Friday, September 02, 2011

Back When Republicans (Did Not, Honest) Get Abortions

Jackson Taylor. The Blue Orchid. New York: Touchstone Book, 2010.

This novel is based upon real life story of the author's grandmother, Verna Krone. It is based on a year's research including hundreds of interviews and newspaper surveys as well as recollections of old family stories. What is presented is the intriguing story of a woman who struggled trying to survive from a low income background who becomes a nurse and immersed in a world different from her poor, rural upbringing. She becomes a nurse for a prominent physician. The book explores issues of racial understanding, with a white nurse working for an African American physician, Dr. Crampton. Dr. Crampton is a civic and political leader in part because he rallies the African American community to support the Republican Party machine of State Sen. Harvey Taylor. Dr. Crampton is also noted for the city's immense secret as the person to go for safe abortions, as opposed to a "butcher" in Steelton. Dr. Crampton is the abortionist to people connected to the Mayor's office, District Attorney's office, Police Departments, and even the White House of three Presidents, Roosevelt, Truman, and Eisenhower.

Verna Krone herself has struggled through the trauma of having an abortion. She was a psychiatric nurse prior to working for Dr. Krone, where readers learn of the intense conditions at Harrisburg State Hospital. While working with Dr. Crampton, about 5,000 abortions were performed. While this was illegal, many physicians referred patients to Dr. Crampton. The city elite's and legal system looked the other way, in great part because his illegal secret was their secret.

Political Science students will appreciate reading some insights into the Taylor Machine. Afrian American voters were offered $2 per vote to vote for the Taylor ticket. People working for opposition candidates were greeting with physical violence. People who were dead or out of town still had votes cast in their names.

Readers interested in city planner and Harrisburg history will appreciate learning about the city's devastation of Harrisburg's 7th Ward and its removal of the poorest housing that removed many politically powerless African Americans from their homes, many of which had stood since the Civil War. Sen. Taylor sought to build many new state buildings on the 7th Ward. Dr. Crampton led support for this expansion, even though he privately was upset that this expansion would be across the street from his resident at 600 Forester Street. He told residents that Sen. Taylor promised to set aside 10 acres for residential use for all displaced by the Capitol area expansion. He promised the new residential spaces would be better than the ones they were leaving. Dr. Crampton boasted this his influence would save residents from a previous expansion when all the African American community received in return was land for two Y buildings. Dr. Crampton and the residents were tricked. What resulted were 70 units in Allison Hill for 200 displaced families to fight over. Many of the apartment prohibited children, leaving families totally displaced. On the other hand, a mansion that was displaced was lifted and moved around in order to make way for the renewal projects including a new bridge. The legislature named the bridge after Senator Taylor, the first time in Pennsylvania history the legislature named something after a politician still in office.

Tragedy strikes when an abortion is performed on a woman with pernicious anemia who bleeds to death. Dr. Crampton and Verna Krone are arrested for performing an abortion. Dr. Crampton at the time was 75 years old and his political influence was under attack from both within the African American Republican community and a growing sentiment for the Democratic Party among African Americans. Verna Krone threatens to name the 5,000 boy friends and husbands whose wives and girlfriends had abortions, including leading names in the prosecutor's office. The charges are dropped against Krone. Dr. Crampton is found not guilty, yet is devastated. He dies a few months later,

Harrisburg enthusiasts will appreciate reading the attitudes of the Harrisburg of decades ago. These were times when Dr. Crampton, as an African American, could get a drink but not a meal in the Penn Harris Hotel. Harrisburg was then a city with no higher education, where the author notes that youth with ideas leave. Capitol employees are noted for their pettiness and envy. Readers wishing to read a historic novel of Harrisburg should read this book.


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