Elizabeth Edson Evans

Elizabeth Edson Evans (1832-1911) was an artist and writer of poetry, fiction, and essays, who explored the possibility of spirituality beyond religious dogmatism in books like A History of Religions (1893). Evans married Edward Payson Evans, a professor of modern languages and German literature who worked with Ralph Waldo Emerson and wrote prolifically on the rights, abuses, and symbolism of animals; his 1898 Evolutional Ethics and Animal Psychology is dedicated to her.  Impressed by Dr. Rachel Brooks Gleason’s interviews with post-abortive women, Evans also documented abortion experiences in The Abuse of Maternity.  The book demonstrates the anguish resulting both from abortion itself, and from its too-frequent precursor—women’s inability to control when and under what circumstances they conceive.  Some critics thought its graphic nature obscene.

“Said one of these victims of early [physiological] ignorance, ‘During the first years of my repentance, when I was almost insane with unavailing sorrow, I became acquainted with one … [who] soon showed a disposition to select me as a confidential friend.  But this distinction I felt myself unworthy to accept, and I finally resolved to confess the secret to her … She listened to the story with surprise and pity, but … begged me to consider the fact as a mistake; sad and eventful certainly, but by no means indicative of my real character …’

“Said a woman who, after many years of despondency, had begun to … feel that atonement could best be made through diligent and useful endeavor—‘From the moment when I began to appreciate my irreparable loss, my thoughts were filled with imaginings as to what might have been the worth of that child’s individuality; and, especially … the responsible posts he may have filled, the honors he might have won, the joy and comfort he might have brought to his suffering fellow-creatures; not, during the interval, have I read of an accident … or of a critical moment in a battle, or of a good cause lost through lack of a brave defender, but my heart has whispered, ‘He might have been there to help and save …’’

“Said one: ‘ … I had an idea that I had lost, through that unnatural deed, the normal powers and qualities of a human being …  the strange feeling of having set myself apart from the rest of my sex, through that sin against my motherhood, will probably always remain to increase the bitterness of my childless and lonely condition.’

“Said another: ‘I envy a mother who goes to weep beside her baby’s grave; because she knows where it is laid, and remembers how it looked in life, and is not ashamed to say, “I have lost a child.”  … I feel like saying … “your trouble is … not mingled with remorse, and you are not to blame for the infant’s death.”’”

—From “I Have Lost a Child,” The Abuse of Maternity, 1875

By Jen Hawkins