NL 2008/04

"For women whose health does not allow for rapid family growth"
130 years ago, Anna Lohman a.k.a. "Madame Restell" cut her own throat.





For some it was a fitting end for an abysmally evil woman ("the wickedest woman in New York"), for others it was the tragic death of a helpmate and pioneer ("a woman ahead of her time").

Wikipedia and the Encyclopedia Britannica acknowledge her service. Her contemporaries coined the expression ‚Restellismus’ as a synonym for the (forbidden) abortion procedure which she provided.

 

Anna Lohman (1812–1878), was born as Ann Trow to a rural working class family in England. She married early and emigrated with her husband to the USA. She was already widowed by the age of 20 and needed to find a way to survive. In 1836 she married a typesetter by the name of Charles Lohmann, the son of a German/Russian emigrant family.

 

Anna took care of sick and needy women, utilizing the knowledge provided by her brother Joseph who worked in a pharmacy. Soon she developed pills to aid in family planning and cleverly advertised them as ‚Madame Restell's Patent Medicine’ - France was known already then as the ‚country of love’,  and so midwives and abortionists often used French pseudonyms.

 

Since 1820, New York was the biggest city in the United States and it became the most important trans-shipment center and harbour in the country. Already by the middle of the 19th century it had become a magnet for a rural population in search of work and a better life. These people were joined by two million immigrants, largely from Ireland and Germany. Under the circumstances, children often presented a catastrophe to inexperienced girls as well as for poor families.

 

The prevention of conception was considered obscene

 

The married couple Lohmann utilized the opportunity presented by aspiring newspapers and advertised the content of their medicine in the ‚Penny Press’. Their products and "professional services" experienced great demand given their good reputation. From 1840 through 1880 ‚Madame Restell’ und ‚Dr. Mauriceau’ had a thriving mail order business for contraceptives and a flourishing clinic in New York City. Soon they opened sister enterprises in Boston and Philadelphia and lived in an expensive house on Fifth Avenue.

 

This all transpired in full view of the police, at a time when birth control was forbidden. Their bitter adversary was the American politician and moral apostle Anthony Comstock (1844-1915), secretary of the ‚New York Society for the Repression of Vice’. In 1873 he implemented the ‚Comstock Law’ which forbade the mailing of "obscene, bawdy or lustful literature in the form of books, flyers, pictures, writings, leaflets or other publications of an indecent nature".  In Comstock's opinion, contraception presented the greatest obscenity of all.

Madame Restell and her husband were able to hold their own for a long time, thanks to the excellent treatment they provided their patients and their ‘financial generosity’ to police, judges and politicians. Nonetheless, Anthony Comstock was eventually able to entrap and arrest them. The night before her court hearing, Anna Lohmann slit her own throat.

 

Come and join our study of Madame Restell and other pioneers of family planning at the museum of contraception and abortion: Wednesday - Sunday 2PM – 6PM Mariahilfer Gürtel 37, 1150