Delphine Walsh Was Killed By A Back-Alley Abortion

Delphine Walsh Died After An Illegal Abortion

Delphine Walsh was a twenty-one year old dancer with a bright future ahead of her. She was beautiful, talented, and had recently discovered she was pregnant. It was 1929 and abortion was illegal in the United States. Delphine’s only choice was to have a dangerous, back-alley abortion. Six days after the procedure she was dead. Her story is a warning of what can happen when women don’t have access to safe abortions.

She was born Delphine Dockerty on June 19, 1907 in Bisbee, Arizona. Her parents, Thomas and Mary, immigrated from England and changed their last name to Dougherty. Thomas worked as a miner but he struggled with alcoholism. The family was very poor and Delphine had seven siblings.  From a young age she found her joy in dancing. When she was six her family let J.J. and Beulah Mae Walsh adopt her. The couple believed they could make Delphine and their daughter Jessie Maye Walsh into stars. Off they went to Hollywood where the girls took ballet lessons at the Payne Dancing Academy. They joined the Raymond Teal dance company and performed at events all over the country. After J.J. Walsh died in 1919 Delphine and Jessie Maye became the family breadwinners. Delphine danced at the Ship Cafe in Venice Beach and worked as a chorus girl. Then she was hired to be in Fanchon & Marco’s aquatic show Dancing Venus Idea. They called her “The Girl With The Perfect Figure”. She also sang on several radio shows. Delphine became close friends with actresses Natalie Joyce and Mildred Harris, ex-wife of Charlie Chaplin.

Delphine Walsh Age 10Delphine Walsh
Delphine at age 10 (left) and at age 21 (right)

In early 1929 she joined the Hollywood Scandals theater company. Around this time she started dating a married theater director named Mickey Moran. Delphine discovered she was pregnant in the Spring. When she told him about the pregnancy he sent her an envelope filled with cash. With no other options she underwent an abortion on April 27, 1929. Dr. P.S. Traxler performed the abortion. He was assisted by former coroner Dr. R.S. Lanterman. Something went wrong and that night she was taken to Windsor Hospital in Glendale. She spent six days suffering from bleeding, severe nausea, and fever before tragically dying on May 3. The beautiful dancer was just twenty-one years old. Her official cause of death was septic peritonitis following a criminal abortion. Delphine’s death became a major scandal in Hollywood and her famous friends were questioned by the police. Mildred Harris initially denied knowing her but later admitted they had been roommates.

Delphine WalshDelphine Walsh Newspaper Article
 The press gleefully reported rumors that she was involved with multiple men and loved to party. One of the last things Delphine did before she died was give the name and address of Mickey Moran to investigators. He claimed he was not her lover and said she was involved with a man in Vancouver. Meanwhile her sister Dorothy Holquin tried to claim her body so Delphine could be buried in Arizona. Instead her adopted mother buried her in an unmarked grave at Hollywood Forever cemetery. One month after her death her father Thomas Dougherty died from what the press called a “broken heart”. Dr. Traxter and Dr. Lanterman were arrested for murder and put on trial in September of 1929. They denied giving her an abortion claiming they only helped her after she tried to do it herself. The doctors were both found not guilty but their licenses were suspended.

The real tragedy of Delphine’s death is that she would not have died if she had been able to get a safe, legal abortion. Before abortion was legalized in the United States more than 1,000 women died every year because they had an unsafe abortion. We need to keep abortion legal in this country so no more women have to die.

Delphine Walsh Birth CertificateDelphine Walsh Death Certificate
Delphine's birth and death certificates

In May of 2020 Delphine was finally given a grave marker at Hollywood Forever. It was paid for with a fundraiser created by Jessica at Silence Is Platinum

Delphine Walsh Hollywood Forever
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