Fascinating New Yorkers

NONFICTION

The Wickedest Woman in New York: Madame Restell, the Abortionist

mobile-wickedestwoman

The press called her fiend and murderess, a mob marched on her house, she was tried and convicted twice and imprisoned once, but she persisted in her trade, insisting that it was necessary and beneficial. Far from hiding in the shadows, she paraded openly in a showy carriage, elegantly dressed, and then built an elaborate brownstone mansion on Fifth Avenue that some referred to as a House of Death.

Ann Lohman, alias Madame Restell, was this country’s most notorious abortionist, vilified by doctors, prosecutors, and the press, but sought out by thousands of women for whom pregnancy meant a physical or financial burden, inconvenience, or disgrace. When the puritanical reformer Anthony Comstock ended her long career, she went out with a bang, her exit as melodramatic as her life.

Snob, opportunist, and lawbreaker Ann Lohman certainly was, but the reader will decide whether or not she merited the term “wicked” and the fate imposed upon her.

“This colorful account of Lohman’s reputed four-decade career as the country’s most notorious and prosperous abortionist reveals the legal, medical and moral attitudes of the mid-19th century.” — Publishers Weekly, January 15, 1988

“Clifford Browder reproduces a great deal of the hyperventilated prose with which everything was then routinely reported. It is always a mistake to seem smug about the past, but especially foolish when writing about people caught up in a struggle over grave moral issues that we can make no special claim to have solved ourselves.” — Geoffrey C. Ward, New York Times, May 15, 1988
[My worst review ever, and in that pre-Internet time, the only one most people would read. I’ve been called many things in my time, but “smug” only once. My publisher phoned me long-distance to tell me what authors know but can’t accept: better a bad review than no review at all.]

“Browder has combed the archives gathering everything we’re ever likely to learn about Restell. Restell’s fascinating psychology emerges only in glimpses. But Browder succeeds in placing her in the context of her time, the high Victorian age, when doublethink was practiced on on such a breathtaking scale that the pale word hypocrisy hardly does it justice.” — Walter Kendrick, Village Voice, March 29,1988

Hardcover, published as an Archon Book, an imprint of The Shoestring Press, 1988.

Used copies available online at inflated prices.