Sarah Davidson Ahern suffered the most devastating experience known to a mother, the loss of a precious child, Agnes Jane, on February 15, 1900. I don’t know what that feels like, and I can’t know how that loss affected Sarah, her husband, Jimmy, or her other two daughters, Bessie and Irene. But I do know that the loss must have haunted Sarah for the remainder of her short life.
Agnes Jane wandered away from home and drowned in the lagoon in back of her house. Almost exactly a year later, in February of 1901, Sarah became pregnant. But laughter from this new life would never grace the Ahern home.
In the evening on May 9, 1901, Dr. Florence Scott of Belvedere was called to the Ahern home to find Sarah suffering in bed. Sarah indicated she had given birth to a fetus about six o’clock. While Dr. Scott attended to Sarah and telephoned for another more experienced physician from San Francisco to assist, Sarah told her that she had taken some pills on and off for the last two months, but would not say who had given them. Jimmy returned from work about 10 p.m., the doctors left in the early hours of the morning, and Jimmy and neighbor, Katharine Sanger, attended Sarah until six a.m. when she took a turn for the worse. Jimmy left to telephone the doctors, and when he returned he found Sarah dying.[i] Later that day, on Sarah’s bureau he discovered a box and some business cards of Mrs. J. A. Achard, a San Francisco midwife.[ii]
Five people testified at the coroner’s inquest held in the Ahern home that day, including Dr. Wickman, who declared that he examined Sarah’s remains and finding a perforation in the uterus, determined that she was pregnant for about three months, and that she aborted and died of septicemia. Julia Achard, also known as Julia Shiland (the name of her fourth husband), denied having touched Sarah or giving her any medicine, stating that Sarah had invited her over for some “chow-chow and chili sauce.” In the end the jury ruled that Sarah came to her death by blood poisoning following miscarriage from causes unknown.[iii]
Did Sarah want the child but allow external doubts about her ability to be a good mother change her decision? Did Jimmy want another child from this emotionally fragile woman who couldn’t go through with a pregnancy? Whatever the reasons, I’m confident that if the winsome Agnes Jane hadn’t drowned a year earlier, Sarah’s husband and daughters would not have faced the second horrific loss, that of their wife and mother.
My father never knew Sarah. He remembered Uncle Jimmy and his second wife, Aunt Laura. But when my genealogy research led me to the events that hit this family in 1900 and 1901, my father finally understood that day in the summer of 1929 when his loving Grandma Bradley shook her finger at him and admonished the seven-year-old “I’m gonna get you.” More next week.,,
[i] Testimony of Coroner’s inquest held May 10,1901 at Tiburon Marin Co upon the remains of Mrs. Sarah Elizabeth Ahern
[ii] The Marin Journal, 16 May 1901
[iii] Testimony of Coroner’s inquest held May 10,1901 at Tiburon Marin Co upon the remains of Mrs. Sarah Elizabeth Ahern
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.