Mamie Cadden

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Mary Anne "Mamie" Cadden (27 October 1891 in Scranton, Pennsylvania, USA – 20 April 1959 in Dublin, Ireland) was an Irish midwife, backstreet abortionist and convicted murderer.

Background[edit]

Cadden was born in America to Irish parents from County Mayo, the eldest of seven children, five of whom survived infancy. The family returned to Ireland in 1895 after Mamie's father inherited his father's farm. In 1925, she moved to Dublin to train as a midwife at the National Maternity Hospital, Holles Street. In 1931 she purchased a property in Rathmines and ran it as her own maternity nursing home. This was a common practice among midwives at the time, the profession then being one that operated independently of nursing and medicine.

Work as midwife and abortionist[edit]

As well as delivering babies, where necessary with the attendance of a doctor, Mamie Cadden also passed on unwanted babies to an informal fostering service, which placed them with families who received payment for caring for the child. She also criminally procured abortions — both medical (using preparations such as ergot) and surgical (by injecting a solution). In Ireland, abortion is still an illegal act. "Nurse Cadden's" activities were an open secret and many women wanted to use her services. Her nursing home in Rathmines came to an end in 1939 when she was sentenced to a year's hard labour in Mountjoy Prison for abandoning a new-born baby on the side of the road in County Meath. She had to sell the property to pay her legal fees.

Once out of prison, she resumed her illegal activities in rented premises as she had been struck off as a midwife and so could no longer work as a legitimate midwife. She also provided miscellaneous medical treatments such as supposed cures for constipation and dandruff. She fell foul of the law again in 1945 when a pregnant girl who needed hospital treatment denounced Cadden. After a failed abortion, the girl claimed claimed that Cadden had inserted the laminaria tents which were found in her cervix. Cadden denied this and was tried under the Offences against the Person Act 1861, convicted of procuring an abortion. She was sentenced once again to penal servitude in Mountjoy Prison, this time for five years.

Having served her full term she resumed her former trade on her release, this time in Hume Street, near Dublin's fashionable St Stephen's Green. Operating out of a one-roomed flat, she was able to continue her illegal business and was still well-known enough in Dublin not to need to advertise. One of her clients died from an air embolism in the heart in 1951. Cadden left the woman's body outside on the street. Even this did not put an end to her activities as there was not sufficient evidence to connect her. Five years later, one of her patients, Helen O'Reilly, died of an air embolism during a procedure to abort a pregnancy in the fifth month. When her body was found on the pavement in Hume Street, Cadden was arrested and tried for murder. She was sentenced to death by hanging in 1956, but this was commuted to life imprisonment after public appeals for clemency and due to the unintentional nature of Helen O'Reilly's death.

Cadden started serving her term in Mountjoy Prison, but was declared insane and moved to the Criminal Lunatic asylum in Dundrum, Dublin, where she died of a heart attack in 1959.

Cultural resonance[edit]

In 1994, she was the subject of two episodes of RTÉ television documentaries, one in the series entitled Thou Shalt not Kill, which examined and dramatised famous Irish murder cases under the title "The body in Hume Street",[1] and on Monday 18 November 2007, an episode of the RTÉ television documentary series Scannal featured the case under the title "Scannal! Nurse Mamie Cadden".[2]

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