Ann Trow Lohman, (1812-Apr. 1, 1878), notorious New York City "abortionist," was born to poverty-stricken parents in the village of Painswick, Gloucestershire, England.1 At sixteen she married a widowed tailor, Henry Summers, and thus became the stepmother of his daughter Caroline. The family migrated in 1831 to New York City, where two years later Summers died, the cause variously described as yellow fever, typhoid, and alcoholism. For a time Ann worked as a seamstress, but in 1836 she was married to "Dr." Charles R. Lohman, a newspaper compositor turned quack physician, and joined him in selling various medications purported to inhibit conception and abort unwanted fetuses. The compounds were prepared by Ann's brother, Joseph F. Trow, who had emigrated to New York shortly after his sister and had secured work in a pharmacy. Soon advertisements for "Madame Restell, female physician and professor of midwifery," began to appear in the newspapers and city directories, and Ann Lohman was launched on the career which was to make her famous.

She quickly attracted the unfavorable notice of such groups as the American Female Moral Reform Society, and her first recorded brush with the law came in 1841, when she was tried and convicted on a charge of performing an abortion which resulted in a woman's death. A more publicized case began in February 1846 when a seventeen-year-old Philadelphia girl, the mother of a baby born at Madame Restell's Greenwich Street establishment and then given for adoption against her will, complained to William F. Havemeyer, the newly elected mayor of New York. A trial ensued but when Madame Restell was acquitted the newspapers charged that her liberal political contributions had helped her cause. On Feb. 22 an angry mob, inflamed by a lurid editorial published in the National Police Gazette the preceding day, besieged Madame Restell's house. Peace was restored only after a personal pledge by Mayor Havemeyer to do his best to send her to prison. The following month a new law was enacted under which the abortion of a quickened fetus was punishable as manslaughter. In September 1847 Madame Restell was arrested under this law, charged with having performed an abortion upon Marie Bodine, the mistress of a Walden, N.Y., factory agent. The trial, in which Madame Restell was represented by two well-known attorneys drew large crowds and was reported in the Police Gazette and other periodicals with both moral indignation and full clinical detail. After conflicting medical testimony Madame Restell was convicted on a lesser misdemeanor charge. She served a year at the Blackwell's Island prison, where the special treatment she received became so notorious that near the end of her term the board of aldermen investigated and dismissed the warden.

Upon her release the Lohmans resumed their profitable activities in a new and larger location on Chambers Street. It is said that Madame Restell presented her stepdaughter with $50,000 and a European honeymoon when she was married about 1854. Another arrest, on a challenge similar to that in the 1846 case, occurred in 1855, but the matter was settled out of court. In 1864, following the fashionable trade uptown, the Lohmans moved into a four-story brownstone at 52nd Street and Fifth Avenue. They continued to operate the Chambers Street establishment, which had been remodeled into a"hospital," and to conduct an extensive mail-order business in various nostrums. Madame Restell openly advertised in the newspapers, especially James Gordon Bennett_s New York Herald. Although William M. Tweed, the political boss of New York City from about 1859 until his downfall in 1873 refused both her contributions and invitations to visit her socially, he did nothing to hinder her activities. It was widely believed that George W. Matsell, for many years New York's police superintendent, was on her payroll. Periodic public agitation and pulpit denunciations by Archbishop John J. Hughes and other clerics left her untouched. Indeed, it is traditionally said that she chose the Fifth Avenue site in part to annoy the archbishop, who was erecting St. Patrick's Cathedral nearby. At least two sensational books on Manhattan devoted chapters to her as "The Wickedest Woman in the City." Although her social ostracism was so complete that the houses adjacent to hers stood vacant for want of buyers, she furnished her "mansion" in tawdry opulence, maintained a full complement of servants, and frequently rode in Central Park with a liveried footman.

After the death of her husband in 1876 Madame Restell seemed ready to retire. Estranged from both her brother and her stepdaughter, she lavished affection upon her grandchildren, Charles Robert and Caroline Summers Purdy, who lived with her and for whom she was said to harbor high social aspirations. Early in 1878, at Madame Restell's residence, Caroline Purdy was married to William B. Shannon, the son of a New York attorney. In February 1878, however, Madame Restell was approached by Anthony Comstock secretary of the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice, who represented himself as a customer for contraceptive materials. After making an initial purchase, Comstock secured a search warrant and found sufficient evidence to bring Madame Restell to trial under a recent law barring the possession of any articles used for "immoral" purposes. The efforts of her attorney were unavailing and, after preliminary legal maneuvering, the trial was set for Apr. 1. In the early morning of that day, after a night of intense agitation, Ann Lohman slit her throat with a carving knife in her bath. There was no funeral service. She was buried in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, Tarrytown, N.Y., beside her husband. Her estate, estimated at from $600,000 to $1,000,000, went to her grandchildren, with a $3,000-a-year annuity to her stepdaughter. The suicide was dismissed by Comstock as "a bloody ending to a bloody life," but a number of newspapers questioned whether his trapping her with a lie was morally justifiable.

Madame Restell played a part in a largely hidden drama of the nineteenth century. The decline in the American birth rate, particularly striking in cities, was accomplished without any dependable mechanical or chemical methods of contraception. It was achieved by delay of marriage, "voluntary restraint," and what was probably an extremely high rate of abortion. The precise nature of Ann Lohman's activities has been obscured by the haze of rumor and tradition, compounded by her own silence and a contemporary semantic confusion between contraception and abortion. Considerable evidence suggests that she was less an abortionist than a dispenser of contraceptive materials and mistress of a clandestine maternity hospital and adoption agency. She seems to have been puzzled and distressed by the universal contempt in which she was held. "Everything that the papers published she read with intense interest," said her attorney after her death. "She was deeply affected by all that was said against her" (New York Tribune, Apr. 2, 1878) . She flourished in a society which, having failed to live up to its own rigid sexual code, resolved the dilemma by outlawing_but then tolerating_the troubling forms of behavior. Madame Restell, if not quite a tragic heroine, was a victim of the literal minded Anthony Comstock's refusal to accept this social hypocrisy.

Trial of Madame Restell, Alias Ann Lohman (1841),
Wonderful Trial of Caroline [sic]
Lohman, Alias Restell (1847)
The Restell Suicide, Her Secret Life (n.d.), a sensational pamphlet of some biographical value
N.Y. Tribune, Apr. 2, 5, 1878
N.Y. Times, Feb. 12, 24, Mar. 2, 8, Apr. 2, 3, 1878,
Fifth Annual Report of the N.Y. Soc. for the Suppression of Vice, 1879
Junius H. Browne, The Great Metropolis: A Mirror of N.Y. (1869), pp. 582-87,
George W. Walling, Recollections of a N.Y. Chief of Police ( 1887)
N.Y. city directories, 1848-78. Secondary sources of value are Denis T. Lynch, "Boss" Tweed (1927)
Heywood Broun and Margaret Leech, Anthony Comstock (1927)
Howard B. Furer, William F. Havemeyer (1935)
Edward Van Every, Sins of N.Y. as "Exposed" by the Police Gazette (1930)
Flora L. Northrup, The Record of a Century (1934), p. 25 (on the Am. Female Moral Reform Soc. and Madame Restell )
Benjamin A. Botkin, ed., N.Y. City Folklore (1956), pp. 312-13.


1 Seymour J. Mandelbaum in Notable American Women, Vol., 2, 424-425.