Ann Lohman, aka Madame Restell, was one of the most vilified women of the 19th century, an abortion practitioner that dodged the law to become one of the wealthiest self-made women in the Gilded Age. But is her reputation justified?
Thoughts on abortion and birth control were quite different in the 1830s, the era in which Madame Restell got her start. It was society and marital morality -- not science and religion -- that played a substantial role in New Yorkers' views on the termination of pregnancy. Restell and countless imitators offers a wide range of potions, pills and powders to customers, provided in veiled wording in newspaper advertisements.
By the 1860s Restell was insulated from serious interrogation and flaunted her unique position in society by planting her Fifth Avenue mansion in a very controversial place. But she soon became a target of New York's most dogged reformer, a man who considered her pure evil and the source of society's most illicit sins.