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Lohman, Ann Trow (1812–1878)

Lohman, Ann Trow (1812–1878)

American abortionist, dispenser of contraceptives, and operator of a clandestine maternity hospital and adoption agency. Name variations: Madame Restell. Born in 1812 in Painswick, Gloucestershire, England; committed suicide on April 1, 1878, in New York City; married tailor Henry Summers, in 1828 (died 1833); married newspaper compositor turned quack physician Charles R. Lohman, in 1836 (died 1876); children: (first marriage) stepdaughter Caroline Summers .

Ann Trow Lohman was born in 1812 to indigent parents in the village of Painswick, Gloucestershire, England. She married widowed tailor Henry Summers at age 16, gaining a step-daughter Caroline. In 1831, the Summers family immigrated to New York City; however, Henry died in 1833 from various speculated causes, including typhoid fever, yellow fever, and alcoholism. Ann worked as a seamstress until 1836, when she married "Dr." Charles R. Lohman, a newspaper typesetter turned quack physician. Together, they began selling diverse medications alleged to prevent contraception and unwanted fetuses. The medications were created by Joseph F. Trow, Ann's brother, who also worked in a pharmacy. Unbeknownst to Ann, the newspaper advertisements that stated her alias as "Madame Restell" would be the beginning of both a lucrative career and an infamous reputation.

Ann Trow Lohman faced several arrests, trials and convictions throughout her career. The year 1841 was Lohman's first documented altercation with the law. She was tried and convicted for performing an abortion on a woman who later died. However, a more publicized case took place in February 1846 when a 17-year-old Philadelphia woman gave birth to a baby girl at Madame Restell's Greenwich Street establishment. The woman complained to William F. Havemeyer, the newly appointed mayor of New York City, that the baby was given up for adoption against her will. Although Lohman was found innocent, public protest was intense. On February 22, an angry mob descended upon Madame Restell's house, fueled by a sensational editorial in the National Police Gazette the day before. The mob broke up only after the mayor promised to do everything in his power to send Lohman to prison. As a result of this public demonstration, a new law was enacted, declaring that the abortion of a quickened fetus was considered manslaughter. (In the 19th century, quickening was considered to occur when the pregnant woman could feel the fetus move, which might be at any time between four to six months into the pregnancy.) Lohman was arrested under the new manslaughter law in September 1847, charged with having completed an abortion upon Marie Bodine , the mistress of a Walden, New York, factory agent. Public indignation against Madame Restell increased further due to the full clinical details exposed at the trial. She was convicted, however, on a lesser misdemeanor charge after conflicting medical testimony, and served a year at Blackwell's Island prison. Lohman's preferential treatment during her incarceration was so conspicuous that the board of aldermen eventually dismissed the warden.

In 1848, the Lohmans' fortune grew even more after they relocated to a larger and newer establishment on Chambers Street. In 1864, they moved to fashion-conscious uptown, into a four-story brownstone at 52nd Street and Fifth Avenue. The Chambers Street location was renovated into a hospital and a mail-order contraceptive distribution center. New York politicos and the public largely ignored Lohman's business practices. Even William Tweed, better known as "Boss" Tweed, political leader of New York City from 1859 to 1873, ignored not only Lohman's business activities, but also her financial contributions and social invitations.

Charles Lohman died in 1878. That February, Madame Restell had her final brush with the law, which some newspapers defined as a moral entrapment. Anthony Comstock, secretary of the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice, acted as a customer for contraceptives and made a purchase. Afterwards, he obtained a search warrant and found enough proof to bring Madame Restell to trial under a new law that prohibited the possession of any materials used for any "immoral" purposes. Early in the morning of April 1—her set trial date—Ann Lohman committed suicide by slitting her throat with a carving knife in her bath. She received no funeral services and was buried in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Tarrytown, New York, next to Charles Lohman. Lohman's estate, estimated from $600,000 to $1 million, was awarded to her step-grandchildren; a $3,000 annuity was given to her stepdaughter. Comstock called Madame Restell's suicide "a bloody ending to a bloody life."

Madame Restell was both troubled and perplexed by the public's condemnation of her life. After her death, her attorney stated, "Everything that the papers published she read with intense interest. She was deeply affected by all that was said against her." Ann Trow Lohman played a key role in a paradoxical time of rigid moral standards yet increasingly relaxed social situations for men and women. Despite her dubious historical reputation, Lohman provided a clandestine means for women to gain control over their reproductive health.

sources:

James, Edward T., ed. Notable American Women 1607–1950. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1971.

Kim L. Messeri , freelance writer, Austin, Texas

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