A 2018 art installation at Eastern State Penitentiary by artist Rachel Livedalen tells the story of Doris Jean. (Eastern State)

In August of 1955, a young woman attempted to get an abortion.

After she died inside a North Philadelphia apartment, her case became a media sensation.

Doris Jean Silver grew up just north of Philadelphia. Her uncles founded a grocery store chain called Food Fair Stores Inc., which operated hundreds of locations. And her father, Herman, was a vice president with the company.

Silver, a graduate of Cheltenham High School, made local news in the summer of 1955 when she eloped with a Miami Beach police officer named Earl Ostreicher.

Unfortunately, it would be the first of many headlines about the couple.

According to later testimony, the marriage quickly soured. Doris Jean returned to Philadelphia where she planned to initiate divorce proceedings.

After arriving in her hometown, the 22-year-old also discovered she was pregnant.

On Aug. 24, 1955, Doris Jean and her mother, Gertrude Silver, ended up at the apartment of a hairdresser named Rosalie Schwartz and her husband, Milton, a saloon manager.

Doris Jean died inside the apartment at 927 N. Franklin Street after taking a mixture of what the DA described as “oils, ground-up cinchona and slippery-elm bark.”

Contemporary reporting suggests her family attempted to cover up the cause of death. The medical examiner initially agreed to “release the body without an autopsy,” according to a story in Time Magazine. This after a family doctor claimed the death was related to allergies.

Eventually the real cause of death reached the press, which unleashed a barrage of front-page stories about the case.

“Seldom has there been more buildup and interest in human drama, nor more public reaction to the ultimate verdicts,” the Inquirer wrote.

The major papers of the day followed every detail of the investigation.

An artist’s rendering of the apartment where Doris Jean died, splashed across the front page of the Inquirer on Sept. 18, 1955. (Newspapers.com)

Authorities eventually charged Milton Schwartz and Rosalie Schwartz with providing an illegal abortion.

They also charged Doris Jean’s mother, Gertrude, as an accomplice.

In early 1956, all three defendants pleaded “nolo contendre” (a version of a guilty plea) to the principal charges against them.

Gertrude Silver did not receive any jail time from the judge. “Dorrie was the light of the life of Mrs. Silver and also of her father,” said Silver’s lawyer, Morris Wolf, at sentencing. “There is nothing they would not have done for her.”

The Schwartzes were both sentenced to 11 to 22 months in prison.

In her plea testimony, Rosalie Schwartz said that she administered the fatal mixture while her husband never left the adjoining room.

Milton served his time at Eastern State Penitentiary, which later featured an exhibit about the case.

The Schwartzes were both paroled in December of 1956 — about 18 months after Doris Jean Silver Ostreicher’s elopement.

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Originally posted by Avi Wolfman-Arent (@Avi_WA) on Sept. 28, 2023 

Avi Wolfman-Arent is co-host of Studio 2 and a broadcast anchor on 90.9 FM. He was previously an education reporter with WHYY, where he's worked since 2014. Prior to that he covered nonprofits for the...