Sources of Early Knowledge

When European colonists arrived in America, they brought with them knowledge about the means for inducing abortion that had circulated among women and men since antiquity. While the primary source of information for most women about how to effect an abortion remained other women, literate women also drew on the knowledge contained in herbals such as John Gerard’s Herball and Nicholas Culpeper’s The English Physician, or early sex manuals like the anonymous Aristotle’s Masterpiece, all of which were widely reprinted and extremely popular. In addition, women likely learned about techniques to abort through midwives, a profession that was composed almost exclusively of women until the 19th century. Finally, some women may have gained this knowledge from enslaved or Native American women—the former having adapted the knowledge they brought with them from Africa, the latter having acquired it from long familiarity with the properties of native plants.