Tuesday, May 7, 2013

"Madame Restell" (Ann Trow Lohman), born May 6, 1812

Ann Caroline Trow was born in Painswick, Gloucestershire, England.  Her father, John Trow, was a woolen mill laborer. 

 Painswick, Gloucestershire, England
At the age of fifteen she started work as a maid in a butcher's family.

At sixteen she married a Wiltshire tailor named Henry Summer. Their daughter, Caroline, was born in 1830.  After three years living in England, they emigrated to New York in 1831.  

Soon after settling on Williams Street in Lower Manhattan, Summer died of yellow fever in June 1831.  A widow with an infant daughter, Ann made a poor living as a seamstress, doing piecework in her home. 

She was 49 years old when the Civil War began.

New York City, 1830s
Ann Trow Summer married again in 1836, to a  German-Russian immigrant, Charles Lohman, born in Russia of parents of German descent.  Lohman worked in the printing trade; he was a radical and freethinker, a friend and colleague of George Matsell, the publisher of the radical journal The Free Inquirer.  With Matsell, Lohman was involved in the publication of Robert Dale Owen's book, Moral Physiology; or, a Brief and Plain Treatise on the Population Question(1831) and Charles Knowlton's Fruits of Philosophy; or, The Private Companion of Young Married People (1831).

Ann's brother, Joseph Trow, had also emigrated to New York, and was working as a sales assistant in a  pharmacy.  After her marriage, Ann began to develop an interest in women's health, selling patent medicine, and (probably in partnership with her husband and brother) creating birth control  products, advertised under the name "Madame Caroline Restell". Her husband  wrote all her advertising copy, and took the pseudonym "Dr. Mauriceau".  Together they concocted a story of a trip to Europe where Ann allegedly trained as a midwife with her grandmother, a renowned French physician named Restell.

Mrs. Restell’s famous Female Monthly Pills, which by May 1839 were advertised as such:

FEMALE PILLS.—MRS. RESTELL, Female Physician, informs the ladies that her pills are an infallible regulator of ******. They must not be used when ********. Prepared and sold only by herself. [Sun, December 29, 1840]
The redacted words would have been “menses” and “pregnant.”

Restell Advertisement
Clients arrived at her Greenwich Street office from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m., and if they couldn’t seek treatment in person, Restell responded by mail, sending Preventative Powder at $5 per package or Female Monthly Pills, $1 apiece. Her pills (as well as those of her competitors) were commercialized traditional folk remedies that had been around for centuries, and were occasionally effective. Restell counted on clients returning for surgical abortions if the abortifacients failed—$20 for poor women, $100 for the rich.

In addition to selling abortifacients, she opened a boardinghouse where clients with unwanted pregnancies could give birth in anonymity. For an additional fee, she facilitated the adoption of infants. By leasing a nearby residence and adjoining office, they were able to open a full-fledged “lying-in hospital” where women in advanced pregnancy could give birth under supervision. The Lohmans, then, were not merely “abortionists;” they were amateur obstetricians, providing a broad range of services that the women of New York were not finding elsewhere.

Restell's success in her practice reflected tensions inherent in the social life of New York. Many middle- or even upper-class women sought to curb family size, a preferred strategy for the maintenance of financial and social security. It was from the more genteel, middle- and upper-class reading public that Madame Restell sought her clientele.

Over a forty-year period, she illicitly provided both surgical abortion and abortifacient pills in the northern United States. She began her business in New York in the late 1830s, and by the 1840s, had expanded to include franchises in Boston and Philadelphia.  Her business was one of a number at the time, and like the others was under constant attack by the press.  Newspaper editor Horace Greeley criticized the newspapers that accepted advertisements by Restell,   The National Police Gazette also refused her advertisements.

The papers targeted Restell as an agent of the change and sexual liberation that made their world seem so frighteningly uncontrollable. The conservative editor of the New York Sunday Morning News, Samuel Jenks Smith, wrote on July 7, 1839 of Restell's practice as a "monstrous and destructive " service that "strikes at the root of all social order -- is subversive of all family peace and quiet....will demoralize the whole mass of society, and make the institution of marriage a known farce." 

Restell subverted the public's eye on the press itself, and responded with her own editorial on July 15, 1839, in the New York Herald.  In her editorial, she challenged Smith to press charges against her, and offered $100 to anyone who could prove that her medicine was harmful:
I cannot conceive how men who are husbands, brothers or fathers can give utterance to an idea so intrinsically base and infamous, that their wives, their sisters, or their daughters, want but the opportunity and "facility" to be vicious, and if they are not so, it is not from an innate principle of virtue, but from fear. What! Is female virtue, then, a mere thing of circumstance and occasion?
A month later, there was a warrant which indicted Madame Restell for procuring abortion. Her bail was set for $2,000, and she spent the night in jail. Through a series of legal maneuverings, the charge was never prosecuted, and Restell was released. The witness never pressed charges.

"The Tombs", Site of hearings and imprionment for Madame Restell
When Madame Restell began her practice, New York State law regarding abortion reflected contemporary folk wisdom, which held that a fetus wasn’t technically alive until “quickening”—the moment when the mother felt it first move inside the womb, usually around the fourth month. An abortion before quickening was legal, but an abortion after quickening was considered to be second-degree manslaughter. Restell tried to determine how far along a patient was in her pregnancy before offering her services; if she intervened too late, she risked a $100 fine and one year in prison.

She had her first major brush with the law in 1840, when a 21-year-old woman named Maria Purdy lay on her deathbed, suffering from tuberculosis. She told her husband she wished to make a confession: While pregnant the previous year, she decided she didn’t want to give birth again; they had a ten-month-old child and she couldn’t handle another so soon. She had visited Restell’s office on Greenwich Street and joined several women waiting in the front parlor. When her turn came, Restell listened to her story and gave her a small vial of yellow medicine in exchange for a dollar.  
Purdy took one dose that night and two the next day but then stopped, suddenly worried about the potential consequences. A doctor analyzed the medicine and concluded it contained oil of tansy and spirits of turpentine and advised her to never take it again. She returned to Restell, who told her that for $20 an operation could be performed without pain or inconvenience. Purdy had no cash, and instead offered a pawn ticket for a gold watch chain and a stack of rings, which Restell accepted. She led Purdy behind a curtain to a darkened room, where a strange man—not Restell’s husband—placed his hands on her abdomen and declared she was only three months along (if Purdy was past the first trimester, she didn’t correct him). She had the surgery, and was convinced that her present illness was a result. After hearing her deathbed confession her husband went to the police, who arrested Restell and charged her with “administering to Purdy certain noxious medicine… [and]… procuring her a miscarriage by the use of instruments, the same not being necessary to preserve her life.”

The case launched a debate that played out in the press, and the debate was as charged as it is today. One anti-abortion advocate called Restell “the monster in human shape” responsible for “one of the most hellish acts ever perpetrated in a Christian land.” She was a threat to the institution of marriage, allowing women to “commit as many adulteries as there are hours in the year without the possibility of detection.” She encouraged prostitution by removing the consequences. She allowed wives to shirk the duties of motherhood. She insulted poor women by providing abortions when they could seek aid and solace from their church. She not only abetted immoral behavior but also harmed misguided and naïve women, acting as a “hag of misery” preying upon human weakness. 

In March, 1841, she was again arrested. The police had set a snare by finding a young woman to testify against her. The testimony was in the papers the next morning, and in another series of legal maneuverings, Restell was accused of aiding and abetting an unknown person for procuring an abortion. Her bail was set for $5,000, and she went to jail.  Ultimately, Restell was found guilty. When her layers appealed, the court ruled that the deposition was improper and it was decreed that a new trial should be granted. By this time, however, the witness had died, and eventually in 1844 the indictment was formally dropped.

Throughout the years between her arrest and the dropping of the indictment, Restell was arrested twice, once on an abortion charge, and another time on a child-napping case, in which she was accused of deceiving a woman by putting her child up for adoption. These unsuccessful attempts at snaring Restell revealed in the process of their testimonies that both married and single women had need of her services.  For example, a widow who was a mistress of a bank president, a young wife and her much older husband, a seduced factory worker, the mistress of a congressman, and a victim of incest, all found themselves in pregnant and in need of Madame Restell.

Mary Roger's Body in Hudson River
In 1841, Mary Rogers was found dead in the Hudson River. Newspapers suggested that she had died during an abortion carried out by Restell, although later evidence seems to contradict this.  Public scrutiny of Restell continued unabated—she was accused in the press, on the basis of an anonymous letters, of performing a fatal abortion on Mary Rogers, the real-life inspiration for the title character in Edgar Allan Poe’s The Mystery of Marie Roget,  but Restell managed to avoid legal trouble 

The Congress of New York State enacted a new law against abortion which made the woman herself liable for 3 to 12 months in prison, in addition to a fine. Seemingly overlooked was the fact that this provision had the effect of discouraging any woman herself who had an abortion from testifying in prosecution against an abortionist.

Restell on cover of National Police Gazette as "Bat Woman"

Gazette investigators assisted the New York police in posting officers around Restell's house. On September 10, 1847, Restell was arrested for procuring an abortion for Marie Bodine. The trial was the scandal of the day, its drama heightened by the fact that the only women in the courtroom were the witness and Madame Restell. The testimony given was detailed and intimate, and the cross-examination was rigorous, with rampant character assassination. This time the prosecution was successful, and Madame Restell was sentenced to a year at Blackwell's Island.

Even in prison, she was no stranger to controversy: her confinement was the subject of public censure. The press reported on her comfort while in jail, and it was implied that she had bribed the aldermen of New York who had allowed her to sleep on a featherbed and brought her a light for night reading. The public debate concerning Restell continued, and it was decried that she was thought while in jail to have "lived like a lady in confinement" instead of criminal. While she was incarcerated, the Grand Jury investigated the deputy keeper, whom they accused of having accepted bribes to house Restell in greater luxury than the other prisoners. There was no evidence of bribes to be found, though, and Restell remained at Blackwell's Island doing special sewing and confined to her own cell where she was fed three times a day, her room lit by night. But the ordeal proved too much for Restell, and when she was released she publicly avowed she would never go to jail again.

After being granted credit for the seven months minimal confinement she spent at the Eldridge Street Jail during the course of the appeals process, Madame Restell was released after having served less than five months on Blackwell’s Island. She emerged from prison in June of 1849, and promptly resumed business, not at her old Greenwich Street address, but at a new uptown residence on Chambers Street; a Federal-style brick building that was fearlessly ensconced in the immediate neighborhood of the city’s courts and law offices.  She escaped any further prosecution for some time, and although it was rumored that her apparent immunity was the result of bribes, it is just as likely that her clientele, mostly respectable, middle-class women, came from families reluctant to prosecute or to collude in surveillance. 

The practice of abortion was so widespread and publicly linked to Restell that the term "Restellism" was coined by the feminist journal The Revolution to refer to abortion, which it maintained was widespread among the fashionable in the dress circle.

Evidence given in a breach-of-promise case in 1854 suggests Restell and her husband were charging between $50 and $100 per abortion at this time.  The complainant in the case claimed to have had five abortions over a period of seven years, of which three were performed by Restell. At this time abortion in New York was a felony punishable by not less than one and not more than three years in prison. 

The mayor of New York, Jacob Westervelt, officiated at the wedding of her daughter, Caroline Summer, to Isaac Purdy in June 1853.

In an attempt to improve her image, she applied for United States citizenship—one had to be a “person of good character” to be approved—and was naturalized in 1854. 

In 1857, she and her husband purchased property on the northeast corner of Fifth Avenue and 52nd street, where they built a grand four story mansion that they publicly put on display during a lavish housewarming.  It had frontage of 41 feet on the Avenue; and was of brownstone trimmed with marble. Restell's presence became an embarrassment to the neighborhood. She was one of the few New Yorkers who could not buy her way into polite society with a Fifth Avenue address, a mansion, and fine horses. "There she has seated herself, in all the splendor of wealth, her great palace frowning down upon the street," wrote Leslie's Illustrated, "while inside Madame sits a pariah, amid velvets ....satin and rosewood, mirrors and bronzes, and longs for the sympathy and respect that all her wealth cannot buy, even in this city, where we are told it can buy anything."  It was claimed that Restell's mansion lowered real estate values nearby and that she flaunted her unwanted presence by taking an afternoon carriage ride everyday. Her stylish equipment and liveried coachmen were well known to all who frequented the Fifth Avenue promenade and Central Park Drives.

She was now so infamous nationwide that she was included in several guidebooks to the city, one of which dubbed her “the Wickedest Woman in New York.

The Civil War and its aftermath afforded her an ideal business climate, rife with all the vice and destitution that are normally associated with periods of armed strife.

It is estimated that by 1870 her annual expenditure on advertising alone was $60,000.  One ad for Restell's medical services, printed in the New York Sun, promised that she could offer the "strictest confidence on complaints incidental to the female frame" and that her "experience and knowledge in the treatment of cases of female irregularity, [was] such as to require but a few days to effect a perfect cure."  Another, addressed to married women, asked the question, "Is it desirable, then, for parents to increase their families, regardless of consequences to themselves, or the well-being of their offspring, when a simple, easy, healthy, and certain remedy is within our control?"  Advertisements for the "Female Monthly Regulating Pills" she also sold vowed to resolve "all cases of suppression, irregularity, or stoppage of the menses, however obdurate."

On the morning of April 1, 1878, a maid discovered Madame Restell in the bathtub at her Fifth Avenue home; she had slit her own throat with a pearl-handled knife. She was sixty-seven years old.

Anthony Comstock had visited Madame Restell two times in January 1878, purportedly to obtain contraceptive powders for his wife. 

Anthony Comstrock
On his third visit on February 7th, he came accompanied by the police, deputies, and reporters from the World and the Tribune.  Under a state law of 1875,  he produced a warrant to search the premises and seize any articles for miscarriage or the prevention of conception. After searching the entire house, they seized what was inventoried as "15 bottles of a ruby-colored medicine, 100 boxes of white pills, 500 packages of powders, 250 circulars, 3 syringes, and 10 dozen condoms."

Illustration of Comstock and Restell on February 7th
Restell was indicted, and her trial date was set for April 1, 1878.

In the interval between her arrest and her trial, on the advice of former judge and attorney Orlando Stewart, she had taken down the sign affixed to her building. In a statement indicating her own role in provoking the attacks upon her, when asked why she was persecuted, she replied, "They are envious because I have such a fine house in such a splendid location."  Through early March, she was in and out of the Tombs as various legal proceedings took place, the court going out of its way to be as punitive and uncompromising as possible as the gleeful press looked on.

Restell's Mansion on Firth Avenue
Although she could afford the best attorneys, Madame Restell was quite alone in the world. Her husband had died in January, 1877.  She was estranged from her daughter, who had married a policeman. Although her granddaughter, Caroline, had been her assistant, she too had married. Madame Restell wasn't assured of escaping imprisonment. The newspapers had a field day, denouncing her on a daily basis and gloating that she was finally going to get her due.

While courtroom observers gathered for the trial on April 1, 1878, they waited in vain. Rumors swept through the courtroom when Restell did not appear at the appointed time. It being April 1st, however, Anthony Comstock, like many others, dismissed rumors of her suicide as a joke.

At 5 PM, a coroner's jury was impaneled in Restell's bedroom adjacent to the bath. In addition to touring the house, reporters were allowed to view the remains which lay in an ice-chest in a small reception room north of the parlor-floor hallway. After hearing testimony, touring the house, and viewing the body, the jury reached a verdict of death by suicide.   When the jury viewed the remains, it was reported "When the black pall was drawn back, Ann Lohman's features seemed calm, kindly, and youthful, her bloodless face white as marble, her dark brown hair faintly tinged with gray, her throat traversed by a thin red line."

The next morning, in addition to detailed descriptions of the sumptuous house interior, the newspapers editorialized.  "A fit ending to an odious career," announced the Times; while the Tribune, declaring the "end of sin is death" labeled her suicide as an admission of guilt.   Only the Sun was generous, "whatever she was, she had her rights, and the man who cunningly led her into the commission of misdemeanor acted an unmanly and ignoble part." 

When Comstock heard of her suicide he called it "a bloody ending to a bloody life." Comstock denied any wrongdoing and justified his entrapment as necessary and defensible. His Society for the Suppression of Vice hailed the closing of her practice and insisted that the Society's agent had in no way seduced Restell into committing a crime.

Madame Restell was buried in the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Tarrytown, New York.

Restell's Grave

Upon her death, her fortune was claimed to have been worth between $500,000-$600,000 ($11.9 million-$14.3 million in present-day terms.)

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