In a quite corner of the Elmwood Cemetery, Memphis oldest active, is the grave of 21 year old woman who died after childbirth on February 1, 1876. The tombstone on her grave read:
Kate McCormick Seduced and pregnant by her father’s friend
Unwed, she died from abortion, her only choice.
Abandoned in life and death by family.
With but a single rose from her mother.
Buried only through the kindness of unknown benefactors.
Died Feb.1875 [sic] age 21.
Victim of an unforgiving society
Have mercy on us.
Kate McCormick, whose real name was Kate Simpson, was a “handsome young woman of about twenty-one years of age” from Humboldt, Tennessee. Kate was seduced and made pregnant by a shoemaker named George Burgess, who was her father’s friend, under the false promise of marrying her. When he failed to follow through, Kate was so disgraced that she left her hometown and came to Memphis.
Three weeks before Christmas, Kate came to Dr. Johnson in Memphis and told him her story and asked the doctor to abort her child. Dr. Johnson later told the court that he had advised her not to commit abortion as it was against the law, and she went away. Three weeks later, on a Saturday night, Kate secured a room at a boardinghouse run by Mrs. Widrig, where she delivered a dead baby girl the following morning. When Mrs. Widrig learned that Dr. Johnson had been attending her, her suspicions were aroused and she asked Katie to tell her the whole truth. Kate broke down and confessed.
“Mrs. Widrig, I think my time is short,” she told Mrs. Widrig. “Dr. Johnson gave the medicine to destroy my child; tell Dr. Johnson that I promised not to deceive him or tell any person but the time has come when I can keep the secret no longer; I paid Dr. Johnson twenty-five dollars for the medicine; he gave me the medicine some three weeks ago and said if it did not work in six days it would be a failure; I took the medicine from Dr. Johnson to kill my child and paid him twenty-five dollars for it.'”
Kate died a short while later. An inquest was held where the jury found Dr. Johnson guilty of murder by committing an abortion.
Kate’s mother was called upon but she had no desire to pay the last sad tribute to the ashes of her daughter, evidently more troubled about the publicity given to the affair than about the fate of her erring and unfortunate child. She instructed that her deceased daughter be not interred near her home, but buried in Memphis instead.
More than a century later, the plight of Katie McCormick touched the sympathetic sentiment of a thoughtful lady who paid for a marker to be placed at the young woman’s grave in September 1997, bearing the inscription cited in the beginning of this article.
A lovely tribute as it was, “however,” as Nashville Daily American wrote, “her actual interment may have been considerably less theatrical than this inscription suggests, as it attributes a lovely gesture by her mother which was probably not made, after all and her benefactors were not unknown, one being a newspaper reporter and the other a kind-hearted saloonist.”