Skip to main content

Madame Restell, Female Physician: Struggles over Abortion and Reproductive Medicine in the Antebellum United States

Dr. Nicholas L. Syrett
University of Kansas
Watson Hall 517

This talk focuses on a female physician named Madame Restell, the pseudonym of Ann Trow Summers Lohman, who operated in New York City between 1839 and 1878. While Restell was most famous for providing abortions, she also operated a successful lying-in hospital where she delivered babies and sold contraceptives and emmenagogues. Focusing in particular on those latter services, the talk highlights the connections between illegitimacy, abortion, and changing sexual mores in an antebellum city. While historians have tended to see the American Medical Association’s 1850s campaign against abortion as the root of criminalization, ultimately the talk demonstrates that objections to abortion predated doctors’ objections and focused on differently inflected class-based concerns about sex outside of marriage.

Dr. Nicholas L. Syrett is a professor of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies and an associate dean in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Kansas. He is also a professor, by courtesy, in the History Department, a coeditor of the Journal of the History of Sexuality, and the author of four books including The Trials of Madame Restell: Nineteenth-Century America's Most Infamous Female Physician and the Campaign to Make Abortion a Crime (The New Press, 2023).

Department of History, Queen's University

49 Bader Lane, Watson Hall 212
Kingston ON K7L 3N6




Queen's University is situated on traditional Haudenosaunee and Anishinaabe territory.