Springfield Hospital for Abortions and Adoptions, Part 1: Incomplete Abortion, Criminal

by Tim Gilmore, 8/25/2018


Above the United Press story, the headline screamed, “Jacksonville Abortion Ring Is Uncovered.” On Thursday, February 8, 1951, police investigating “an abortion death” raided a “dilapidated hospital where at least two women underwent illegal operations and one had a baby which she surrendered for ‘expenses.’”

Two and a half months later, on May 24th, the UP reported that as many as 300 hundred women, “from all over Florida and Georgia” had undergone various services at so-called “Springfield Hospital,” a medical clinic in a two story clapboard house, a “cobwebby building” northeast of Victorian Springfield, in a neighborhood called North Springfield Terrace, on East 27th Street.

Dr. Alvah Weathers had listed tetanus on the February 4th death certificate of Althea Whitford, a 29 year old Georgia woman who’d been registered as Betty Witford. County Medical Examiner R.Y.H. Thomas’s autopsy, however, found Whitford’s cause of death to be “fulminating septicemia” and “incomplete abortion, criminal,” later reported as “acute septicemia due to abortion.” Thomas’s finding triggered the raid.

Dr. Alvah Weathers

The UP reported that “a grimy cubicle on the second floor apparently served as the operating room. It contained dusty medicine bottles and instruments.”


No decision more crushing. No words. None. She should have been stronger. Or should have done it and never looked back. No words. She loved her though she never knew her. She knew her though she never knew her. She loved her. No words. The only thing appropriate to say. Not one word.


abandoned housing on E. 27th Street, near Springfield Hospital

When cops raided Springfield Hospital, they found a 24 year old woman who’d just had an abortion and two older women, one of whom told them her husband “could not afford the expenses of a delivery.” The UP reported, “Dr. Weathers had agreed to care for her in return for the baby.”

The unnamed woman signed no papers, but said Weathers created a fake birth certificate for the couple adopting her child. “I don’t know where my baby is now,” she told the wire service reporter in confusion and dismay.

abandoned housing on E. 27th Street, near Springfield Hospital

Decades later, dozens of online ancestry message boards and adoption databases host questions from people in their late 60s or early 70s, from across the United States and Europe, searching for the truth about whom their real birth parents might have been, having in their possession fake birth certificates signed by Dr. Alvah Weathers at Springfield Hospital in Jacksonville, Florida.


East 27th Street, with so many of its century-old houses long ago demolished, feels almost rural today. In 1915 and 1925, extending the city northeastward, rose tall clapboard houses, built with Victorian or Edwardian front porches, bay windows, columns Corinthian or Ionian often two stories, dormer windows looking nobly out from tall and wide attic floors, an occasional “widow’s walk” baluster’d atop the house, enclosing a privileged space to look out over and across the city to a full moon and a scarlet Mars. East 27th Street today sinks derelict, empty, neglected.

abandoned housing on E. 27th Street, near Springfield Hospital

Though it’s nearly impossible to recognize Dr. Alvah Weathers’s Springfield Hospital, all these blocks north and east of actual Springfield, it remains, within the pebbled stucco exterior of the offices for McClendon’s Portable Toilets at 647 E. 27th.

647 E. 27th Street

When Ron Cogburn opened his electrical contracting office in the old building in 1982, strangers told him not to go digging. Then Faye Cogburn found out she was born in the same structure that now housed Cogburn Brothers, Electric, Inc.


On Tuesday, February 13, 1951, The Florida Times-Union reported that Dr. Alvah Hovey Weathers, 63, freed on a $10,000 bond, had been arrested a second time, the previous day, on “new charges of manslaughter arising from an alleged abortion.” Dr. William W. Winnegar—surname spelled in other stories both Winneger and Wininger—whose real name was Walter W. Ziegler, and who apparently had no medical degree, remained in jail on increased bonds. The T-U called Ziegler, who’d had his right leg amputated and suffered from arteriosclerosis and lung problems, a “self-styled ‘male nurse.’”

647 E. 27th Street

On Tuesday, February 20, 1951, the T-U reported, “Operator of Springfield Hospital Arrested in Death of Woman April 30, 1949.” New charges included one “illegal abortion” count against Herschell Seymour Baxter and an accessory charge against Weathers for the death of Martha S. Carver following an abortion. Weathers had been released the day before for a third time, his bonds now totaling $16,000. Baxter was fined and left the state as he’d previously been ordered from Georgia after similar charges.

On Sunday, February 25th, newspapers reported Weathers arrested a fourth time, for “practicing medicine without a license as accessory and principal” and released on an additional $1,000 bond. His “self-styled ‘male nurse’” stayed in jail.

647 E. 27th Street

On Tuesday, February 27th, the Associated Press reported, H.R. Whitford of Woodbine, Georgia, had filed the previous day a $50,000 damages suit against Weathers for the death of his daughter, Althea Elizabeth Whitford, from “incomplete abortion, criminal,” on February 4th.


No decision more crushing. No words. None. She should have been stronger. Or should have done it and never looked back. No words. She loved her though she never knew her. She knew her though she never knew her. She loved her. No words. The only thing appropriate to say. Not one word.


Contemporary estimates, as detailed in James Mohr’s 1978 Oxford University study Abortion in America: The Origins and Evolution of a National Policy, indicate that between one fifth and one fourth of American pregnancies in the mid-1800s ended in abortion, slightly more than contemporary figures from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

Early feminists sometimes promoted the view that abortion was an ugly necessity forced on women by irresponsible and rapacious men. In 1869, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony published an anonymous writer in their newspaper The Revolution, saying, “No matter what the motive, love of ease, or a desire to save from suffering the unborn innocent, the woman is awfully guilty who commits the deed […] But oh! thrice guilty is he who drove her to the desperation which impelled her to the crime.”

Susan B. Anthony

For most of American history, abortion had been legal, in conjunction with British law, until “quickening,” the moment a pregnant woman felt movement in the womb.


By February 28th, Weathers’s attorneys had convinced him to plead insanity. It might keep him from dying in prison. The T-U reported, “Prefacing a description of Weathers’ mental condition was a suggestion that Weathers ‘is insane to such an extent that he does not have the mental ability to plead to the information on file herein or to prepare his defense to said information.”

By March 31st, Weathers inexplicably revoked his insanity plea, though his statements to the press became increasingly bizarre. The New York Daily News headlined its May 24th United Press story, “Find Baby Bones in Doc’s Garage.” In addition to that jaw-dropping fact, the story quoted Weathers saying, “I’ve never smoked a cigar or cigaret [sic], never played cards, never drank coffee or tea. I’m the only perfect man living today, morally.”

cont’d as Springfield Hospital for Abortions and Adoptions, Part 2: Obscenity, Dizzy Spells, Birth Fathers