Inez Burns (1886-1976) was no ordinary woman. She was San Francisco’s premier abortionist at a time when her profession was illegal. She never hid what she was doing, nor did she advertise it. She didn’t have to. Word of mouth had women showing up at her office, bribes kept the cops away.

Stephen G. Bloom in the book The Audacity of Inez Burns: Dreams, Desire, Treachery & Ruin in the City of Gold (Simon & Schuster, 2018) paints an incredible tale about a woman who changed so many lives. While it is a biography, it is written more like a thriller.

Burns was an integral part of life in San Francisco. While she was poor growing up, she was not going to let that stop her from becoming one of the richest people in The City. The only problem was she could not use banks to store her money because it was obtained in an illegal manner. She learned that investing in real estate was one way to keep investigators at bay, at least for a while.

This is more than a story about an abortionist. It’s a tale about San Francisco in the first half of the 20th century. In many ways it’s a history lesson with a unique, flamboyant main character. It’s a look at social mores, and how they changed through the years. Women’s struggles are front and center. However, Burns’ dark side is not glossed over.

Pat Brown, the former governor of California, is a key player as district attorney of San Francisco. Other names are apt to be familiar to people who have a connection to the Bay Area.

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