and hauled off to the Anamosa prison to serve a five-year sentence that death interrupted in 1902.
Anamosa State Penitentiary (Reformatory), ca. 1910
(Digital Grinnell)
This Grinnell Story examines the life of Mary Aikin, concentrating special attention upon her encounter with the judiciary and the law on abortion. Among other things, we will try to explain how, in the midst of relatively tolerant Iowa attitudes to abortion, Aikin became entrapped in a prosecution that put her into an Iowa prison.
After 1873, performing an abortion on a woman in Iowa was illegal, "unless such miscarriage shall be necessary to save [the woman's] life." Punishment included a stiff fine and imprisonment for up to five years.
New revised annotated code of Iowa...being the Iowa code of 1873 as amended...(Des Moines, 1888), p. 1239.
Even though lawmakers paid increasing attention to the issue as the century waned, Iowa prosecutions for performing an abortion remained rare, and, so far as I know, no Grinnell physician before Aikin had been brought to trial over the accusation (and perhaps none afterwards either).

But then, in late September 1898 the Grinnell Herald reported that on September 16, the county grand jury had indicted Mary Aikin, "charging her with abortion and ordering her arrest." The newspaper noted that Aikin had recently been ill, which is why the warrant was served at her residence at 1221 Park Street. The article asserted, sympathetically, that "it is impossible to give the evidence before the grand jury which caused the indictment, the accused person herself being kept in ignorance of its character." A brief note in the Herald the following week (October 4) hinted that the charge was based on "some very direct testimony," but allowed that the "Doctor doubtless will be able to introduce some counter testimony that will have a bearing on the case."

Aikin was due in court November 8, but because of poor health, the trial was delayed, physicians expressing doubt about Aikin's ability to withstand the process. Delays prompted grumbling in some quarters. After her case was put off for a second time in January 1899, the Montezuma Democrat ridiculed the affidavit of two doctors who had asserted that
the defendant's health is such as to render it dangerous to try the case now. Dangerous to what? Her conviction? This is the second or third time the same kind  of a plea has been accepted! This woman has been indicted by the grand jury on two or three counts for the crime of abortion, and we are told the evidence is conclusive of her guilt. How long, O Lord, how long, is this case to be continued? (January 24, 1899; thanks to Pat Rowell for sharing this clipping with me)
Back in Grinnell the delays seem not to have caused much comment, but when Aikin's case came before the Montezuma court again on March 24th, and Aikin continued to plead for postponement, Judge Scott pressed ahead. He summoned two doctors to court to examine Aikin, and when they reported "that she could probably stand the trial comfortably," he immediately called the proceedings to order.

As the Grinnell Herald noted, there were only two witnesses: "Mrs. Myrtle Noble on whom the operation was performed and her mother, Mrs. [Mary] Kilmer, who testified that she was present and witnessed the operation." Aikin, testifying in her own behalf, contradicted the state's witnesses, and denied that Mrs. Noble had ever been in her office. The case went promptly to the jury, who could not have debated long. Although nothing indicates the exact hour when the jury retired, we know that by 10 PM of that same day it had returned a verdict of guilty. Aikin was released on bond, but the county sheriff collected her April 6, delivering her to Anamosa where she began serving her five-year sentence. In prison she was one of about twenty women among more than 400 men, an indirect indication of how rarely women were convicted of serious crime in nineteenth-century Iowa.

Immediately after the verdict, Aikin's attorney filed an appeal for a new trial, which the judge summarily rejected. Then her attorney appealed to the Iowa Supreme Court, which heard the matter December 12, 1899. Writing for the court, Judge Deemer noted that "The indictment negatived the exception found in the statute, and the court instructed that the state must show, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the miscarriage produced by the defendant was not necessary to save the life of the mother." Defendant's counsel argued that "the verdict is contrary to the instructions of the court," that the state had not "negatived" the statute's exception. In other words, the difference in viewpoints hinged on this one question: was the abortion necessary to preserve the life of the woman?

The court's deliberation is worth quoting at length:
All that is disclosed by the evidence...is that the woman on whom the operation was performed went with her mother to the office of the defendant, who is a doctor, and requested her to perform an abortion. The woman was advanced in pregnancy for from five to six months, and the operation was successfully performed. There is no evidence of illicit intercourse, no showing as to whether she was married or unmarried, and nothing to indicate the condition of her health, except that she walked to the office of the defendant two or three times. Surely, this does not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the miscarriage was not necessary to save the life of the mother...It is a matter of common knowledge that many persons walk to hospitals and to offices to have operations performed that are necessary to save life...There was not sufficient evidence to support the material allegations of the indictment, and defendant's motion for a new trial should have been sustained...For the error pointed out, the judgment of the district court is reversed, and the case is remanded for a retrial (Reports of Cases at Law and in Equity determined by the Supreme Court of the State of Iowa, May 26, 1899, December 14, 1899, vol. 20 [=109] [Des Moines: Geo. H. Ragsdale, publisher, 1899], pp. 645-46).
Gratifying though this result must have been to Aikin and her attorney, it did nothing to change Aikin's situation at Anamosa. As before, she remained in the prison hospital, her health so poor as to prevent her returning to Montezuma for a new trial. It seems hardly credible, but more than two years later Aikin was still in the prison hospital, her health deteriorating daily. She died in prison March 6, 1902, never having reclaimed her freedom after the 1899 conviction. The Anamosa Prison Press announced Aikin's death and published an obituary in its March 8 (!) issue. The Anamosa Eureka (March 13, 1902) also remarked on her death, observing (incorrectly) that Aikin was nearly 74 years old, and that a friend had claimed the body for burial in Riverside cemetery, Anamosa.
Gravestone for Dr. Mary H. Aiken (1829-1902), Riverside Cemetery, Anamosa, Iowa
Only twelve days after her death did the Grinnell Herald (March 18, 1902) carry a brief notice in place of an obituary. The Herald reported only that the Anamosa prison newspaper "contains an account of the death of Dr. Mary Aikin in the hospital of the woman's prison last Thursday. Her death was due to a tumor."
Davenport Weekly Republican, May 5, 1897
In this rather sad way the tale of Mary Aikin comes to an end. Given the woman's age and health difficulties, her continued stay in prison after her conviction had been reversed begs for an explanation. Indeed, it is difficult to understand how she merited the maximum sentence in the first place. In a similar case from 1897, a Davenport dentist, Dr. John Cleland, 72 years of age and in poor health like Aikin, was convicted of having performed an abortion, but was sentenced to only nine months' imprisonment, even though Cleland admitted having performed an abortion; more than that, his "patient" had been so damaged by the operation that she required hospitalization. Nevertheless, Davenport residents organized petitions in favor of pardoning Cleland, arguing that even nine months in jail would kill the aged and ailing dentist. No public demonstrations in Grinnell and no petitions for pardon on Aikin's behalf are reported, nor did the judge in her case find it possible to lighten the sentence, even after the conviction was reversed by the Iowa Supreme Court.

How did Mary Aikin end up deserted and unfairly imprisoned, and why did her hometown offer her no support, despite her having practiced in Grinnell for more than twenty years, and despite the fact that the Iowa Supreme Court had thrown out her conviction? There are no easy answers to these questions, but careful examination of Aikin's biography provides some possible explanations. 
Aikin's early history is especially obscure, the records full of contradictions. Her obituary (Anamosa Prison Press, March 8, 1902) reports that she was born in July, 1829 in England, and in an 1893 letter she confirmed that her origins were "English (north country), Scotch and Norse, Danish." The obituary adds that her father was a "professor" at St. John's College, Oxford, but does not supply either his or his wife's given names or surname. Without firm evidence of her parents' identity (or at least her maiden surname), identifying Aikin's birth and marriage is impossible. Nevertheless, a few stray pieces of evidence tantalize.

For example, it may be that Aikin's maiden surname was Herma, as she often used "Herma" as a middle name when she signed letters or entered her name in official lists ("Mary Herma Aikin"). But as an English surname, Herma is quite rare, and is better attested in German records. Nevertheless, I did find in a January 1830 parish register from St. James Church, Shere, Surrey a christening record of Mary, daughter of Thomas and Elizabeth Herma. The date of christening might be late for a July 1829 birth, but not impossible. More troublesome is the fact that Surrey is not very close to Oxford, where "our" Mary's father reportedly worked, and certainly cannot easily be called "north country" England. Moreover, although the girl's parents bear the surname "Herma," the christening record identifies the baby's father not as an Oxford don, but rather as a "laborer." So, this might be the correct christening record for Grinnell's Mary Aikin, but only if we accept that other claims in her obituary were invented and false.
Extract from January 1830 parish book of St. James, Shere, Surrey
(Ancestry.com. Surrey, England, Church of England Baptisms, 1813-1912 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2013. Original Data: Anglican Parish Registers. Woking, Surrey, England: Surrey History Centre)
Aikin's obituary also asserts that she had been married, in which case Aikin would likely be her husband's surname. The 1902 obituary continues, saying that this husband was himself a medical doctor who died "about twenty-five years ago"—that is, about 1875. But finding evidence of her husband-doctor has also proven frustrating. If, as the obituary maintains, Aikin came to the US "about 1870," she would have arrived, presumably, in the company of her husband. However, no passenger lists or border crossing data presently available confirm the arrival of Dr. and Mrs. Aikin (or Aiken or Aikins) in any East Coast ports in the years around 1870.

After some effort I was able to locate in the 1870 US Census of Grand Rapids, Michigan a Nathan J. Aikin, "physician," age 29, born in New York, and his wife, "Mary H," age 32, born in England and then "keeping house." The English birth, together with the woman's initial of her middle or maiden name, allow us to think that this might be the woman who later resided in Grinnell (if one accepts that the census age is incorrect).
Extract from 1870 US Census for Ward 1, Grand Rapids, Michigan
(Ancestry.com. 1870 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2009. Images reproduced by FamilySearch)
However, far from dying in 1875, as Mary Aikin's husband was said to have done, Nathan J. Aikin reappeared in the 1880 US census of Grand Rapids, this time with a different wife, Edna. This is approximately the same time when Mary Aikin came to Grinnell, so it is conceivable that she left Nathan, who remarried, but I found nothing to confirm this speculation.

In Michigan periodicals Aikin regularly published advertisements that declared him "doubtless the most skilled Ladies' Physician in the world," perhaps a connection with the medical specialization of Grinnell's Mary Aikin. However, before long, the Michigan Dr. Aikin moved to Oakland, California where he attracted the unwelcome attention of federal postal authorities for having used the US mails to sell home-made remedies. Convicted and sentenced to prison, Nathan Aikin poisoned himself June 1894 before officials could put him behind bars in San Quentin. Could this man once have been Mary Aikin's husband? If so, why does her obituary report his death at least twenty years before he did in fact die?
San Francisco Morning Call, June 10, 1894
Exactly when Mary Aikin arrived in Grinnell is unclear, but it may be that she came to town shortly before the 1878 city directory went to press. Iowa physicians' directories for 1878 do not list her name, but the Grinnell city directory of that same year does mention her: the first page of the 1878 directory identifies "Aiken Mrs. Dr. M. H." One of nine physicians listed in the directory's classified section, Aikin had offices in the Grinnell Block on Broad Street between Fourth and Fifth Avenues. At the time Grinnell could boast one other female doctor—Rachael Harris—but Aikin clearly directed her practice at women patients, and emphasized a specialty in gynecology, "having for many years devoted exclusive attention to The Medical and Surgical Diseases of Women" (learned perhaps from Dr. Nathan Aiken).
Advertisement in 1878 Grinnell Directory
Records from Grinnell's Congregational Church indicate that "Mrs. M. H. Aiken" joined the church in 1878, an action that might be expected from a church-goer or from someone new to town who wanted social connections to help jump-start her practice. Even if she was an atheist, Aikin might have been attracted to the abolitionist sentiments of J. B. Grinnell and his fellow Congregationalists, making church membership something of a political, if not a religious, statement. In any event, Aikin failed to attend regularly, so that at a January 4, 1884 meeting at the Congregational Church Aikin (along with another two dozen people) was stricken from the rolls, "owing to long-continued absence."
Records of Grinnell Congregational Church, Book 4: Records of First Congregational Society, 1860-1900, p. 299
(Drake Community Library microfilm)
Aikin's medical practice seems to have occupied the bulk of her attentions. Here, too, however, the evidence betrays inconsistencies that complicate our picture of Mary Aikin. The 1880 edition of the Medical and Surgical Directory of the State of Iowa, for example, identifies "Akins, Mrs. M. H." in Grinnell as having graduated in 1864 from the "Woman's Med. Coll. Philada." But in an email reply to my inquiry of the Drexel University College of Medicine Legacy Center Archives and Special Collections, where the records of the Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania now rest, Ms. Joanne Murray reported that Mary Herma Aikins (or Aikin or Aiken) does not appear "in the Annual Announcements as an 1864 graduate, or [graduate of] any other year since [the school's] inception up to 1880," in which year Aikin listed the Woman's College as her alma mater.
Charles H. Lothrop, Medical and Surgical Directory of the State of Iowa for 1880 and 1881 (Clinton, IA: 1880), p.131
It is not altogether surprising, therefore, that in Polk's Medical and Surgical Directory of the United States published in 1886, Aikin claimed graduation in 1857 (!) from a different institution: Jefferson Medical College, Philadelphia (now the Sidney Kimmel Medical College). The 1890 edition of this same register recalls "Aiken Mrs M H," but with only an asterisk to indicate that Aikin did not provide the requested data. It seems likely, therefore, that Mary Herma Aikin never completed medical training at a recognized institution.

This circumstance may explain the surprisingly critical reaction of Iowa physicians to Aikin's conviction. The 1898 Iowa Medical Journal (p. 400) carried word of Aikin's arrest for "producing an abortion." Although admitting that the editors knew nothing of her guilt, the journal went on to hope that "every abortionist in the state will be brought to terms," alleging that "this crime is altogether too prevalent in the medical profession." A notice in the 1899 volume announced Aikin's conviction and sentencing, and abandoned the effort at fair-mindedness evident in the 1898 issue:
The doctor has the reputation of being an old offender in this line. Now that the courts have started on this good work we hope they will not let up until they have rid the profession of these murderers, many of whom are using their certificates of practice largely for the purpose of taking life rather than of saving it (Iowa Medical Journal 5[1899]:166).
The Woman's Medical Journal (8[1899]:245-46) was even more critical. Reporting news of Aikin's conviction, the periodical printed her name and title in quotation marks, noting that she was registered as an "eclectic, but is starred [in the register], that is, declines to give date and place of graduation...," and was therefore of dubious credentials.
Prior to her indictment, Aikin attracted little attention from the Grinnell newspapers. However, as we learn from some letters she wrote, over time Aikin was increasingly attracted to radical politics, and was especially affected by the so-called Haymarket Riot of 1876 and the subsequent execution of those convicted of the bombing. In a letter published in the journal Commonweal (May 4, 1889), Aikin expressed disgust that the Illinois State's attorney who prosecuted the alleged Haymarket bombers (Julius Grinnell [1842-98]) was a cousin of Iowa's J. B. Grinnell, and that J. B. Grinnell had "vouched to the court for the good character of Harry Gilmer," the only witness who positively identified the men as having tossed the bomb. Even more appalling to Aikin was the way in which the town of Grinnell received news of the conviction and sentencing of the men in Chicago:
On the day our Chicago comrades were sentenced to death [August 20, 1886] all the bells [in Grinnell] were rung in rejoicing; the same thing was done at noon on the day of the murder [i.e., the executions, November 11, 1887], and at night they had bonfires and general rejoicing.
Observing that she was the lone Anarchist in town, Aikin reported her own very different reaction to events in Chicago: "I draped my office in mourning, put on a mourning costume, and then went to work to make converts to the cause, right here among its most bitter enemies." By her own account, Aikin had organized in Grinnell a group of some ten or eleven persons who identified with the International Working Peoples Association. "Six [of these men] are mechanics and common labourers of very poor education," she wrote. "These men cannot read Marx, Proudhon, or Spencer; the language, the logic, the science are all far above the reach of my poor friends. And they have so little time. When night comes they are too tired for books, too tired to think..." In this summary Aikin repeats the observations (and frustrations) of Lenin and many other agitators who tried to enlighten and motivate the working class. But hard evidence confirming the existence or membership of such a group in Grinnell is so far wanting.

Issues of the Grinnell Herald from August 1886, when the Chicago verdict was announced, or from November 1887, when the convicted were executed, contain no news of bells ringing or bonfires burning in celebration. Nor do the newspaper's "personal" columns relay details of Mary Aikin's mourning costume or her office decorated with black crepe, so it is difficult to confirm her reports. All the same, there can be little doubt that Aikin had turned an important corner, pitting herself against the larger, more conservative world around her. Consequently, especially if she had overtly advertised her solidarity with those executed in Chicago, or if she was known to be tutoring workmen in political radicalism, Aikin's politics will have become increasingly clear to the Grinnell public.
Coded word in an Extract from a May 24, 1893 letter of Mary Aikin to Voltairine de Cleyre showing her coded reference
(Grinnell College Libraries Special Collections and Archives, File 20pG88aik)
A handful of 1893 letters reveals Aikin's deepening involvement with America's late-nineteenth-century radicals. Writing to Voltairine de Cleyre (1866-1912) in Philadelphia, Aikin acknowledged that she had regularly been sending $10 a month to "L," almost certainly Dyer Daniel Lum (1839-1893), an associate of and successor to Albert Parsons, editor of the anarchist newspaper The Alarm (Parsons was among those executed in Chicago in 1887). In addition, she reports having regularly received letters from L, who had evidently been planning some illegal action which obliged Aikin to encrypt its name in her letter. Aikin acknowledged that she felt herself under surveillance, which explains why so many other references in the letters bear only initials or are reported in code. At one point, Aikin complained that the US Postal Service was now in the employ of the Russian tsar, and regularly monitored the mail of people like her and de Cleyre.
Voltairine de Cleyre (1866-1912)
What stimulated Aikin to compose the 1893 letters, however, was the apparently unexpected suicide of Lum, April 6, 1893. How or when Aikin met Lum I do not know, but her letters betray a deep, almost fanatical love for the man, who was, after all, long-time consort to de Cleyre herself. In one letter Aikin likened L to Jesus at Calvary, complaining that "the dread Powers...have 'taken' my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him." And yet, she resumes, "I know my dear one is not dead and he who tells me so is the 'Strong Son of God, Immortal Love.'" Aikin goes on to describe how "For many days I was in darkness, so sad, broken-hearted, all was gloom. His photograph framed on my table seemed to look at me and seek for comfort....Then, all at once came divine peace. It was as if he had taken my hand and said 'Dear Comrade, I am here.'"
Dyer Daniel Lum (1839-1893)
Language like this might embarrass a teen-ager, but when she wrote these lines Aikin was 64 years old, making no concession to age. In a letter dated May 24, 1893 she told of her crisis reaction to a letter in which de Cleyre reported details of L's death:
Oh, the suffering of reading your precious letter, telling how he went away—I would not read it here. I wanted to be alone with him. I went to Colfax, thirty miles west, did not tell where I was going, so as to shut out telegrams and people. And then—dear comrade I cannot say what happened—it would have been heaven to die anyhow to what I felt...this short while has whitened my hair almost to silver—it was just beginning to be gray—and made me so strangely calm and silent that my friends say to me, "What is the matter? what troubles you so deeply?" Tell them? No! This grief is for you and me.
This girlish romantic sensationalism contrasts with another part of Aikin's letters in which she analyzes her own sexual identity:
I am not like other women, I fancy, indeed one of my friends, an English captain of cavalry, says that by some mistake I was put into a woman's form. Tears come to me so terribly as to a man and as seldom. Emotion takes the form of utter calm outwardly. I am not what is called "affectionate" and because I am like this I loved dear L as men love each other, without weakness, without sentiment, but with faith and truth, loved him so well that I could have helped him go to certain death for Freedom, and let him see only smiles of approval.
The evidentiary shards from Aikin's private life make one wonder how locals viewed her. A woman who practiced medicine, and who—by her own account—did not much act like other women, and who increasingly put herself at odds with the prevailing political opinion must have attracted criticism, even if none made it onto the pages of the newspaper.

These considerations made me reexamine the abortion case that originally brought Mary Aikin to our attention. I wondered what motivated Myrtle Noble—who, although five months into her pregnancy,  had voluntarily come to Aikin in search of an abortion—to complain against Aikin for the very service that she herself had requested? Nothing in the record indicates that Noble was in any way harmed by Aikin's action, and her mother, Mary Kilmer, who joined Noble in testifying against Aikin, admitted that she had been present for the operation, implying her consent. Why then did these women later accuse Aikin, who, we should remember, denied that Noble had ever been in her office? Is it possible that Noble was suborned to accuse Aikin falsely?

Myrtle Kilmer, it turns out, was not an ideal representative of late nineteenth-century Grinnell. For one thing, she lived near Malcom, so she had to have made some effort to locate Aikin and seek her assistance. It would not be surprising to learn that the two women, so different in age and background, had never met. Furthermore, by the time Noble sought an abortion from Aikin in 1898, Myrtle had already delivered herself of her first child, Roy, who was born in September, 1896, the same month in which Myrtle married Lester Noble, presumably the child's father. So in 1898 Myrtle Noble was married and already a mother when, by her account, she sought an abortion from Aikin. An obvious explanation escapes me; it seems more likely that Myrtle would have wanted an abortion for the child conceived before marriage, not for one generated after marriage. Of course, it is possible that by 1898 Myrtle and her relatively-new husband had discovered that life together was not what they had hoped. Reluctant to give birth to a child sprung from this unloved husband, Myrtle—and her mother—decided to have the child aborted.
William Kilmer Household in 1900 US Census of Washington Township, Poweshiek County
Indeed, when federal census officials came to Washington Township two years later, Myrtle and her son, Roy, were living apart from their husband/father and with Myrtle's parents, William and Mary Kilmer. Although I found no record of divorce, Myrtle and Lester clearly had separated, as the following year Myrtle married George Peters; Lester Noble did not die until 1914.

So what happened? Did a very pregnant Mrs. Myrtle Noble (in the company of her mother) seek out an abortion from Mary Aikin? And if she did, why did she? Satisfyingly confident answers to these questions remain elusive. There can be no doubt that Mary Aikin stood out from the more conventional society of late nineteenth-century Grinnell. She did not act as women were expected to act, nor did she attend church or adopt the Republican politics commonly endorsed in early Grinnell. Ambiguities of her biography could only have sharpened criticism, and if, as she herself claimed, she was trying to educate working men to the politics of anarchism, town fathers might well have been scandalized and alarmed.

Were they? Did men in power fashion a means by which to punish and remove Mary Aikin? I could find nothing that directly confirms this suspicion, but the peculiar circumstances of the charge leveled against Aikin and the maximum penalty given her—along with the fact that she was not released after her conviction was overturned—cast suspicion upon the entire episode of Grinnell's first judicial encounter with abortion.