Julia the Midwife
Last week we left off with Julia's brother, Charles Brannack, arrested in the opium dens of Santa Cruz. Today we return to Julia's saga...
By the time Charles Brannack was arrested in Santa Cruz, his sister had been married to her third husband, Meliton Achard, a Frenchman, and at last a husband near to her own age. They were wed 2 July 1885 in Livermore, California.[i] For a time they lived in Lodi. This may be where Julia began her occupation as a midwife. On 30 November 1889 Julia filed a patent application for a liniment, “highly beneficial in cases of sore throat, rheumatism, sprains, bruises, &c.” It’s ingredients were specified as one gallon alcohol, one pound of chloroform, six ounces ether, six ounces laudanum, six ounces gum-camphor, six ounces tincture arnica, two ounces tincture cayenne, three large beef-galls, four ounces fresh butter.[ii] She advertised her compound in various newspapers.[iii]
Julia and Meliton lived for a time in Lodi and then moved to San Francisco. She advertised herself as a midwife and Meliton is listed in the city directories as a hotel keeper, The Liberty House.[iv] It is hard to know how long they lived happily together, but the end of the marriage appears decidedly unhappy.
"Julia Achard… charges cruelty as a ground for her application to be divorced from Meliton Achard. The parties were married in Livermore July 2, 1885, and until recently, for aught that appears in the complaint, Achard was a good husband. Achard entered upon his course of ill treatment by calling his wife bad names and imputing to her a want of chastity. This sort of thing culminated last Monday in physical abuse and threats by Achard to take his wife's life. He drove her from the house by force, and then nailed up the doors and windows so that she would not be able to return. He has since held sole possession of the family residence at 555 [sic] Mission street, and Mrs. Achard has been compelled to look out for herself.[v]
Much as this would lead one to believe that Meliton no longer loved Julia, apparently he (or perhaps Julia) had a change of heart . Seven months after his incident with the hammer and nails, Meliton’s obituary reads, “Died… Achard, In the Napa Insane Asylum, 9 July 1896, Meliton Achard, beloved husband of Julia A. Achard, a native of France, aged 52 years, 3 months and 29 days.”[vi]
Julia was not widowed for long. On 12 June 1897 she married her fourth husband, Edward W. Matthews in Oakland.[vii] But this turn at married life proved no happier for Julia, and she was granted a divorce from Edward on 9 January 1899 on the grounds of neglect.[viii]
Julia lived in San Francisco for several years as a “widow.” She appears to have used the surname Achard, at least professionally, for most of the remainder of her life. In June of 1898 she was practicing as a midwife with a “home in confinement” at 126 Second street.[ix] Perhaps one such patient of Julia was Rose de la Fontaine.
Rose, the daughter of Edward and Mary O’Neill was born about 1874.[x] On 22 February 1893, Rose married John de la Fontaine.[xi] Five months later Rose gave birth to Florence, who sadly died on 31 August 1894 at the age of one year, one month and one day.[xii] On 22 January 1899, John and Rose lost another child, Grace, at the age of two months and 16 days.[xiii] Maybe Julia Achard assisted at the birth of Grace. In any event, in September of 1899, Rose was under the care of Julia Achard, when she died on 8 September. “It was reported to Coroner Hill that Mrs. Achard had represented herself to be a physician. Should this prove the fact, the woman will be liable to prosecution for practicing medicine without a license. Malpractice is suspected.”[xiv]
However, the following week, the newspaper headline indicated “Midwife Achard was not to blame at all, Mrs. de la Fontaine died of a painful disease. First Verdict of the Jury not approved and a second verdict of death from natural causes received. Coroner Hill held an inquest yesterday morning upon the body of Mrs. R. de la Fontaine… The deceased had been attended by Mrs. Achard, a midwife, who had administered some simple remedy to relieve vomiting. The autopsy showed that cirrhosis of the liver had caused death and that there were no evidences of malpractice or of even any necessity for it. Mrs. Achard testified that in her experience of thirty-eight years as a midwife Mrs. de la Fontaine was the only patient who had died in her care. She had suggested that a physician should be called, but Mrs. De la Fontaine refused to allow one to be summoned, as she did not believe her condition to be serious. The jury returned a verdict that death had been caused by neglect, on the part of some person unknown, to summon medical assistance, but the coroner refused to approve of the verdict and the case was reopened and additional evidence introduced. Autopsy Surgeon Zabala assured the jury that death was due to disease and even if a physician had been called in a few days before her death it was doubtful whether he could have succeeded in saving her life. The jury returned a verdict of death from natural causes, and the verdict was approved".[xv]
If Rose de la Fontaine was the first patient who died in the care of Julia Achard, she was not the last.
[i] San Francisco Chronicle, 6 Dec 1895, page 8, column 5, “Cruel Husbands Sued for Divorce”
[ii] Website: Women Inventor’s Index – 1790-1895, http://staff.lib.muohio.edu/shocker/govlaw/FemInv/patgifs/400992/01.jpg accessed 11 April 2013
[iii] Sacramento Daily Union, 22 Feb 1889, page 2, Advertisement “J.A.A. Liniment”
[iv] Great Register of Voters San Joaquin County, California 1890 California State Library, California History Section; Great Registers, 1866-1898; Collection Number: 4 - 2A; CSL Roll Number: 119; FHL Roll Number: 977281; City Directories for San Francisco, California, 1892, Publisher: Edward M Adams, Page Number: 163
[v] San Francisco Chronicle, 6 Dec 1895, page 8, column 5, "Cruel Husbands Sued for Divorce" (note: city directories of the period indicate the address of the Achards was 550 Mission, not 555 Mission as stated in the newspaper article)
[vi] San Francisco Call, 17 July 1896, page 13
[vii] San Francisco Chronicle, 14 June 1897, page 9, column 3.
[viii] San Francisco Chronicle, 10 January 1899, page 6, column 1.
[ix] San Francisco Call, 2 June 1898, page 10
[x] US Census 1880 Year: 1880; Census Place: San Francisco, San Francisco, California; Roll: 77; Family History Film: 1254077; Page: 74C; Enumeration District: 151; Image: 0150, lines 6-15, accessed through Ancestry.com 5 March 2013
[xi] San Francisco Call, 20 July 1893 (sic), page 12, “Married” (note spelling is listed as de la Fontane)
[xii] Ibid, 1 September 1894, page 8, “Deaths”
[xiii] Ibid, 23 January 1899, page 9, “Deaths”
[xiv] San Francisco Chronicle, 9 September 1899, page 11 “Malpractice Is Suspected”
[xv] San Francisco Call, 12 September 1899, page 12, “Midwife Achard Was Not To Blame At All”
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Mary Kircher Roddy is a genealogist, writer and lecturer, always looking for the story. Her blog is a combination of the stories she has found and the tools she used to find them.