Childhood, Abortion, and the Notorious Madame Restell , 1812-1878


ACLS Fellowship Program


Women, Gender & Sexuality Studies


During her lifetime Madame Restell (Ann Lohman) was the most famous abortionist in the United States, so much so that “Restellism” became a synonym for abortion. This project uses a biography of Restell to reevaluate the criminalization of abortion in nineteenth-century America in light of changing attitudes toward children. As the white, middle-class birth rate declined, childhood came to be understood as a protected stage of life, at least for those from prosperous homes. Long before historians usually date the use of "the fetus" to regulate women, abortion’s critics in the antebellum era regularly used the language of childhood—including accusations of infanticide and kidnapping of live children—to indict abortionists like Restell. Restell, who began practicing abortion in New York City when it was still legal and continued after its criminalization, is interesting in her own right, but also serves as the perfect vehicle for telling that story.