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The Wickedest Woman In New York

From our partners at Gothamist: The death of Madame Grendel, an abortionist found murdered, is the backdrop for last night’s episode. Her sister surprises Detectives Corcoran and Maguire by noting that while she was found in Five Points, that was only her office‚ she actually lived “uptown” all the way on 14th Street, out of the ghetto. And it turns out that one real abortionist of the time became incredibly wealthy from her services‚ so rich that she could buy a mansion on Fifth Avenue.

In the mid-1800s, a former seamstress named Ann Lohman embarked on a new career. She called herself “Madame Restell,” and, with her husband and brother, she offered birth control devices and information, gave unmarried women a place to deliver their babies, even placed some unwanted babies with families and, yes, ended unwanted pregnancies.

Restell’s husband, Charles Lohman, who was a printer and radical, helped her develop her “Madame Restell” brand and newspaper advertisements for “female monthly pills” and “preventative powders.” For the powders, she charged $5; for abortions, depending on the wealth of the client, she’d charge $20-100. Neither Restell nor Lohman, who compounded the medications, were trained doctors‚ they were amateur obstetricians‚ but that didn’t stop them from selling Madame Restell items in stores and amassing a $1.5 million fortune.

There had been outcry over Restell’s services‚ the National Police Gazette called her, “The Wickedest Woman in New York‚” and, in 1847, Restell was convicted of a misdemeanor for inducing miscarriage (she was found not guilty of manslaughter) and served a year in prison. However, her husband continued the business in her stead (as “Dr. Mauriceau”) and by the time she emerged from behind bars, they kept moving up. In 1862, they managed to buy a prime piece of Fifth Avenue, at 52nd Street, even outbidding the Catholic Archdiocese, where she lived and operated her business.

With the change in address, Restelle started to cater to an upper-class clientele, charging them even more. Other Fifth Avenue residents were aghast that the grand home was the product of profits from Restell’s work, but Restell knew the dirty secrets of the powerful‚ plus she bought political protection.

During the 1870s, with the fall of NYC’s powerful kingmaker Boss Tweed, newspapers, especially the NY Times, rallied against abortionists. Morals crusader Anthony Comstock fought against birth control measures (he thought they encouraged lust) and managed to get Restell to sell him some of her “powders” from her mansion in 1878. He had her arrested for “selling abortifacients.” Rather than go back to the Tombs and prison, Restell, 67, killed herself by slitting her own throat. Her maid found her body in the bathtub.

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