Friday, May 20, 2022

B. Franklin Update


Garden angelica as depicted in Köhler's Medizinal-Pflanzen, 1887, via Wikipedia

I was telling you how Benjamin Franklin, at the tender age of 23, was making fun of his ex-employer Samuel Keimer for accidentally publishing a kind of guide to self-induced abortions in his Philadelphia newspaper. 

A wonderful discovery from Molly Farrell at Slate is that 19 years later, in 1748, he published such a guide himelf, in all seriousness, as a public service, by tacking the Virginian John Tennent's The Poor Planter's Physician onto his pirate edition of a popular British how-to manual, The Instructor; Tennent's treatise included advice on how to deal with a missed period, the "suppression of the courses", a "common Complaint among unmarry'd Women", by treating it (a week before you "expect" to be missing it!) with angelica, also known as "bellyache root":

Franklin’s choice to get Tennent’s pamphlet into the hands of readers all over the colonies meant that anyone learning to read, write, and calculate with his book would also have access to the leading available treatment for ending a pregnancy. Tennent’s handbook prescribes angelica, an herb known to be an effective abortifacient in the early stages of pregnancy for thousands of years, and which was frequently recommended across early modern herbal books.* Moreover, the recipe refers to several herbal abortifacients known at the time:

For this Misfortune, you must purge with Highland Flagg, (commonly called Bellyach Root) a Week before you expect to be out of Order; and repeat the same two Days after; the next Morning drink a Quarter of Pint of Pennyroyal Water, or Decoction, with 12 Drops of Spirits of Harts-horn, and as much again at Night, when you go to Bed. Continue this 9 Days running; and after resting 3 Days, go on with it for 9 more.

Farrell connects the publication with Franklin's lifelong promotion of education for girl and women, especially in math (which was the main subject of The Instructor), as well as with the further evidence contra Alito of how "deeply rooted" abortion rights were in "our history and traditions" if your world was a world in which women had some autonomy . It's a lovely piece, with an illustration so good I don't want to steal it, just go read it.

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