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

JEN HAWKINS

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 adver tise 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 for each abortion, she is said to have  amassed $500,000 to $600,000 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

What was “Restellism”?
How would 19th century mainstream press coverage of abortion best be described?

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