August 16, 1935
Connecticut, United States
June 8, 1964 (aged 28)|
Connecticut, United States
(m. 1953; separated 1963)
Geraldine "Gerri" Santoro (née Twerdy; August 16, 1935 – June 8, 1964) was an American woman who died because of an illegal abortion in 1964. A photograph of her corpse, published in 1973, became a symbol of the pro-choice movement.
Santoro was raised, along with 14 siblings, on the farm of a Ukrainian-American family in Coventry, Connecticut. She was described by those who knew her as "fun-loving" and "free-spirited". At age 18, she married Sam Santoro, a few weeks after meeting him at a bus stop. The couple went on to have two daughters together.
Circumstances of death
In 1963, domestic violence prompted Santoro to leave her husband, and she and her daughters returned to her childhood home. She took a job at Mansfield State Training School, where she met another employee, Clyde Dixon. The two began an extramarital affair — Dixon was also married — and Santoro became pregnant as a result.
When Sam Santoro announced he was coming from California to visit his daughters, Gerri Santoro feared for her life. On June 8, 1964, six-and-a-half months into her pregnancy, she and Dixon checked into a motel in Norwich, Connecticut, under aliases. Their intent was to perform a self-induced abortion, using surgical instruments and a textbook, which Dixon had obtained from a co-worker at the Mansfield school. However, when Santoro began to hemorrhage, Dixon fled the motel. She died, at age 28, and her body was found the following morning by a maid.
Dixon was apprehended three days later. He was charged with manslaughter and "conspiracy to commit abortion" and sentenced to a year and a day in prison. Police officers who worked on the case called this term "negligible".
Police took a photograph of Santoro's body as it was found: naked, kneeling, collapsed upon the floor, with a bloody towel between her legs. This picture was published in Ms. magazine in April 1973. It has since become a pro-choice symbol, used to illustrate that access to legal, professionally performed abortion reduces deaths from unsafe abortion.
Leona Gordon, Santoro's sister, saw the photo in Ms. magazine and recognized the subject. Santoro's daughters had been told she died in a car accident, which they believed until after the photo became widely distributed. In 1995, Jane Gillooly, an independent filmmaker from Boston, Massachusetts, interviewed Gordon, Santoro's daughters, and others for a documentary about Santoro's life, Leona's Sister Gerri. The film was broadcast initially on the PBS series P.O.V. on June 1, 1995. It was later screened at film festivals, opening in the United States on November 2, 1995.
Of the photo's publication, Santoro's daughter, Joannie, was quoted in 1995 saying, "How dare they flaunt this? How dare they take my beautiful mom and put this in front of the public eye?" However, in more recent years, Joannie has become an abortion rights activist, attending the March for Women's Lives in 2004 along with Gerri's sister Leona and Joannie's teenage daughter Tara, and blogging about the memory of her mother.
- Stroebel, Ken (March 9, 2001). "Sister: Story of photo that galvanized a movement needs telling". Norwich Bulletin. Archived from the original on 5 May 2007.
- Maslin, Janet. (March 31, 1995). "Film Festival Review: The Woman Behind a Grisly Photo." New York Times.Retrieved January 15, 2008.
- "Leona's Sister Gerri." (1995). The New York Times. Retrieved December 23, 2006.
- Washington Post, April 24, 2004: A Family's March to Redemption
- Joannie Santoro, June 8, 2006: Remembering 42 years ago today