When founder Benjamin Franklin started… To adjust a British manual for the American colonies, he also happened to have included a prescription on how to induce an abortion.
In 1748Franklin’s Print Shop published a guidebook titled “The American Instructor or Young Man’s Best Companion,” which provided a variety of advice on math, writing and spelling, bookkeeping, and more. Franklin was looking for To adjust the British handbook entitled “The Young Man’s Companion”, published in London a few decades earlier, with significant changes.
This manual, edited by Franklin and his printer David Hall, was essentially a reprint of the UK version with new sections added, including John Tennent’s “The poor planter’s doctor† The foreword to the new edition reads:
[…] in the British edition of this book there were many things of little or no use in these parts of the world: in this edition those things have been omitted, and in their room many other things have been inserted, which are more directly useful to us Americans.
We found a 10th edition to the same “American Instructor” published by Franklin and Hall in 1758, which contains almost the same material as the previous edition. The “Poor Planter’s Doctor” section includes an article on “Suppression of the Courses,” which reads:
now i’m up Female flawsit will not be unreasonable to address a common complaint among unmarried women, namely: The suppression of the courses† This not only diminishes their complexion, but also fills them with various ailments. For this accident you must: purify of Highland Flagg (commonly called) Belly ah Root) one week before you expect to be out of service ; and repeat the same two days after: drink a quarter pint the next morning Pennyroyal Wateror Decoction, and so much again at night when you go to bed. Continue with these 9 Days of Running; and after 3 days of rest, continue for another 9 days. Ride out every fine day, nimble about your affairs and breathe in the open air as much as possible, […]
While “course suppression” can apply to any medical condition that results in the suspension of one’s menstrual cycle, the listing refers specifically to “unmarried women.” Described as an “accident” it recommends a number: known abortions from that time, like pennyroyal water and stomachache, too? known like angelica.
According to the article“Persephone’s Seeds: Abortifacients and Contraceptives in Ancient Greek Medicine and Their Recent Scientific Appraisal,” published in the journal Pharmacy in History of the University of Wisconsin Press: “There is evidence that pennyroyal […] and other medicinal plants were used as fertility remedies in ancient Greece […] These anti-fertility drugs, administered orally or as vaginal suppositories, may have functioned as premature abortifacients and contraceptives in women.”
The Ninth Edition, reprinted in Slate, also recommends using “Heart Horn”. Hartshoorn, according to Merriam Webster, is an “American pasqueflower.” According to “Edible and Medicinal Plants of the Westby herbalist Gregory L. Tilford, pasqueflowers were used by Native Americans to induce abortions or speed up labor.
The message concludes by warning patients to “take opiates too often, or bark Jesuits,” and “don’t crave pretty guys, or any other trash can,” a statement indicating they should. . not have sex.
The bark of the Jesuits, also known to us as quinine, was a important antimalarial drug. According to Molly Farrell, an associate professor of English and the history of science who first reported on Franklin’s entry on abortion in Slateit was also “mistakenly regarded as an abortifacient.”
The abortion prescription may or may not have been effective, as it prescribed herbs and ancient remedies that were far removed from our modern scientific methods of performing abortions. Modern scientists and experts agree that herbal abortions simply do not have the same efficacy as medical abortions and should not be relied upon. The use of pennyroyal to induce abortion came up in a contemporary case from the 1990s when a young woman named Kris Humphrey died as a result of ingesting the herb, unaware that she had an ectopic pregnancy.
What did Franklin himself think of abortions? In 1728 during his early years as a printer, he caused controversy over something he would eventually go on to do himself. According to “Benjamin Franklin: An American Lifeby Walter Isaacson, he “produced” an abortion debate largely because he wanted to crush a rival, but his own opinion may not have been too strong on it. Franklin wrote a series of anonymous letters for another article to divert attention from Samuel Keimer’s article:
The first two pieces were attacks on poor Keimer, who was arranging entries from an encyclopedia. His first episode, innocently enough, included a mention about abortion. Franklin struck. Under the pseudonyms “Martha Careful” and “Celia Shortface,” he wrote letters to Bradford’s newspaper pretending to be shocked and outraged at Keimer’s transgression. As Miss Careful threatened, “If he goes on to expose the secrets of our sex in that daring way… [women would] run the risk of grabbing him by the beard the next place we meet him. For example, Franklin produced the first recorded debate on abortion in America, not because he had strong feelings about it, but because he knew it would help sell newspapers.
The letters by “Careful” and “Shortface” are available in the National Archives, among the papers of the founders. In one post, “Shortface” wrote:
Friend Samuel Keimer,
I didn’t expect that when your ad about your universal instructor (as you like to call it) came out, you would have printed such things in it that all the humble and virtuous women in Pennsylvania would be ashamed of. †
According to the National Archives“However, based on the style and circumstances of the letters, the editors believe that Martha Careful and Caelia Shortface were probably one and that Franklin may have been her name.”
Whatever Franklin’s own feelings on the matter, he did indeed include an entry about abortion in the manual he printed in 1748, despite possibly calling another publisher for doing the same two decades earlier.
Abortive | Medicine | Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/science/abortifacient. Accessed May 16, 2022.
Achan, Jane, et al. “Quinine, an ancient antimalarial drug in a modern world: role in the treatment of malaria.” Malaria Journal, 2011, https://malariajournal.biomedcentral.com/track/pdf/10.1186/1475-2875-10-144.pdf. Accessed May 16, 2022.
“Definition of HEARTSHORN PLANT.” https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/hartshorn+plant. Accessed May 16, 2022.
Farrell, Molly. “Ben Franklin put an abortion prescription in his math textbook.” Slate, May 5, 2022. slate.com, https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2022/05/ben-franklin-american-instructor-textbook-abortion-recipe.html. Accessed May 16, 2022.
Fisher, George and Fisher, Anne. “The American Instructor, or, Young Man’s Best Companion: Spelling, Reading, Writing, and Mathematics, published in an easier way than ever, and how to qualify any person for business, without the help of a master. variety of hands to write, with copies both in prose and verse … Also merchants accept … with a description of the various American colonies. Together with the clear and exact rule of the carpenter, showing how carpenters, permanents, saws, masons, plasterers, plumbers, masons, glaziers and painters must measure … Likewise the practical meter made easy, the art of ringing, and how to set up and repair each dial, with instructions for painting, making colors and colors. Added to which is the poor planter’s doctor. With instructions for marking on linen, canning and preserving, making various kinds of wine and many excellent p leisters and medicines, necessary in all families. And also sensible advice to young traders and dealers. The whole is better adapted to these American colonies than any other book of the same kind.” United States, B. Franklin and D. Hall, 1758. Accessed May 16, 2022.
Founders Online: Advice to a Young Trader, [21 July 1748]† http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Franklin/01-03-02-0130. Accessed May 16, 2022.
Founders Online: Martha Careful and Caelia Shortface, Jan. 28, 1729. http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Franklin/01-01-02-0034. Accessed May 16, 2022.
Isaacson, Walter. “Benjamin Franklin: An American Life.” United Kingdom, Simon & Schuster, 2004. Accessed May 16, 2022.
Nelson, Sarah E. “Persephone’s Seeds: Abortions and Contraceptives in Ancient Greek Medicine and Their Recent Scientific Review.” Pharmacy in History, vol. 51, no. 2, 2009, pp. 57-69, http://www.jstor.org/stable/41112420. Accessed May 16, 2022.
Nowick, Elin. “Historical Common Names of Great Plains Plants Volume I: Historical Names.” (paperback). United States, Zea Books, 2014. Accessed May 16, 2022.
Tilford, Gregory L. “Edible and Medicinal Plants of the West.” United States, Mountain Press Pub., 1997. Accessed May 16, 2022.
Waxman, Sharon. “JUSTICES INDICATE UNDERTAKINGS BY WOMEN OF UNREGULATED HERBAL PRODUCTS.” Washington Post, March 24, 1996. www.washingtonpost.com, https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/politics/1996/03/24/lawsuits-blame-womens-deaths-on-unregulated-herbal-products/ bf85bcf3 -70a1-4718-98bd-a4e84426c979/. Accessed May 16, 2022.
“Women are learning about herbal abortion online — here’s why that’s a problem.” Mic, https://www.mic.com/articles/128589/women-are-learning-about-herbal-abortion-online-here-s-why-that-sa-problem. Accessed May 16, 2022.