Delphine Walsh Was Killed By A Back-Alley Abortion

Delphine Walsh

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. Delphine was one of seven children and her family was very poor. Her parents, Thomas and Mary, had immigrated from England and later changed their last name to Dougherty. Thomas found work as a miner but he also struggled with alcoholism. At a young age Delphine discovered she had a talent for dancing. When she was six her parents allowed J.J. and Beulah Mae Walsh adopt her. The couple believed they could make Delphine and their own daughter Jessie Maye Walsh into stars. They moved to Hollywood and the girls started taking ballet lessons at the Payne Dancing Academy. Delphine and Jessie Maye joined the Raymond Teal dance company and performed at events all over the country. After J.J. Walsh died in 1919 the girls became the family breadwinners. At the age of fifteen Delphine was working as a chorus girl and became a featured dancer at the Ship Cafe in Venice Beach. Then she was hired to be in Fanchon & Marco’s aquatic show Diving Venus Idea. They called her “The Girl With The Perfect Figure”. She also sang on several radio shows.

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

In late 1928 she went on a fourteen week vaudeville tour with Fanchon & Marco's Hollywood Scandals show. During the tour she roomed with Mildred Harris, the ex-wife of Charlie Chaplin. She and Mildred went to San Francisco in January of 1929 where they were both bridesmaids at Jessie May Walsh's wedding. Delphine had started dating a married theater director named Mickey Moran. She discovered she was pregnant in the Spring of 1929. When she told Mickey he sent her an envelope filled with cash. Delphine told friends she was terrified her adopted mother would find out about the pregnancy. With few options available she decided to have an illegal abortion. On April 27 her friend Lucille King drove her to the office of Dr. Paul Traxler. He performed the abortion with the help of Dr. R.S. Lanterman, a former coroner. Later that evening Delphine became ill and was taken to Windsor Hospital in Glendale. She spent six days suffering from bleeding, severe nausea, and fever before tragically dying on May 3, 1929. The beautiful dancer was just twenty-one years old. Her official cause of death was septic peritonitis following a criminal abortion.
Delphine WalshDelphine Walsh

Delphine Walsh With The Fanchon & Marco Dancers
Delphine (fifth from the right) with the Fanchon and Marco dancers

Delphine’s death became a major story in Hollywood. Her famous friends, including actress Natalie Joyce, were questioned by the police. Mildred Harris initially denied knowing her but later admitted they had been roommates. The press started printing false rumors that Delphine had been involved with multiple men and loved to party. Her brother-in-law defended her saying she was "just a nice girl" who didn't "run around nights." One of the last things Delphine did before she died was give the name and address of Mickey Moran to investigators. He denied being her lover and said she was romantically 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. Just one month after her death her birth father Thomas Dougherty died from what the press called a “broken heart”. Dr. Traxter and Dr. Lanterman were arrested and put on trial for murder in September of 1929. They denied giving Delphine 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 Hollywood Forever
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 Newspaper Article

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