Ben Franklin Put an Abortion Recipe in His Math Textbook

To colonial Americans, termination was as normal as the ABCs and 123s.

MAY 05, 2022

The year was 1748, the place was Philadelphia, and the book was The Instructor, a popular British manual for everything from arithmetic to letter-writing to caring for horses’ hooves. Benjamin Franklin had set himself to adapting it for the American colonies.

Though Franklin already had a long and successful career by this point, he needed to find a way to convince colonial book-buyers—who for the most part didn’t even formally study arithmetic—that his version of George Fisher’s textbook was worth the investment. Franklin made all sorts of changes throughout the book, from place names to inserting colonial histories, but he made one really big change: adding John Tennent’s The Poor Planter’s Physician to the end. Tennent was a Virginia doctor whose medical pamphlet had first appeared in 1734.