Female Physicians in the 1800s


Madame Restell was one of the most notorious names in New York during the mid-nineteenth century—so much so that she came to be known as the “Wickedest Woman of New York”.  Her real name was Ann Lohman, and her business really stirred the pot in the mid-nineteenth century. She was a “female physician”, meaning she was not formally trained in medicine (which had just started to become a more official process of schooling), but more reliant on tried and true remedies that women had been making for themselves and each other forever. Many people who were against Restell were not as concerned with the dangers of her medicine on the body as they were with the freedom it provided to the women who sought her out. She did not even advertise to all women, but specifically tried to code her advertisements for married women who already had too many children and could not handle any more. Many other copycat female physicians popped up with French-sounding names and pill advertisements. Victorian women at that time, with often no kind of birth control, could quickly find themselves in an unsustainable position. Restell’s advertisements then, in the paper, were never explicitly selling “abortifacents” but would offer "desired information” that was available at Restell’s office location. The public felt that this encouraged sexual promiscuity (a similar argument is made today) and did not approve. Restell was able to keep her business going for so long in part due to her husband’s status, so having friends in high places and being close with the mayor allowed her to run this illegal business behind the scenes. However, she ran into trouble with the law multiple times and even spent some time in prison. Some people really had it out for her, and she eventually was so disturbed by it that she ended up committing suicide, wearing all her diamonds. 

Abbott, Karen. “Madame Restell: The Abortionist of Fifth Avenue.” Smithsonian.com, Smithsonian Institution, 27 Nov. 2012, www.smithsonianmag.com/history/madame-restell-the-abortionist-of-fifth-a....

Bowery Boys Media. "#211 The Notorious Madame Restell: The Abortionist of Fifth Avenue." The Bowery Boys: New York City History, Spotify, 18 Aug. 2016. https://www.boweryboyshistory.com/2016/08/notorious-madame-restell-abort...

Horwitz, Rainey. “The Embryo Project Encyclopedia.” Trial of Madame Restell (Ann Lohman) for Abortion (1841) | The Embryo Project Encyclopedia, 10 Oct. 2017, embryo.asu.edu/pages/trial-madame-restell-ann-lohman-abortion-1841.

Associated Place(s)

Timeline of Events Associated with Female Physicians in the 1800s

Image Date: 

19th century