Montagu, Lady Mary Wortley
MONTAGU, LADY MARY WORTLEY
The celebrated eighteenth-century poet Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (1689–1762), merits a place in public health history for her early advocacy of the practice of smallpox inoculation, which was also called variolation, or ingrafting. Lady Mary, who herself survived smallpox in 1716, learned of the practice in Constantinople, where her husband
A severe epidemic of smallpox in London in 1721 led Lady Mary to begin a campaign in favor of inoculation that began with the inoculation of her young daughter. Shortly thereafter, royal permission was given to experimentally inoculate six condemned prisoners at Newgate Prison, all of whom survived and were pardoned. Lady Mary's strong connections with the royal family, and their adoption of inoculation among themselves, led to considerable public support for the practice, through strong opinions both for and against inoculation were widely published in the newspapers of the day.
Because it was occasionally fatal, many English physicians opposed the procedure. However, influential figures such as James Jurin (secretary of the Royal Society), John Arbuthnot, and Hans Sloane were supporters. Some historians believe that inoculation made a measurable impact on eighteenth-century mortality in England, particularly among the aristocracy, who were most likely to employ the practice. In the nineteenth century, inoculation was almost entirely supplanted by vaccination after William Jenner discovered in 1798 that immunity to smallpox could be established more safely by using material from the lesions of cows infected with cowpox or vaccinia.
Grundy, I. (1994). Lady Mary Wortley Montagu: Comet of the Enlightenment. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Lawrence, A. W., ed. (1930). The Travel Letters of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu. London: Jonathan Cape.