Madame Restell: From Butcher’s Maid to Butcher of Women

Anne Trow Lohman, aka Madame Restell (1812-1878), was a notorious abortion provider who practiced without formal medical training in 19th-century New York City; the term “Restellism” became synonymous with abortion by the late 1830s. Born in Painswick, England, Lohman worked as a butcher’s maid starting at age 15. Shortly after she immigrated to New York with her first husband, he succumbed to yellow fever. Lohman then worked as a seamstress until marrying radical publisher Charles Lohman and later developing abortifacients with her pharmacist brother. 

Even before Lohman was implicated in the gruesome death of Mary Rogers in 1841, major newspapers including the National Police Gazette and Polyanthos expressly refused to advertise her services. Susan B. Anthony’s weekly publication The Revolution also refused to advertise thinly disguised abortifacients. The brutal death of Rogers, however, made abortion a huge issue of the day, and contributed to making it one of the most discussed topics after suffrage.

After a series of arrests spanning years and ranging from breach-of-promise to illegal abortion, Lohman committed suicide in 1878. Having charged roughly 50 to 100 dollars for each abortion, she is said to have amass 500,000 to 600,000 dollars in assets; by today’s standards, Lohman died a multimillionaire. 

“We do not wish to speak in parables… We speak of the unfortunate Mary Rogers…. The wretched girl was last seen in the direction of Madame Restell’s house. The dreadfully lacerated body… bore the marks of no ordinary violation… Such are these abortionists! Such their deeds, and such their dens of crime!”

—From National Police Gazette, February 21, 1845

By Jen Hawkins

What was “Restellism”?

How would 19th century mainstream press coverage of abortion best be described?

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