|Painswick, Gloucestershire, England|
|New York City, 1830s|
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:
The redacted words would have been “menses” and “pregnant.”
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]
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.
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."
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?
|"The Tombs", Site of hearings and imprionment for Madame Restell|
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.
|Mary Roger's Body in Hudson River|
|Restell on cover of National Police Gazette as "Bat Woman"|
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.
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.
|Illustration of Comstock and Restell on February 7th|
|Restell's Mansion on Firth Avenue|
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."