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  • Writer's pictureThe Bossy Bookworm

Review of Madame Restell by Jennifer Wright

Madame Restell is compelling nonfiction about an ambitious feminist in pre-Gilded Age New York and her profession as a surgeon offering birth conrol and abortions--as well as the societal backlash to her career and her unapologetic, unwavering manner.


The subtitle of Jennifer Wright's nonfiction book is The Life, Death, and Resurrection of Old New York's Most Fabulous, Fearless, and Infamous Abortionist, and in Madame Restell, Wright traces the humble beginnings, self-taught skills, carefully crafted aura, rise, fall--and rise and fall again--of the titular immigrant in pre-Gilded Age New York.

Restell is an intriguing, controversial, strong-willed, entrepreneurial figure.

But Restell's story also swirls with weighty issues still relevant today--women's rights and autonomy; the fight for fair wages; power abuses; class divides; societal pressures; wealth, privilege, and power abuses; race and racism; gender issues; and more.

Wright positions Restell's career and wealth within the volatile events of the time--particularly society's changing reactions to birth control, abortion, and women's rights--in order to set a framework for the many ups and downs that occurred in her life.

Madame Restell is a feminist account of an audacious, contentious figure. I listened to this as an audiobook.

Do you have any Bossy thoughts about this book?

Jennifer Wright is also the author of Killer Fashion: Poisonous Petticoats, Strangulating Scarves, and Other Deadly Garments Throughout History, She Kills Me: The True Stories of History's Deadliest Women, It Ended Badly: Thirteen of the Worst Breakups in History, and other books.


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