Johns Hopkins University Press

For decades, a group called Feminists for Life (FFL) has insisted that the founders of the women's rights movement, including Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, opposed abortion and worked to make it illegal. In fact, most early feminists expressed decided skepticism about outlawing abortion. This article revisits the sources and context to show that the early feminists condemned abortion but also predicted that anti-abortion laws would not work because they did not consult women's interests. The theories of sexuality on which these feminists premised their ideas about abortion soon became outdated, but their insight about the laws was prescient. A fuller understanding of this piece of women's history offers little support to anti-choice activists; indeed, it calls their whole project into question.

Ever since Roe v. Wade, opponents of legal abortion have invoked women's history to justify themselves. A group called Feminists for Life (FFL) first came up with the idea that the founders of the women's rights movement, including Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, had opposed abortion and "worked to outlaw" it. FFL saw their historical vision widely adopted in the Right-to-Life movement in the early 1990s as it tried to appeal to younger women with pro-woman and "women-protective" arguments. When a political action committee was formed in 1993 to support anti-choice candidates, it doubled down on this historical claim by calling itself the Susan B. Anthony List. But FFL and kindred groups have played fast and loose with the evidence, as the historian Ann D. Gordon and others have already pointed out.1

In fact, a number of early feminists expressed decided skepticism about outlawing abortion. They disliked abortion but thought anti-abortion laws did not apply "the proper remedies," according to one nineteenth-century women's rights pioneer. Such laws "do not touch the case," declared another. FFL assumed that it was enough to show that "the original feminists condemned abortion in the strongest terms" to infer that they favored legal sanctions.2 The sources show, however, that this assumption was wrong; feminists could condemn abortion but remain quite skeptical of its criminalization. This article revisits the sources and context to better understand how early women's rights advocates thought about both abortion and abortion laws. While discussing disputed evidence in some detail, it goes [End Page 102] beyond a verdict of "not proven" on Right-to-Life claims to argue that the early feminists' insights about the law have lasting power.

The Crusade

Nineteenth-century women's rights activists encountered abortion as a public issue in the form of a well-organized movement to criminalize it, a "crusade" against abortion that arose among credentialed medical doctors. As the historian James Mohr has shown, most forms of abortion were not illegal in the early republic, and the crusaders, who organized in the 1850s under the leadership of Dr. Horatio Robinson Storer, vowed to change that. Charging that abortion had become "fearfully prevalent," the crusaders condemned the selfishness of women who wished to limit the size of their families, and some also blamed abortion on "strong-minded women." The doctors challenged the traditional view that human life began at "quickening," when the woman could feel movement. They held that quickening was insignificant and that the beginning of fetal life must be backdated to the moment of conception, which meant changing the common understanding of what constituted an abortion.3

According to the traditional view, when a woman stopped menstruating, she might be pregnant, but she might also be ill, and because regular menstruation was thought to be crucial to good health, women could turn to an array of medications known as "emmenagogues" or other interventions to cure amenorrhea. During this period of uncertainty, women could make decisions about whether or not to proceed with possible pregnancies, and the law ignored those early, private decisions. To the extent that early nineteenth-century law had noticed abortion at all, it referred only to a "quick child"; such laws as did exist were directed toward the abortionist, often seemed designed to protect the woman, and were seldom enforced except in cases where the woman died.4 The crusading doctors insisted that any interference with possible pregnancy, including measures taken to "restore regularity" before a woman could even be sure she was pregnant, must be recategorized as abortion—and forbidden by strong new laws.

The doctors were reacting to real changes in fertility control and in medicine. Nineteenth-century America was in the midst of a rapid demographic transition that saw the average marital fertility rate drop precipitously, and couples evidently resorted to abortion as one means to limit family size. Abortion also became more visible as commercial providers of abortifacients and abortion services ran ads in the newspapers, and "Madame Restell," New York City's most prominent abortionist, flaunted her wealth with a mansion on Fifth Avenue. Doctors were also advancing their [End Page 103] professional interests, as they sought control of a wide-open, unlicensed medical profession in which "regular" physicians had to contend with "irregular" competitors, including homeopaths, health reformers, midwives, and water-cure practitioners. Crusading against abortion allowed regulars to lay claim to obstetrics, brandishing the authority of science while seizing the moral high ground at the same time. The campaign began among Boston physicians in 1857, then spread to the American Medical Association, which organized pressure on state legislatures for new laws.5

The crusade's leader, Horatio Storer, urged doctors to educate and even confront their female patients, asking about anything "suspicious" in women who had miscarried. He mocked an older doctor who thought it was improper to ask a lady such questions and charged that by tolerating traditional ideas about quickening or accepting women's own version of events physicians were neglecting professional duty. The ill health of the mother was no excuse for abortion, Storer declared, because the procedure was "disastrous" to mental and physical health, causing everything from epilepsy to "idiocy" and sciatica to cancer. Under the impact of the crusade, up-to-date physicians began to warn one another "to beware of duplicitous female patients who pretended to want remedies for amenorrhea but actually wanted to rid themselves of an unwanted pregnancy." Women's opinions were suspect. As Storer explained, "if each woman were allowed to judge for herself in this matter, her decision upon the abstract question would be too sure to be warped by personal considerations, and those of the moment." New laws were thus needed to coerce women who could not be persuaded to carry a pregnancy to term and to be used against uncredentialed "irregulars." Even regular doctors might benefit from legal proscription because it could stiffen their resolve lest they yield to pity or "the entreaties of a favorite patient."6 Storer argued that the crime was "clearly MURDER" and ought to be punished as such, but no legislature went that far. The crusade nevertheless produced a burst of anti-abortion legislation in virtually every state between 1860 and 1880. In these new laws, states outlawed abortion before "quickening," lowered standards of proof, increased penalties, forbade abortion-related advertising, and targeted the woman herself as a felon.

Despite the condescending and often hostile premises of the physicians' crusade, a number of pioneering women physicians who became known to history as feminist trailblazers, including Elizabeth Blackwell, aligned themselves with the male crusaders. Because Madame Restell advertised herself as a "female physician," women doctors frequently found themselves having to refuse prospective patients who assumed they would be willing to perform the procedure. Dr. Charlotte Lozier of New York was confronted by [End Page 104] a man who brought a woman from South Carolina in search of an abortion. Lozier refused the woman with "kindly warnings of the sin and danger of such a course," and when the man returned to her office the next day and became "quite abusive" she called the police. As Lozier's mention of "danger" suggests, the crusaders' pronouncements about abortion's harmful physical effects may have gained extra traction with women practitioners; however, women like Lozier were also motivated by the difficulty of their own search for professional acceptance and public respectability.7 Because the term female physician was a popular euphemism for abortionist, women physicians were strongly motivated to denounce abortion lest they be assumed to be specialists.

The Feminists

Women's rights advocates saw the abortion question differently. They had little sympathy for regular doctors, who dismissed women as unfit to practice medicine and excluded them from their medical schools and societies. Most feminists, instead, favored irregular medicine, especially homeopathy, which opened its ranks to women. As a group, they gravitated to popular health reformers who disavowed the privileges of expertise and sought to educate the public to heal themselves. Although health reform originated with men like Sylvester Graham and William Andrus Alcott, women soon played a major role by forming ladies' physiological societies and flocking to hear lectures on the human body. The networks of women's rights activists, health reformers, and irregular practitioners frequently overlapped, as when Paulina Wright Davis lectured on women's physiology or Elizabeth Cady Stanton served as a trustee for the homeopathic New York Medical College for Women.8

Health reformers preached the evils of alcohol and tobacco and sang the praises of a vegetarian diet, fresh air, cold baths, and no tight lacing, but they were especially vehement when they insisted that sexual behavior was central to human health. They rang alarm bells about a newly discovered, growing evil that underlay many diseases both physical and mental—a national epidemic of masturbation. Harmful in itself, masturbation led to morbidly overstimulated sexuality, especially among men who indulged in alcohol and tobacco, with disastrous results for their wives and children. According to the prevailing "maternal impression theory," a woman's emotional experiences during conception, pregnancy, and nursing affected the children she bore, and thus unwanted sexual intercourse resulted in children who were diseased, deformed, or mentally defective. This eugenic idea, which appeared to be confirmed in the 1840s by studies [End Page 105] of asylum inmates, gave women's rights advocates a powerful argument: woman must be "the sovereign of her own person," not just for her own sake but also for her children and all humanity. Elizabeth Cady Stanton thus blamed the excessive sexual demands of men for "fearful ravages on the race," including "children deformed, blind, deaf, dumb, and insane." These early feminists formulated their goal as "voluntary motherhood," which meant the right to say "No" to sex. However, they were not prudes demanding white-knuckle abstinence. Feminists theorized that, when no longer inflamed by the epidemic of masturbation, sexual desire would revert to natural levels that were moderate and rational, and once coitus became a truly mutual decision, marital sex would be less frequent but more satisfying for both partners, while children would be fewer and healthier.9

In later decades, feminist theories of sexuality had to change as these health reform ideas became discredited, but they held sway in the late 1860s and 1870s when the anti-abortion crusade was at its peak.10 Under these theories, abortion figured as the tragic result of men's morbidly overly developed passions, and laws that forced women to carry unwanted pregnancies to term were no solution.11 Such laws did not address the sexual abuse that underlay abortion, and they mandated pregnancies that might undermine a woman's health and result in the birth of children who were sure to be heartbreakingly deformed or diseased. Superficially similar in that they both deplored abortion, feminists and crusading doctors shared little else.12

The Evidence

The Revolution, the weekly newspaper published by Susan B. Anthony and edited by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Parker Pillsbury from 1868 to 1870, provides much of the evidence for FFL claims. While it did contain decidedly negative commentary about abortion, the paper was a forum for debate, and Anthony, Stanton, and Pillsbury alerted readers that "the editors, proprietor and owners of the paper disagree on many public questions." They signed their own editorials or articles—S. B. A., E. C. S., or P. P.—and reminded readers, "Those who write for our columns are responsible only for what appears under their own name." The newspaper hosted a discussion of abortion, but neither Anthony nor Stanton took an outspoken or leading role in it. They were reticent on the subject because they knew that sexual issues had the potential to divide and discredit the movement they were trying to build. Before the Civil War, they had seen how, when women's rights activists tentatively raised questions about marriage, their opponents tarred them with the brush of free love. After the war, in Kansas in 1867, Stanton and Anthony had seen opponents charge that women's suffrage would foster "infanticide and criminal abortion." Later, when their [End Page 106] movement debated and ultimately split over whether to cede precedence to black men's voting rights, Lucy Stone cited the discussion of abortion—the reason why women do not have babies, etc.—to explain why Stanton and Anthony's leadership was unacceptable.13

In contrast, Parker Pillsbury, Stanton's co-editor at the Revolution, and George Francis Train, the paper's financial backer, were not at all reticent on abortion. Pillsbury's signed articles declared that "foeticide" should be "regarded with shuddering horror by the whole human race," while Train's letters to the Revolution were peppered with offhand complaints about "Restellism." Pillsbury, as managing editor, could also select and reprint anti-abortion items from other publications in the cut-and-paste practice of the day. For example, the Revolution excerpted material from an article in the Banner of Light, a spiritualist weekly published in Boston, reporting that abortions were numerous in rural Androscoggin County, Maine. Right-to-Lifers try to attribute unsigned articles like this one to Elizabeth Cady Stanton and suggest the fact that Stanton and Anthony's paper ran these materials meant they endorsed them, but neither conclusion is justified. Stanton and Anthony badly needed both Train's money and Pillsbury's help with the Revolution because they had no resources and little experience in journalism. Pillsbury's previous work as an editor of the Herald of Freedom and National Anti-Slavery Standard made his contribution crucial. Pillsbury, who had a long history as the most "ultra" among radical abolitionists, moreover, backed Stanton and Anthony in battles over voting rights at a moment when the two women faced severe criticism from other former allies. In the interplay between these major obligations and strong opinions, Stanton and Anthony had good reason to set the policy that contributors to their paper were responsible "only for what appears under their own name."14

The Revolution offers no support for FFL claims about Susan B. Anthony, and in seeking evidence elsewhere, they have also erred. For example, they misconstrue a case when Anthony commented about "unborn little ones"; in this instance, she referred not to abortion but rather to the laws of estates and guardianship that permitted a father to assign legal guardianship of his children in his will, even if the child was unborn at the time of his death. They also use the following quote from Anthony to claim that she was endorsing laws against abortion: "The work of woman is not to lessen the severity or certainty of penalty of the violation of the social law." Yet the context clearly indicates that Anthony was referring to laws against prostitution. On two occasions, one private and one public, Anthony did indeed mention abortion. When she learned that her sister-in-law was bedridden as a result of "tampering with herself"—an abortion—Anthony wrote in [End Page 107] her private diary, "She will rue the day she forces nature." Despite Right-to-Life claims, the comment is ambiguous—is the abortion itself wrong, or will she regret the risk to her health?—and it gives no indication that Anthony considered abortion a social or legal, rather than a personal, issue. In fact, the phrase "tampering with herself" conceptualizes the situation not in terms of a fetus who has a right to life but in terms of a woman who has done something to "herself." Anthony also mentioned abortion in an 1875 speech on "Social Purity," where she included it in a long list of evils that stemmed from men's abuse of alcohol, including "divorce, marital infidelity, bigamy, seduction, rape, … scandals and charges of wife murder, abortions and infanticide." In other words, abortion was a symptom of women's oppression, a bad thing, but she does not imply that anti-abortion laws would be a good thing. In the same speech, she reminded her listeners, "The laws for marriage and divorce, for adultery, breach of promise, seduction, rape, bigamy, abortion, and infanticide were all made by men alone." This implies that the laws that forbade abortion, which had by 1875 been passed in most states, were problematic, perhaps even illegitimate, because they were made entirely by men.15

FFL claims to have found proof in the Revolution that Susan B. Anthony agreed with them in a letter signed "A." and titled "Marriage and Maternity." There is, however, no evidence that Anthony wrote it. During the time when Anthony was the Revolution's proprietor, it carried a total of forty-five items signed "S. B. A." Another eight items in the same interval were signed "A.," one of which was "Marriage and Maternity." Since Anthony signed so many articles "S. B. A.," it is unlikely she would have signed a few others differently. The eight items signed "A.," moreover, differ so considerably among themselves that they were probably written by different people. Not a shred of evidence shows that "A.'s" letter was written by Anthony, but as Ann Gordon notes, even if it had been written by Anthony, the letter offers scant support for a Right-to-Life position because "A." deplored abortion but then explicitly disagreed with trying to outlaw it.16 Anthony maintained an almost total silence on the subject of abortion and Right-to-Life claims about her have strikingly little basis in fact.

Stanton and Pillsbury on the Law

FFL has more material to work with on Stanton and Pillsbury, but again they overreach. Like Anthony, Stanton ranked abortion as one among a number of indications that women were oppressed. For example, when she reviewed a book by Horace Bushnell, a prominent Congregationalist minister who attacked women's suffrage by arguing that traditional feminine roles reflected "the dictates of Nature," Stanton sarcastically listed the [End Page 108] "natural" conditions reported in the daily press: "an unbroken history of rapes, seductions, paramours, infanticide, foeticide, unhappy marriages, separations, divorces."17

FFL members seek to augment their evidence by arguing that when Stanton used the word "infanticide" she was implicitly including abortion but a look at the sources shows that was not the case. The New York Times sparked public discussion of infanticide in 1868 by charging that infants were being murdered by deliberate neglect at "Madame Parselle's," a private lying-in hospital on 17th Street. There, pregnant women could deliver in secret and leave behind their out-of-wedlock infants to be placed in private adoptions. Such infants were liable to neglect because the city's orphanages would not accept children born out of wedlock, and many commentators urged the city to address the problem by establishing foundling hospitals. Commenting on Madame Parselle's, the New York Tribune conflated infanticide and abortion, referring to "the murder of children, either before or after birth," but Stanton did not. She chose to discuss Madame Parselle's (and quoted the Tribune in doing so), but she paired infanticide with another topic, prostitution, because she believed that both reflected women's oppression and shared a common remedy—women's rights. Stanton insisted that for a quarter of a century, "thinking women" had warned the country of "these thick coming dangers and pointed to the only remedy, the education and enfranchisement of women."18 In other words, foundling hospitals were not enough—women's rights were the only true solution.

When Stanton did discuss infanticide, she used the term to refer to the killing of a newborn and repeatedly expressed sympathy for the guilty woman. She had long taken a keen interest in the law, influenced from an early age by her father's role as a judge and legal educator, and she saw infanticide cases as particularly egregious examples of how the male-dominated legal system mistreated women. She repeatedly told the story of a desperate, frenzied woman, seduced and abandoned, who "ended the life that had but just begun" and was judged and condemned by an all-male jury. Meanwhile, her seducer walked free with his social standing unimpaired by "the imprisonment of his victim and the death of his child." Stanton saw that woman as a "victim," not a perpetrator. She used same word, "victim," to describe Hester Vaughan, an immigrant servant girl convicted of murdering her newborn child in 1868. Criticized by Julia Ward Howe on this issue, Stanton declared that she "had merely stated what was an acknowledged fact in the world and always would be until women had the full and entire control of their own person."19 Infanticide was certainly illegal, but it was also "a fact," she insisted—that is, laws on the statute books were unable to prevent it and unjust in punishing it. The only solution lay in a woman's right to control her own body. [End Page 109]

Stanton apparently gave her most extensive comments on abortion when she went on the lecture circuit in 1869 and held women-only meetings to discuss "marriage, maternity, and the laws of life and health," but the content of Stanton's remarks was never made public. She indicated, however, that she used an 1869 publication, The Science of a New Life by John Cowan, as a "text-book" for her talk. Cowan's book, which has been termed the "best single source for insight into the sexual beliefs of most feminists of the time," declared that men's "amativeness" was "overgrown" due to a combination of masturbation, alcohol, tobacco, etc. He contended that couples must put a stop to this dangerous trend by engaging in sexual intercourse only when they both lovingly agreed they wanted a child. Cowan promised that such restraint would lead to almost millennial "purity, chastity, and intense happiness" for both husband and wife and to physical, mental, and moral health for their children.20 Using Cowan as a text, Stanton probably urged women to take control of their own bodies, educate their husbands to respect their wishes, and raise their sons and daughters to do the same.

Stanton may also have followed Cowan on abortion; appalled by it, he nevertheless declared for education, not criminalization. He condemned abortion as a violation of God's "divine laws," but when he discussed how to "prevent the further growth of this tendency," he urged ministers, teachers, and schools to teach about "the sexual organism." He did not recommend, or even mention, anti-abortion laws. In fact, he predicted that until women and men were "educated into a right understanding of the use and abuse of amativeness," abortion would remain prevalent.21

The record shows that, unlike Stanton, Pillsbury was willing to countenance legal measures, at least when they were proposed by others. He was not a legal thinker but, instead, took a professional interest in journalism and was disgusted that so many newspapers ran ads for abortifacient medicines and abortionists. He was proud that the Revolution would accept "no quack or immoral advertisements" and may indeed have joined the Revolution editorial staff with just such a policy in mind. Pillsbury reportedly said, "One of the conditions under which I consented to be connected with [the Revolution] was that it should rebuke, in the strongest language possible," advertisements for "professional infanticide" services. Yet even Pillsbury was slow to embrace anti-abortion laws. In one signed editorial, he expressed the hope that foundling hospitals might help to stem "the frightful increase of foeticide"; in another, he mentioned holding patent medicine peddlers and editors who carried their ads "up to public detestation and execration." He certainly aimed to discredit abortion in the eyes of the public and hoped that the Revolution's ad policy was setting a good example for other publications. He nevertheless failed to endorse the new [End Page 110] anti-abortion laws in those 1868 editorials.22 In March 1869, however, he took a step further.

While Stanton was out of town and she and Anthony engaged other abolitionists in a fierce controversy about whether to support the Fifteenth Amendment, Pillsbury reprinted an editorial from the Medical Gazette, a professional journal circulated among regular doctors in New York. The Medical Gazette editorial specifically endorsed tough, new anti-abortion laws and relished the prospect of punishing women for having abortions—transferring "a few fair aristocrats from their boudoirs to a common prison." Pillsbury's preface to the Medical Gazette reprint expressed approval. At about the same time, he ran a report that a bill to suppress the advertising of "patent or quack medicines" was before the New York state legislature. The report approved the measure, especially since patent medicine ads gave cover to "Restellism."23

Pillsbury thus appears to fit the FFL description of feminist opinion on abortion, but there is no indication that he spoke for Anthony or Stanton. In fact, less than three months later, Pillsbury's name disappeared from the newspaper's masthead, and Stanton took over as the sole editor. In her first issue working alone, Stanton elected to run a letter criticizing the Medical Gazette editorial and its argument that new laws should be passed against abortion. This letter was "A.'s" "Marriage and Maternity," which deplored "the horrible crime of child murder" but then proceeded to argue against new anti-abortion laws.24 Stanton ran no letters that supported the Medical Gazette editorial or the new laws, and in the absence of both Pillsbury and Train, the Revolution's discussion of abortion died down.

Right-to-Lifers who assert that early feminists supported legal restrictions on abortion fail to understand the limits of the historical evidence. They can properly claim Pillsbury, who was certainly a feminist, as well as some early women physicians for their cause but not Stanton, Anthony, or feminists in general. Unaware of context, they do not appreciate the way words like "crime" and "murder" could be applied to moral failings or even unhealthy behavior, as, for example, when Stanton spoke of the "wholesale murder of the innocents" caused by "badly ventilated school-rooms."25 They can legitimately cite Pillsbury's reprint of the Medical Gazette editorial, the item in the Revolution supporting a bill to outlaw patent medicine advertising, and the episode in which Dr. Charlotte Lozier called the police about a man who was threatening her for refusing to perform an abortion. But these instances cannot justify large claims. Most importantly, FFL fails to notice the crucial distinction between attitudes toward abortion—which everyone condemned—and attitudes toward abortion laws. [End Page 111]

Debating the Uses of the Law

Even Horatio Storer saw that questions about the efficacy of laws outlawing abortion were troubling and felt obliged to address the question in an 1859 medical journal article entitled "Can It Be at All Controlled by Law?" There he argued that stronger laws that closed loopholes and lowered standards of proof had not yet been tried and, in any case, physicians must adopt "the holy enthusiasm sure in a good cause to succeed despite every obstacle." But Storer ultimately left the question of legal effectiveness open, appealing to doctors' professional pride as sufficient reason to act: "Whether the suppression of abortion be effected or no, one thing is certain, our own hands will have been cleansed of this sea of blood." He tried instead to clinch the argument by escalating his rhetoric against "these wretched women" who were "murdering their children by thousands."26

A few physicians were unconvinced that legal changes would solve the problem. Dr. Charles Edward Buckingham, for example, argued that physicians should speak out and work to change public attitudes, but the existing laws were sufficient and increasing penalties would only make it harder to obtain convictions. Try as they might, Buckingham predicted, doctors would "fail to convince the public that abortion in the early months is a crime." Dr. Henry Ingersoll Bowditch also doubted whether strong, new anti-abortion laws would work on practical grounds. He mentioned what he called the "morale of the community"—the belief that before quickening women were free to restore menstrual regularity—and the inherent difficulty of prosecuting a crime in which all of the parties wanted secrecy. He reinforced his point by suggesting that anti-liquor laws offered a cautionary tale: Maine and other states had passed the first prohibition laws in the early 1850s, but they were soon discredited by lax enforcement, legal challenges, and declining public support. "I have little hope of any anti-abortion statute," Bowditch declared, "any more than I have confidence in any Maine or anti-liquor law."27

Bowditch also raised a more fundamental objection—what about the woman and her well-being? He posed a hypothetical question: "Suppose a mother of several children which she has in rapid succession & the physician feels assured that health & possible life will be endangered if another pregnancy occurs." In such a case, Bowditch asked Storer, privately, might not a physician use "common means for amenorrhea if the menses have been absent six weeks?" When Bowditch spoke of using "common means for amenorrhea," he reflected a traditional understanding of a desire to restore "regularity," and he could sympathize with a woman whose period was two weeks overdue and who had good reason to avoid pregnancy. He hesitated to dismiss her wishes and her needs and asked Storer, "Are the cases always [End Page 112] so plain that a man can decide? And may he not balance a choice of evils?"28 But when Storer ignored Bowditch's questions and attacked skeptics like Buckingham as reprobates and cowards, these doctors dropped the matter, and the crusaders prevailed inside the regular medical profession.

Feminists came at the question from a different angle. They resented the way crusaders blamed women or even feminists for abortion when men's sexual demands were really at fault. Matilda Joslyn Gage condemned abortion but insisted that the real underlying crime was "enforced motherhood." Gage declared woman must have "the right to herself" and "control over her own body" and described an unwanted pregnancy as a twofold "crime against the body of the mother and the soul of the child." But she used the word crime figuratively, not literally, because she pictured women laughing "a silent, derisive laugh at the decisions of eminent medical and legal authorities." In lieu of criminal penalties, some feminists wanted to educate women about pregnancy, as Dr. Anna Densmore did by lecturing to an audience of women about the "ever present vitality of the developing embryo." Similarly, Dr. Clemence Lozier, a homeopathic physician and feminist, strongly opposed abortion and even called it "ante-natal infanticide" but sought a remedy by publishing informative popular tracts and encouraging "free discussion on the subject among women."29

Yet education had obvious limits if men were unwilling to cooperate. This was highlighted when two Revolution correspondents agreed that abortion was terrible but debated what to do about it. One, "Teacher," wrote, "Give us knowledge before accusing us of crime" and praised Densmore's lecture. But a second correspondent, "Conspirator," responded that educating women would not work either. "Conspirator" pictured desperate mothers struggling to care for "the little ones whom the brutal lusts of a drunken husband have forced upon them" and commented that it was no wonder that these women do not "choose to add to their number." The true remedy for abortion, "Conspirator" argued, was the fundamental remedy of women's rights—"liberty to women, freedom entire."30

Feminists rejected the doctors' legal approach. Mary Fenn Davis said Storer's anti-abortion treatise would not "apply the proper remedies." She predicted that abortion would actually increase "in spite of Church and State" until fundamental changes were enacted "making women equal with man, socially and politically, in and out of marriage, and as much the controller of her person in marriage as out of it." In the Woman's Advocate, Eliza Boardman Burns characterized abortion as "a terrible thing" but also recognized it as "the outgrowth of the protest in woman's soul" against becoming a mother against her will and claimed husbands were to blame. Burns wanted to hear no more from men on the subject until they "learn to [End Page 113] check their sensualism, and leave their wives free to choose their periods of maternity." In Woodhull and Claflin's Weekly, Tennie C. Claflin blasted abortion but then declared flatly that it "cannot be put down by law."31

These women saw feminism as the solution, not new laws. Mattie Brinkerhoff argued that men bore much of the guilt if women freed themselves "in a mechanical way" from the burden of pregnancy. A women must have the vote, said Brinkerhoff, to frame laws that make her "the owner of her own body … the controller of her own destiny." She saw abortion as "evidence that either by education or by circumstances [a woman] has been greatly wronged." "But the question now," Brinkerhoff declared, was "how should we prevent this destruction of life and health?" Brinkerhoff answered her own question with a clear call for the "true education and independence of women."32 In a letters-to-the-editor column, one of the Revolution's editors—either Stanton or Pillsbury—commented on the futility of abortion laws by comparing them to prohibition laws, as Bowditch had done. They wrote that such laws "do not remedy drunkenness or child murder. They do not touch the case." Although willing to refer to abortion as "child murder," the Revolution editor simply did not believe that anti-abortion laws would work.33

Abortion was not the only issue that led nineteenth-century feminists to contemplate the uses of the law. Many feminists had taken part in antebellum efforts to end alcohol abuse and, like Anthony, had begun with moral suasion and later pressed for legal sanctions. Anthony was among the women who petitioned the legislature in 1852, asking for a New York version of the Maine law. But the failures of the Maine laws, enacted in thirteen states and then repealed or unenforced, left many reformers feeling disillusioned, and the next surge of anti-alcohol activism, the Women's Crusades that emerged in the 1870s, ignored legislation in favor of direct, prayerful confrontation with saloonkeepers. In the antebellum years, female moral reform societies had similarly campaigned to end prostitution through moral appeals, but some also pushed legal measures like anti-seduction laws. After the Civil War, the prostitution question arose again when some municipalities moved to legalize (and regulate) it, and feminists had to decide what to think. Late nineteenth-century feminists have been characterized as quick to invoke the power of the state to shape social behavior, but the history of abortion laws suggests that feminist opinion may have been more varied, depending on the issue and the moment.34 In sum, early feminists condemned abortion because they saw it as a symptom of women's oppression and a strong argument for women's rights. However, they believed anti-abortion laws would fail because they dealt with effects, not causes; it was far better, they thought, to eliminate this problem (and many others) by extending women's rights. [End Page 114]

The Failed Experiment

In the mid-nineteenth century, Dr. Charles Edward Buckingham predicted that, try as they might, doctors would "fail to convince the public that abortion in the early months is a crime." The feminist Tennie Claflin declared that abortion "cannot be put down by law," and the skeptical Dr. Henry Bowditch pointed to the situation when a woman's period was two weeks overdue. How could she be persuaded that taking steps at that early point to "restore regularity" was not her own private business but, instead, "MURDER," as Storer thundered in capital letters. Storer could raise his voice and invoke science and religion, scorn a woman's "personal considerations," and browbeat her with the threat of deadly disease, but could he persuade that woman? And if not, how effectively could the laws police her?

The answer played out over the next hundred years, as the various states tried with limited success to suppress abortion by legal means. Although Mohr credits the tough new nineteenth-century abortion laws with driving down abortion rates, they may simply have given an impression of success because they drove abortion underground. Indeed, one anti-choice scholar surveys evidence from the 1890s and asks, "What decrease?" The historian Leslie Reagan argues that the draconian anti-abortion statutes passed in the period 1860–1880 were, in practice, largely unenforced due to police and prosecutorial restraint and juries' reluctance to convict. Only in the 1940s was vigorous enforcement pursued, whereupon it quickly generated an abortion reform movement in which, ironically, many doctors took part, having by then concluded the laws were wrong headed and harmful to public health. Whatever the laws might say, women never stopped seeking abortions. As the historian Sara DuBow puts it, "the AMA's ability to change laws had exceeded its ability to change minds or behavior."35

The skeptics who doubted the laws were remarkably prescient. Anti-abortion laws did not work because desperate women always had and always would find a way to obtain an abortion, even when the procedure was illegal and dangerous. The cost of this unsuccessful experiment in using the law to prevent women from having abortions was high: many suffered and died as a result. Eventually, in the 1960s, a new generation of feminists—operating on quite different assumptions about human sexuality (and heredity) and, therefore, arguing along quite different lines—lent their voices to abortion reform, and states began to ease abortion laws. In 1973, the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade revived the traditional understanding that in the early months of pregnancy—the "first trimester"—women could make their own decisions and reinstated it as a legal right.

Anti-abortion forces today misuse women's history, employing Anthony, Stanton, and other early feminists to suggest that their anti-choice [End Page 115] politics are also pro-woman. They have ransacked the sources for evidence that fits their agenda, but they have ignored the way those same sources suggest a flaw in their logic. They assume that restoring prohibitory laws will actually prevent abortion, rather than just drive it into back alleys. The sources tell a different story. If anti-abortion laws do not work very well, as skeptical feminists and even some doctors predicted back in the 1860s, then modern abortion opponents cannot hope to succeed by using the law to coerce women, especially now that abortion is increasingly medical rather than surgical. The skeptical conversation that accompanied the passage of the first strong anti-abortion laws may be worth recalling today, at a point when society understands that outlawing alcohol did not work but has yet to realize the same will likely be true of abortion. Revisiting the sources to gain a fuller understanding of this piece of feminist history offers little or no support for anti-choice activists; indeed, it calls their whole project into question.

Faye E. Dudden

FAYE E. DUDDEN is the Charles A. Dana Professor of History Emerita at Colgate University. Her books include Serving Women: Household Service in Nineteenth-Century America (Wesleyan University Press, 1983), Women in the American Theatre: Actresses and Audiences, 1790–1870 (Yale University Press, 1994), and Fighting Chance: The Struggle over Woman Suffrage and Black Suffrage in Reconstruction America (Oxford University Press, 2011). Her recent research has focused on the nineteenth-century women's rights movement, especially in the Reconstruction period.


I would like to thank Carla Bittel, Joan J. Brumberg, Ann D. Gordon, Alison Parker, and Barbara Sicherman who read early drafts and helped me to corral my thoughts. Thanks also to Leigh Ann Wheeler and the anonymous reviewers from the JWH.

1. For FFL claims, including "worked to outlaw it," see Serrin Foster, "The Feminist Case against Abortion," The American Feminist 11, no. 2–3 (2004): 30, available at the Feminists for Life website (; and Marjorie Dannenfelser, "Susan B. Anthony: Pro-life Feminist," Washington Post, May 21, 2010. On these activists, see Reva B. Siegel, "The Right's Reasons: Constitutional Conflict and the Spread of Woman-Protective Antiabortion Argument," Duke Law Journal 57, no. 6 (2008): 1641–92; Mary Ziegler, "Women's Rights on the Right: The History and Stakes of Modern Pro-Life Feminism," Berkeley Journal of Gender, Law, and Justice 28, no. 2 (2013): 232–68; Tracy A. Thomas, "Misappropriating Women's History in the Law and Politics of Abortion," Seattle University Law Review 36, no. 1 (2012): 2–68; Tracy A. Thomas, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the Feminist Foundations of Family Law (New York: New York University Press, 2016), 232–36; Linda C. McClain, "Equality, Oppression, and Abortion: Women Who Oppose Abortion Rights in the Name of Feminism," in Feminist Nightmares: Women at Odds, ed. Susan Ostrov Weisser and Jennifer Fleischner (New York: New York University Press, 1994), 159–88; and Allison Stevens, "Susan B. Anthony's Abortion Position Spurs Scuffle," Women's eNews, October 6, 2006, FFL claims are refuted in Ann D. Gordon and Lynn Sherr, "No, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton Were Not Antiabortionists," Time, November 10, 2015,; Gordon and Sherr, "Sarah Palin Is No Susan B. Anthony," Washington Post, May 21, 2010,; Gordon, "Welcome to the Imaginarium: Lists, Lies, and Life," Project News: Papers of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, fall 2012, 3,; and Gordon, "Knowing Susan B. Anthony: The Stories We Tell of a Life," in Susan B. Anthony and the Struggle for Equal Rights, ed. Christine L. Ridarsky and Mary M. Huth (Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press, 2012), 223–27. These publications are brief, but Ann Gordon brings to the question her considerable authority as editor of the six-volume Selected Papers of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1997–2013).

2. "Sounding the Alarm," Banner of Light, March 7, 1868, 5, the "New York Department" run by Mary Fenn Davis; "What the People Say to Us," Revolution, June 18, 1868, 374; Foster, "Feminist Case against Abortion," 29. I use the term "feminist" to describe nineteenth-century women's rights activists because, although anachronistic, it is a useful shorthand.

3. The definitive sources are James C. Mohr, Abortion in America: The Origins and Evolution of National Policy, 1800–1900 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1978); and Reva B. Seigel, "Reasoning from the Body: A Historical Perspective on Abortion Regulation and Questions of Equal Protection," Stanford Law Review 44, no. 2 (1992): 280–314. I rely on Mohr for information about the history of abortion, parting company with him on the question of feminist attitudes toward legal measures where he overgeneralizes from thin evidence (Mohr, Abortion in America, 113 and 289, n. 93 and 94). Siegel compares the differing perspectives of doctors and feminists more effectively. See also Linda Gordon, The Moral Property of Women: A History of Birth Control Politics in America (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2002); Janet Farrell Brodie, Contraception and Abortion in Nineteenth-Century America (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1994); Michael Grossberg, Governing the Hearth: Law and the Family in Nineteenth-Century America (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1985), 155–69; and Cyril C. Means Jr., "The Law of New York Concerning Abortion and the Status of the Foetus, 1664–1968: A Case of Cessation of Constitutionality," New York Law Forum 14, no. 3 (1968): 411–515. Frederick N. Dyer, Champion of Women and the Unborn: Horatio Robinson Storer, M. D. (Canton, MS: Science History Publications, 1999) is useful although tendentious. "Fearfully prevalent" is from "Child Murder," Harper's Weekly, February 8, 1868, 82.

4. Brodie, Contraception and Abortion, 43; Janet Farrell Brodie, "Menstrual Interventions in the Nineteenth-Century United States," in Regulating Menstruation: Beliefs, Practices, Interpretations, ed. Etienne Van de Walle and Elisha P. Renne (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001), 41; Gordon, Moral Property of Women, 26; and Peter J. Kastor and Conevery Bolton Valenius, "Sacagawea's 'Cold': Pregnancy and the Written Record of the Lewis and Clark Expedition," Bulletin of the History of Medicine 82, no. 2 (2008): 276–309.

5. Brodie, Contraception and Abortion, 229–31; Clifford Browder, The Wickedest Woman in New York: Madame Restell, the Abortionist (Hamden, CT: Archon Books, 1988); Carroll Smith-Rosenberg, "The Abortion Movement and the AMA, 1850–1880," in Disorderly Conduct: Visions of Gender in Victorian America (New York: Knopf, 1985), 217–44; Regina Markell Morantz-Sanchez, Sympathy and Science: Women Physicians in American Medicine (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985), 189, 220; and Horatio R. Storer, Why Not? A Book for Every Woman (Boston, 1866) and Is it I? A Book for Every Man (Boston, 1867), reprinted together in Horatio R. Storer, A Proper Bostonian on Sex and Birth Control (New York: Arno Press, 1974). Frederick N. Dyer, The Physicians' Crusade against Abortion (Sagamore Beach, MA: Science History Publications, 2005) is also valuable although partisan.

6. Horatio R. Storer and Franklin Fiske Heard, Criminal Abortion: Its Nature, Its Evidence, and Its Law (1868; repr. New York: Arno Press, 1974), 84; Horatio R. Storer, "Criminal Abortion," speech, cited in Dyer, Champion of Women, 102; Storer, Why Not, 35–61, 74–75; Brodie, "Menstrual Interventions," 48; and Horatio Robinson Storer, "The Criminality and Physical Evils of Forced Abortions," Transactions of the American Medical Association 16 (1865): 711–45, 719.

7. Brodie, Contraception and Abortion, 228; Morantz-Sanchez, Sympathy and Science, 189, 220; Dyer, Physicians' Crusade, chap. 20; Caroline Healey Dall, diary, 16 May–14 June 1870, cited in Dyer, Champion of Women, 206; and "Restellism Exposed," Revolution, December 2, 1869, 346.

8. Helen Lefkowitz Horowitz, Rereading Sex: Battles over Sexual Knowledge and Suppression in Nineteenth-Century America (New York: Knopf, 2002), chap. 5; Gordon, Moral Property, 108–10; Morantz-Sanchez, Sympathy and Science, 33–46; April R. Haynes, Riotous Flesh: Women, Physiology, and the Solitary Vice in Nineteenth-Century America (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015), 138–39, 147–48; and Gordon, Selected Papers, 1:314.

9. Horowitz, Rereading Sex, chap. 5; Haynes, Riotous Flesh; G. J. Barker-Benfield, The Horrors of the Half-Known Life: Male Attitudes toward Women and Sexuality in Nineteenth-Century America (New York: Harper & Row, 1976); Stephen Nissenbaum, Sex, Diet, and Debility in Jacksonian America: Sylvester Graham and Health Reform (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1980); Gordon, Moral Property, chaps. 4–5; Charles Rosenberg, "The Bitter Fruit: Heredity, Disease, and Social Thought in Nineteenth-Century America," in No Other Gods: On Science and American Social Thought, rev. ed. (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997), 25–53; Morantz-Sanchez, Sympathy and Science, 220; Susan B. Anthony on Samuel Gridley Howe's study of "idiocy" in Gordon, Selected Papers, 3:157; E. C. S., "Infanticide and Prostitution," Revolution, February 5, 1868, 65; ("The race" was an ambiguous phrase that could refer to either the white race or the whole human species, as, for example, when alcohol was described as "race poison." Gordon, Moral Property, 77, 80, 91), Gordon, "Why Nineteenth-Century Feminists Did Not Support 'Birth Control' and Twentieth-Century Feminists Do: Feminism, Reproduction, and the Family," in Rethinking the Family: Some Feminist Questions, ed. Barrie Thorne that Marilyn Yalom (New York: Longman, 1982), 40–53; and William Leach, True Love and Perfect Union: The Feminist Reform of Sex and Society (New York: Basic Books, 1980), chap. 4.

10. Ellen DuBois and Linda Gordon described nineteenth-century feminist thinking about sexuality as falling into two tendencies: a major strain that focused on defending women from male sexual predation and embraced female "passion-lessness" and a minor strain that endorsed female sexual pleasure. See DuBois and Gordon, "Seeking Ecstasy on the Battlefield: Danger and Pleasure in Nineteenth-Century Feminist Sexual Thought," Feminist Studies 9, no. 1 (1983): 42–54. Subsequent scholarship has confirmed and complicated this paradigm and traced the way sex-positive views became dominant in the twentieth century. The health reform theories of sexuality discussed here could be seen as a transition phase.

11. "Letter from Mrs. Stanton," Proceedings of the Seventh National Woman's Right Convention, 88–89, in The Papers of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, ed. Patricia G. Holland and Ann D. Gordon (Wilmington, DE: Scholarly Resources, 1991), frame 807, reel 8. See also discussion of "unwilling maternity" in Henry C. Wright, Marriage and Parentage (1854; repr. New York: Arno Press, 1974); and Henry C. Wright, The Unwelcome Child, or the Crime of an Undesigned and Undesired Maternity (Boston: B. Marsh, 1858), 64, 70.

12. Siegel, "Reasoning from the Body," contends the two groups were directly at odds; in denouncing abortion, doctors were contesting feminist ideas about marriage and motherhood.

13. FFL members present their documentary evidence in Rachel MacNair, Mary Krane Derr, and Linda Naranjo-Heubl, eds., ProLife Feminism Yesterday and Today (New York: Sulzberger & Graham, 1995) and in an expanded second edition: Mary Krane Derr, Rachel MacNair, and Linda Naranjo-Huebl, eds., ProLife Feminism Yesterday and Today, 2nd ed. (USA: Feminism and Nonviolence Studies Association, 2005). The only complete run of the Revolution is found in the microfilm Papers of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, series 1, reels 1–3. All subsequent citations to the Revolution use internal notations (date and page number) but are taken from the microfilmed Papers. In the course of two and a half years and two thousand pages of publication, the Revolution ran about thirty items that mentioned or discussed abortion. See "What the Press Says of the Revolution," Revolution, February 26, 1868, 114; "Prospectus of the Revolution for 1870," Revolution, November 11, 1869, 300; "Prospectus of the Revolution for 1870," Revolution, November 18, 1869, 316; Leavenworth Daily Conservative, November 5, 1867; and Lucy Stone to Elizabeth Cady Stanton, 1869 (after October 19), Papers, 13:865.

14. On Pillsbury, see P. P., "Quack Medicines," Revolution, March 26, 1868, 178; "What the Press Says of Us," Revolution, January 21, 1869, 42; reference to Pillsbury as "managing editor" in "In General," Boston Daily Advertiser, May 30, 1870, 1; Thomas, "Misappropriating," 55–60; and Stacey M. Robertson, Parker Pillsbury: Radical Abolitionist, Male Feminist (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 200), although Robertson does not discuss Pillsbury's anti-abortion stance. On Train, see Faye Dudden, Fighting Chance: The Struggle over Woman Suffrage and Black Suffrage in Reconstruction America (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 127–140; "Letter from George Francis Train," Revolution, October 29, 1868, 263; "Letter from Geo. Francis Train," Revolution, April 22, 1869, 246; and "Letter from Geo. Francis Train," Revolution, July 2, 1868, 407. Compare the unsigned "Child Murder," Revolution, March 12, 1868, 146–47 and the original item on which it is based, "Christian Civilization," Banner of Light, February 29, 1868, 4. For FFL claims, see MacNair, ProLife Feminism (1995), 42–44, 296n83; and Derr, ProLife Feminism (2005), 49, 413n8 and 9. In footnotes, the editors concede the articles "were not actually signed" by Stanton but argue that "her authorship can be confidently inferred from their appearance in her paper and from their similarities to each other and to texts known to be penned by her." Of course neither their presence in the paper nor their similarities to each other prove authorship. MacNair, p. 296n83, points to similarities between the unsigned "Infanticide" article and Stanton's speech to the 1869 American Equal Rights Association. The article and the speech do share the trope of a "male element" that is "overpowering" a female element, but the similarity is far from sufficient to prove authorship since the trope came from Auguste Comte, whose social theories were widely discussed among feminists. See Leach, True Love and Perfect Union, 138–57.

15. Frances Willard paraphrased Anthony as saying "sweeter even than to have had the joy of caring for children of my own has it been to me to help bring about a better state of things for mothers generally, so that their unborn little ones could not be willed away from them." Frances Willard, Glimpses of Fifty Years: The Autobiography of an American Woman (Chicago: H. J. Smith, 1889), 598. To clarify Anthony's point, see "Address by Elizabeth Cady Stanton to the Legislature of New York," 14 February 1854, in Gordon, Selected Papers, 1:251: "The Revised Statues of New-York provide that 'every father, whether of full age or a minor, of a child to be born, or of any living child under the age of twenty-one years, and unmarried, may by his deed or last will, duly executed, dispose of the custody and tuition of such child during its minority, or for any less time, to any person or persons.'" Mary Krane Derr, "Herstory Worth Repeating," The American Feminist 5, no. 1 (1998): 19; Susan B. Anthony, "Social Purity," 12 April 1875, in Gordon, Selected Papers, 3:161; Susan B. Anthony, diary, 4–8 March 1876, in Gordon, Selected Papers, 3:213–14; Cat Clark, "The Truth about Susan B. Anthony," The American Feminist, spring 2007, 1–5; and Gordon and Sherr, "Sarah Palin Is No Susan B. Anthony."

16. A., "Marriage and Maternity," Revolution, July 8, 1869, 4, which is reprinted in ProLife Feminism labeled "by Susan B. Anthony," although in a footnote, the editors concede that it was actually signed only "A." See McNair, Pro-Life Feminism (1995), 60, 298n102, where the editors attribute it to Anthony because it "resonates with opinions she voiced elsewhere," without citing examples. In the second edition, Derr, Pro Life Feminism (2005), the editors gave this item a new title but still labeled it "by Susan B. Anthony" and argued, "Anthony was often called 'Miss A.'" They suggested that the opinions expressed in the article "cohere with those Anthony expressed elsewhere," again without offering examples. Quantitative research assistance by Blake Deignan. Different A.'s are evident in, for example, A., "A Washington Convert," Revolution, March 11, 1869, 148; A., "Mechanical Science: One Revolution or Two," Revolution, March 28, 1868, 186; and A., "Finance for the People," Revolution, November 26, 1868, 330. The fact that A.'s letter does not support a Right-to-Life position was first noted by Gordon and Sherr in "Sarah Palin Is No Susan B. Anthony."

17. E. C. S., review of Horace Bushnell, Women's Suffrage: The Reform against Nature, Revolution, June 10, 1869, 361. See also Thomas, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, 176–85.

18. MacNair, ProLife Feminism (1995), 42; "Local Intelligence: Startling Disclosures," New York Times, January 25, 1868, 2; "Child Murder," New York Tribune, January 27, 1868, 4; "A Foundling Hospital. Presentment by the Grand Jury," New York Tribune, March 6, 1868, 2; and E. C. S., "Infanticide and Prostitution," Revolution, February 5, 1868, 65. If a private adoption could not be arranged promptly, such newborns were unavoidably endangered by the prevailing ignorance about infant nutrition. See Julie Miller, Abandoned: Foundlings in Nineteenth-Century New York City (New York: New York University Press, 2008), chap. 3. Stanton quoted from the Tribune writer who equated actions taken "either before or after birth," but her own comments are easily distinguished because they were set in a larger font.

19. "Address by ECS to the Legislature of New York," 14 February 1854, in Gordon, Selected Papers, 1:244. Gordon notes that Stanton told versions of this same story in 1854, 1861, and 1868: Gordon, Selected Papers, 2:193n3. On Hester Vaughan, see E. C. S., "Hester Vaughan," Revolution, November 19, 1868, 312, and coverage of the case in Revolution issues dated August 6, September 17, November 19, 1868, and passim; and Thomas, "Misappropriating," 42–48. On the exchange with Howe, see Thomas, "Misappropriating," 38–39; "The Women's Congress," New York Tribune, October 17, 1873; and "Women's Congress," New York World, October 17, 1873.

20. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Eighty Years and More, 1815–1897: Reminiscences of Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1898; repr. New York: Source Book Press, 1970), 262; Leach, True Love, 32; and John Cowan, The Science of a New Life (New York: Fowler & Wells, 1869), unpaginated front matter that includes the endorsement from Stanton and 67, 115–19, 303.

21. Cowan, Science of a New Life, 275, 277, 281, 283–99, 303–5. Cowan reprints materials from Wright, The Unwelcome Child.

22. P. P., "Quack Medicines" and P. P., "Foundling Hospitals," Revolution, March 26, 1868, 177, 178; "The Revolution Will Advocate," Revolution, January 8, 1868, 1; "Hester Vaughan," New York World, December 2, 1868; "Good Sign," Revolution, December 17, 1868, 380, which notes a similar ad policy announced by the Western New Yorker; and Thomas, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, 180.

23. "Restellism Rebuked," Revolution, March 18, 1869, 167. In early April 1869, Stanton returned to her desk "after an absence of two months." See "What the People Say to Us," Revolution, April 8, 1869, 211; "Itinerary of ECS and SBA," Papers of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, frame 251, reel 13; and "Important Movement," Revolution, April 8, 1869, 221.

24. The masthead indicates that Pillsbury's last issue as coeditor was 1 July 1869, although he did continue to contribute signed articles after that date. Perhaps Pillsbury felt obliged to leave because Stanton objected to the Medical Gazette editorial, with its obvious misogyny. There is no record of a dispute, but there was also no explanation for the change of editors, nor any published salute to Pillsbury's work as he exited the editorial chair. Robertson, Parker Pillsbury, 155, 157, indicates that Pillsbury left because they could not afford to pay him. Finances were certainly strained, but his departure may have been overdetermined. A., "Marriage and Maternity," Revolution, July 8, 1869, 2, 10.

25. Derr, ProLife Feminism (2005), 406n7, summarizes their evidence, some of which refers to the Revolution's ad policy rather than to legal measures. Relevant materials include "Restellism Exposed," Revolution, December 2, 1869, 346, on the incident in Dr. Charlotte Lozier's office, see 4–5; and "Important Movement," Revolution, April 8, 1869, 221, on legislation about patent medicine advertising, see 14. See E. C. S., "Advice to the Strong-Minded," Revolution, May 21, 1868, 315.

26. Horatio R. Storer, "Contributions to Obstetric Jurisprudence—Criminal Abortion VIII: Can It Be at all Controlled by Law?" North American Medico-Chirurgical Review 3, no. 6 (1859): 1033–46, 1039, 1044. Italics added.

27. B., "The Report upon Criminal Abortion," Boston Medical and Surgical Journal 56, no. 17 (1857): 346–47. B. is identified as Dr. Charles Edward Buckingham in Dyer, Physicians' Crusade, 40. See "Report of the Committee upon Criminal Abortions," Boston Medical and Surgical Journal 56, no. 19 (1857): 386–89, 386; "The Report upon Criminal Abortion—Comments of the New Hampshire Journal of Medicine," Boston Medical and Surgical Journal 56, no. 3 (1857): 503–4, 504; Dyer, Champion of Women, 114–24; Henry I. Bowditch to Horatio R. Storer, 20 April 1857, Horatio Robinson Storer Papers, Countway Library of Medicine, Harvard Medical School, Cambridge, Massachusetts; Ian R. Tyrrell, Sobering Up: From Temperance to Prohibition in Antebellum America, 1800–1860 (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1979), chaps. 10–11; and Thomas R. Pegram, Battling Demon Rum: The Struggle for a Dry America, 1800–1933 (Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 1998), 39–42.

28. Henry I. Bowditch to Horatio R. Storer, 20 April 1857, Storer Papers.

29. Matilda Joslyn Gage, "Is Woman Her Own?" Revolution, April 9, 1868, 215–16. Dr. Clemence Lozier (not to be confused with her daughter-in-law Dr. Charlotte Lozier) was the dean of the New York Medical College for Women. See Notable American Women, s. v. Lozier, Clemence Sophia Harned; Clemence S. Lozier, Childbirth Made Easy (New York: Robert J. Johnson, 1870), 3–4; and "Letter from Dr. Lozier," Revolution, February 12, 1868, 85: "The subject is a delicate one, and I see no effectual remedy for the evil but free discussion on the subject among women."

30. Teacher, "Lectures of Dr. Anna Densmore," Revolution, March 19, 1868, 170; and Conspirator, "Child Murder," Revolution, April 9, 1868, 217.

31. "Sounding the Alarm," Banner of Light, March 7, 1868, 5, the "New York Department" run by Mary Fenn Davis; E. V. B., "Restellism and the N.Y. Medical Gazette," Woman's Advocate (Dayton, Ohio), April 8, 1869, 16; and Tennie C. Claflin, "My Word on Abortion," Woodhull and Claflin's Weekly, September 23, 1871, 9. E. V. B. was Eliza Boardman Burns, associate editor of the Woman's Advocate. See In Memoriam: Eliza Boardman Burnz [sic] (New York: Burnz & Co, 1906), 67.

32. Mattie Brinkerhoff, "Woman and Motherhood," Revolution, September 2, 1869, 138–39. Mohr reads this item differently in Abortion in America, 113, 289n93.

33. "What the People Say to Us," Revolution, June 18, 1868, 374. This comment occurred after one anonymous correspondent came close to endorsing the new laws against abortion by declaring that Restellism was "the Crime of this Age" and adding that alcohol abuse must be suppressed as well. But a second correspondent promptly accused the first of exaggeration and overreaction. At that point, the Revolution editor weighed in and sided with the second correspondent. See "Restellism the Crime of this Age," Revolution, May 7, 1868, 279; and A., Revolution, June 18, 1868, 374. The editorial responses in this column were unsigned and therefore cannot be attributed definitely. On several occasions, however, internal evidence suggests that Stanton was their most likely author, e.g., reference to seven babies, travels to Ireland, address to the New York state legislature, and a son in Iowa, in columns of May 14 and May 28, 1868, and April 8 and April 19, 1869. No comparable internal evidence argues for Pillsbury (except in intervals when Stanton was out of town), and this particular comment would have been at odds with Pillsbury's reprint of the Medical Gazette editorial, discussed above, p. 14.

34. Gordon, Selected Papers, 1:135–39, 183, 204–9; Jack S. Blocker Jr., "Separate Paths: Suffragists and the Women's Temperance Crusade," Signs 10, no. 3 (1985): 460–76; Tyrrell, Sobering Up, 225–315; Barbara Berg, The Remembered Gate: Origins of American Feminism: The Woman and the City, 1800–1860 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1978); Daniel S. Wright, The First of Causes to Our Sex: The Female Moral Reform Movement in the Antebellum Northeast, 1834–1848 (New York: Routledge, 2006); David Pivar, Purity Crusade: Sexual Morality and Social Control, 1868–1900 (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1973), chaps. 2–4; John C. Burnham, "Medical Inspection of Prostitutes in America in the Nineteenth Century: The St. Louis Experiment and its Sequel," Bulletin of the History of Medicine 45, no. 3 (1971): 203–18; "Legalizing Prostitution," Revolution, April 9, 1868, 216; B. C., "The Social Evil," Revolution, April 16, 1868, 225; A Subscriber, "Prostitution," Revolution, April 23, 1868, 244; and Alison Parker, Articulating Rights: Nineteenth-Century American Women on Race, Reform, and the State (DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 2010).

35. Dyer, Physicians' Crusade, chap. 24; Leslie J. Reagan, When Abortion Was a Crime: Women, Medicine, and Law in the United States, 1867–1973 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997); Grossberg, Governing the Hearth, 156, 170; and Sara Dubow, Ourselves Unborn: A History of the Fetus in Modern America (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 21.

Additional Information

Print ISSN
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.