With no medical training at all, she rechristened herself “Madame Restell” and began placing newspapers ads selling her “female monthly pills” and “preventative powders.”
These pills and powders weren’t just birth control. The labels coyly warned that the products might induce a miscarriage. And Madame Restell herself performed abortions on poor and rich women alike for decades in the mid-1800s.
She quickly became a very rich woman, with morality crusaders denouncing her while society watchers noted the elegant clothes she wore.
Eventually Anthony Comstock, head of the very 19th century Society for the Suppresion of Vice, arrested her in 1878 (illustrated at right) after posing as a man who needed birth control for his mistress.
She never went on trial though. Released on bail, a maid found her dead in her bathtub one morning. Adorned in diamonds, she committed suicide by slitting her throat.
While many women the city certainly used her services, she was mostly despised.
The day after her suicide, The New York Times wrote that she “made an attractive part of the finest avenue in the city odious by her constant presence,” according to Crimes of New York, edited by Clint Willis.