biography · english history · european history · history

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu- Advocate for Vaccines

Vaccines have long been important in our current medical care. As children, we are protected from harmful diseases due to the development of these vaccines like measles, tuberculosis, meningitis, etc. The list goes on and on. Most recently, the development of the COVID-19 vaccine has allowed many of us to take steps in ending the pandemic that has changed the face of our world this past year. Many deadly diseases have been eradicated due to the development of vaccines which allows for better living conditions and longer lifespans. As of 1980, smallpox was declared to be eradicated. That would not have been possible without some of the work that Lady Mary Wortley Montagu did in order to fight for inoculation. As an upper class English woman of the 18th century, most of the public sphere was off limits. This included the medical field where women were not given the education or taken seriously. They would have to trust in men knowing what was right for their bodies. Yet, Montagu was different. As an early feminist, she was extremely bold. She did what she felt she needed to do and fought for the causes that she thought were important. This included the early smallpox vaccination.

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu was born in 1689 in London to an aristocratic family. As she was the eldest daughter, her expectations were to use her beauty to marry well and become a model woman in her society. Yet, Montagu found her passion was for education. She believed that education was the way for a better life that she envisioned for herself. She wanted to be a part of that public sphere that was barred from those of her sex. “The Careless education given to women of quality [makes it]….so easy for any Man of Sense to corrupt them,” Montagu later wrote in one of her numerous essays/letters. She became an avid reader and taught herself many different languages. She also focused on making social connections with those who she could have intellectual conversations with and who would better her own educational journey. These connections placed her in a visible position in public/political society.

Montagu was a bit of a rule breaker. She was clever, headstrong, witty, and was not afraid of how the public may view her. In 1712, against her father’s wishes, she eloped with Edward Wortley Montagu which caused a great scandal in the gossip of high society. Her husband actually encouraged his wife in her writing career and her goals of making an influence in politics ( as this would be to his advantage as well in his rising career).

In 1713, Montagu’s younger brother died from the disease smallpox. Smallpox was a common endemic in London and other parts of England and it was making its fatal rounds again. In 1715, Montagu caught it herself and, luckily, survived. Unfortunately, it left her with bad scarring and the loss of her eyebrows. The death of her brother and her condition after her recovery had a big impact on Montagu. She became extremely interested with the rumors of inoculation practices in China and Turkey that she overheard Doctors and other intellectuals in her circle speaking about it.

Women were some of the most affected by the smallpox disease. They had to deal first hand with the death of their family members and with the disfigurement of themselves. This may not seem to be such a loss, since they survived after all, but the scarring and disfigurement from the disease was detrimental to a society girl’s prospects. For women of this time, physical beauty was often deemed one of the most important thing to secure future advantageous marriage proposals. Montagu would write poetry about her experience with the disease and her recovery (amongst many other topics that she was passionate about). In her poem, Flavia she writes:

Thus breath’d the anguish of a wounded mind ;
A glass revers’d in her right hand she bore,
For now she shun’d the face she sought before.

‘ How am I chang’d ! alas ! how am I grown
‘ A frightful spectre, to myself unknown !
‘ Where’s my Complexion ? where the radiant Bloom,
‘ That promis’d happiness for Years to come ?

Yet, women were excluded from the practice of medicine or even discussions with medical elite (even though they had almost more to lose due to the disease). Women were often even excluded from learning Latin as well. Montagu began to write a great deal about topics she was passionate about. She wanted to influence others with her writing and it gave her some agency in the public sphere.

In 1716, Montagu’s husband was appointed to be the English ambassador in Turkey. This was a great promotion for him and opened Montagu to a whole new world. She had the opportunity now to travel and she would write one of the first travel narratives through all of her letters during her time there. She took a great interest in the culture of Turkey and embraced it fully. She took it upon herself to learn the language and learn more about the culture. In her travel writings, she wrote about what she learned from the art and the culture. She had an appreciation for the dress and would wear the current styles. She also talked a great deal with her Turkish hosts and held intellectual discussions with them. She wrote about the differences she saw in gender expectations (the good and the bad) to her friends in England. Yet, what she was extremely interested in was the inoculation process.

She witnessed a “ritual engrafting party” where an older woman would inoculate 15-16 people. This was to protect against smallpox. This had such an impact on her that, in 1718, she hired a Greek woman to inoculate her own son. No one in the West had been inoculated at this point. This practice in Turkey was also interesting because it showed that women were the ones taking on the role of doctor. They were the ones trusted with the knowledge of this early vaccination method. This was very different from the way things were in England at this time.

Who Discovered the First Vaccine? | WIRED

When they returned to England later that same year (her husbands time at that post had expired), another smallpox epidemic had begun. Montagu was determined to have her daughter inoculated as well. She wrote to a surgeon, Charles Maitland (who had been present at her sons inoculation in Turkey), to assist. Her letters were written vaguely in a way that would not be traceable if intercepted. This is how risky it was for her to be trying something different behind the backs of her husband and the medical elite of the day. Maitland did insist to have three physicians present, as this was the first experiment of its kind in England. They obtained a sample of smallpox matter and then opened small wounds in her daughter’s arms and legs. A small amount was introduced to the wound. Her daughter was sick for a short time then quickly recovered. One of the doctors present ( Dr. James Keith) was so influenced by this that he actually had one of his own sons inoculated as well.

In order to spread the word of the successful operation, Montagu would write essays about the importance and the benefits of the inoculation. That it would have such an positive effect to their society, would improve health, and would save lives. Montagu and her daughter began to travel to households of the elite and Montagu would hold discussions about the benefits and spread the word about the process. Montagu eventually received support from Princess Caroline (wife of future George II) when she became interested in the results of the experiments. The Princess helped to set up a larger trial of the process. Six prisoners were also inoculated and proved that the procedure was safe and they remained smallpox free. Princess Caroline proceeded to have her children inoculated.

Throughout the 1720s, many other aristocratic families followed suit and Montagu’s experiments were widely reported in the newspapers. Naturally, there would be a great deal of criticism which she had predicted all the way back in Turkey. Some in the medical field did not support it as they would be losing a great deal of money from the fees they collected treating the same patients multiple times for smallpox. They also did not trust in Montagu’s “findings” as she was a female. Some just wanted more evidence. The Church viewed this early vaccination process as going against God’s will. On a few of Montagu’s cross-country travels to the elite households, she was met with looks of disgust. Her own sister refused to inoculate her own son (who would later die of smallpox).

By now Lady Montagu was famous and her writings were well disbursed. The newspapers also associated her with all the discussions about the medical practice. She would address her critics as well through her essays. She clearly explains every detail of the inoculation process and talk about what she witnessed in Turkey. She discussed how thousands there have gone through the process and the good it had done for their cities. She also addresses how she “shall sell no drugs, nor take no Fees … I shall get nothing by it, but the private satisfaction of having done good to Mankind.”

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu would go on to live her life to the fullest (and never to society’s rigid expectations). At the age of 47 ( now separated from her husband), she would travel to Europe after falling for a 24 year old Italian man. Sadly, that relationship did not last long, but she continued to travel the continent meeting new people and learning about different cultures. She did this for just about 20 years. She died in 1762 in England.

Lady Montagu was extremely influential in early vaccinations. She did not invent the process, but she was key in spreading the knowledge to the West. She was the first Briton to prove that inoculation was safe and effective. Without her writings and her headstrong spirit, these ideas and this progress may have taken much longer to reach England and the rest of the West. She also did not back down to society’s expectations and instead found her own ways to become involved politically. She would be viewed as an influencer and intellectual in today’s eyes. Lady Mary Wortley Montagu was an early advocate whose work helped make vaccines, like the COVID 19 vaccine, to be possible.

Sources:

Willett, Jo. 2021. “Mary Wortley Montagu: The Scourge of Smallpox”. BBC History Magazine, July 2021.

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/44766/town-eclogues-saturday-the-small-pox

Barnes, Diana. 2012. “The Public Life of a Woman of Wit and Quality: Lady Mary Wortley Montague and the Vogue for Smallpox Inoculation”. Feminist Studies, Summer 2012.

Montagu, Mary Wortley. Edited by Teresa Heffernan and Daniel O’Quinn. 2013. The Turkish Embassy Letters. Toronto: Broadview Editions.

https://www.britannica.com/biography/Lady-Mary-Wortley-Montagu

biography · english history · european history · history

The Strength of Queen Katherine

In this post, I wanted to focus on Queen Katherine of Aragon, the first wife of Henry VIII of England. With all the focus on Anne Boleyn, Katherine is typically remembered for her struggles later in life. She is remembered as the old, unattractive, stubborn woman who was being replaced by her young and vivacious lady in waiting. In reality, Katherine of Aragon was an extremely strong woman, a very popular queen and a role model for many of her subjects. She was intelligent and educated. She was also loyal to a fault. She was born of Queen Isabella (who was the queen of Castile in her own right) and King Ferdinand. She was trained for queenship since she was a toddler and prepared entirely for her role as a leader. She was integral to the success at the Battle of Flodden. It is easy to see why she remained popular with England’s subjects even after the King had decided to put her aside.

Continue reading “The Strength of Queen Katherine”
American History · english history · history

When Christmas was Banned…

The holidays this year have been a struggle. Many did not even expect the holidays would have been affected when the pandemic started in March . Gatherings will be smaller or over video chats and the holidays will not feel like the big event that they have usually been. Yet, it also gives us sometime time to focus on the things we are grateful for. Christmas could never truly be cancelled, right?

Well, actually, Christmas has been banned in previous centuries. It was banned in both the United Kingdom and early America. In 1647, Parliament decreed that Christmas was no longer considered a feast day or a holiday. This was under the rule of Parliament/Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell, who was placed in power as a result of the English Civil War and the beheading of Charles I. This regicide brought the Puritans (some of the most extreme Protestants) to the forefront of politics. Puritans believed that the whole celebration and overindulgence of the season was wrong. To them, there was nothing in the bible that stated there should be a celebration like this on December 25. In fact, the date December 25 originates from a pagan festival (the date of the winter solstice) which was just adapted to the Christian rhetoric during the early medieval era. The bible was the word for the Puritans and they had a strict adherence to it. Christmas should be like any ordinary day. There would be no large feastings, merry making, rowdy behavior, drinking to excess, decorations (idols), or any other “sinful” activities. They also disliked these traditions as they felt that the Catholic influence was still too strong on the Church of England.

Continue reading “When Christmas was Banned…”
biography · english history · history

Aethelflaed: The Heroine of Mercia

Aethelflaed has received a revival of interest with the popularity of the show The Last Kingdom and other media. She is a fascinating character, but, in this post, I wanted to answer two questions. Who was the actual Aethelflaed and why is she so important to English history? I believe she is an important female figure who is often overshadowed by others during the Anglo-Saxon period. In the year 911, Aethelflaed, known as the Lady of the Mercians, took over the command of the kingdom of Mercia after her husband’s death. She was not just a regent until the next male heir came of age but was viewed as the head of government by her own people. She is known as an effective military commander, diplomat, and a benevolent ruler. By the end of Aethelflaed’s reign, she contributed much to the eventual consolidation of Saxon England.

Continue reading “Aethelflaed: The Heroine of Mercia”
english history · european history · history

A Christmas to Remember: The Truce of 1914

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“All Together Now” by Artist Andrew Edwards.

Christmas Eve, 1914

“It must have been sad do you say? Well I am not sorry to have spent it there and the recollection of it will ever be one of imperishable beauty. At midnight a baritone stood up and in a rich resonant voice sang, Minuit Chretiens. The cannonade ceased and when the hymn finished applause broke out from our side and from the German trenches! The Germans were celebrating Christmas too and we could hear them singing two hundred yards from us. Now I am going to tell you something which you will think incredible but I give you my word that it is true. At dawn the Germans displayed a placard over the trenches on which was written Happy Christmas then, leaving their trenches, unarmed they advanced towards us singing and shouting “comrades!”. No one fired. We also had left our trenches and separated from each other only by the half frozen Yser, we exchanged presents. They gave us cigars and we threw them some chocolate. Thus almost fraternizing we passed the morning. Unlikely indeed, but true. I saw it but thought I was dreaming.” -Letter from a Belgian soldier printed in The Times, 1915

World War I began in July of 1914 with the expectation on both sides that it would be a quick victory. Over the course of 51 months the war would bring a devastating death toll of 15 to 19 million soldiers and civilians. This tragic event would practically destroy a whole generation and cause much pain to the families that had to endure. It is easy to remember the death and destruction this war brought, but it is also just as important to remember the positive points. There were moments that showed there was still hope, kindness, and generosity despite differences. In the spirit of Christmas, I wanted to dive into the unusual occasion of the Christmas Eve truce in 1914. This was truly brought on by the common soldier and the truce itself was unofficial and spontaneous. The men found that despite the death, destruction and bad feelings that had surrounded them since the summer; they could take the opportunity to still share a common experience with their enemy. It seems unbelievable to us now (and definitely to the soldiers then) that Christmas Carols were sung with their enemies. These were the same enemies that had fired shoots at them the day before. This is the story and experience of the Christmas Truce 1914.

Continue reading “A Christmas to Remember: The Truce of 1914”

biography · english history · european history · history

Add to Your Reading List: A Testament of Youth

I suppose it is better to have had such splendid friends as those three were rather than not to have had any particular friends at all, but yet, now that all are gone, it seems that whatever was of value in life has tumbled down like a house of cards.”

-Letter from Edward to Brittain in response to the death of their friend, Victor

Image result for testament of youth real
Edward Brittain, Roland Leighton, Victor Richardson

I have spent August reading a memoir from World War I, which really kept me thinking for days after. I believe this is a very important memoir and one most people should take the time to read. It is one of the few accounts from the era that is from a female point of view. Many accounts of World War I are from the men in the trenches, but what about the women they left behind? In Testament of Youth, Vera Brittain writes of her life during this era and a bit afterwards. Brittain was born in 1893 and had grown up in northern England. She had one brother named Edward and the siblings were very intelligent and talented. Brittain was very interested in furthering her education and in writing, while Edward was a musician. The two were part of a lost generation and much of the memoir focuses on how their generation was affected by a war of that scale. She discusses how the generations that came before or after could never really comprehend what they went through. They were on their own island.

Continue reading “Add to Your Reading List: A Testament of Youth”

art history · biography · english history · history

Portrait Analysis: Lord Horatio Nelson

Lord Horatio Nelson is still viewed as one of the greats in British history and, as a result, his portraits throughout time reflect an almost divine man. It is natural that he would be depicted as the hero that the public wanted to see. He is tall with perfect skin and is decked out in his prim and proper military uniform. Though many of the portraits do portray his missing arm, Nelson actually physical showed his battle experiences and was even blind in one eye. But why would this be portrayed in a portrait? It does not follow the narrative that is meant to be presented.

Image result for lord nelson portrait

Yet, a new portrait has been uncovered which may show more of the real Nelson. It was painted by Leonardo Guzzardi in 1799 and throughout time the scars that were depicted originally were covered up by various owners. Continue reading “Portrait Analysis: Lord Horatio Nelson”

english history · european history · history

The Animals in the Tower: A Brief History of the Royal Menagerie

A few weeks ago, I stumbled upon a documentary of the Tower of London while watching television and, of course, it immediately peaked my interest. I have always been interested in the Tower’s history because so much has happened there in over 900 years of history. This includes some of the most dramatic events in English history as the Tower was used not only as royal residence, but as a prison and site of execution. Yet, the documentary went over a part of the Tower’s that I was unfamiliar with. One of the experts interviewed discussed how, during excavations of the now dried up moat, bones were found from a variety of exotic creatures. They had found leopards, many dogs, and even multiple lion skulls. These lion skulls were from Barbary Lions, whose species is now extinct! This proves that these lions were kept in the Tower during the medieval era. That just blew my mind and I proceeded to learn more…

The first lions came to the tower in February of 1235, when Henry III’s brother in law (Frederick II of the Holy Roman Empire) gave him three lions. This began the royal menagerie where the privileged few could view the monarch’s glorious collection of exotic animals. These were usually the royal favorites and the employees of the Tower. In 1252, the collection expanded when King Haakon IV of Norway sent Henry III a polar bear (and a keeper to go along with it)! Though the menagerie was still restricted, the citizens of London could sometimes get a glimpse of this great beast as the polar bear fished for his own food in the Thames River! Continue reading “The Animals in the Tower: A Brief History of the Royal Menagerie”

biography · english history · european history · history

Lady Ada Lovelace: “Enchantress of Numbers”

While watching an episode of Victoria on Masterpiece PBS, we were introduced to a fascinating woman of science, Lady Ada Lovelace. Her character intrigued me so much because of how unique she was for the time that I went on to research her even more! I wanted to focus a blog post on her and it has been challenging. Much of the math/computer science that Ada works with is complicated and does go over my head. I got some helped and ended up learning more about computers than I had known before. I persevered with this blog post because I think she is one of the forgotten people of history who left an important legacy. Those interested in computer history may know her name, but I had never heard of her until that episode of Victoria.

Image result for ada lovelace

Lady Ada Lovelace is known for writing the first modern computer program in the 1840s. I was shocked when I first heard this statement because I ignorantly thought that there was no technology like a computer in the Victorian Era! When I think of that technology, I think of what we know in the modern day. In the Victorian era, there was not a computer in the modern sense, but there was the Difference Engine. The Difference Engine was created by Charles Babbage (who will play a large role in Ada’s story).  The Difference Engine was a remarkable new technology for the era and was essentially a calculator, but it was only able to compute one operation of mathematics. The Difference Engine was a very large machine that, instead of using circuits to solve the problems, it used actual physical pieces. Ada herself was fascinated by this machine. Continue reading “Lady Ada Lovelace: “Enchantress of Numbers””

Ancient History · english history · history

Boudica’s Quest for Vengeance Part 2

Part 1! Boudica’s Quest for Vengeance Part 1

As seen in my previous post, Boudica had surpassed all expectations. She shocked the ancient world by inspiring an army of thousands of Britons to finally take back what had been theirs originally. They were fighting against the abuses her people had faced for seventeen years at the hands of the Romans. Boudica and her warriors had burnt the great city of Camulodunum to the ground and decimated the ninth legion. Fear spread quickly across the the land, but Governor Paulinus was not about to be defeated…

Boudica’s next target was Londinium (modern day London), which (at the time) was a relatively new city. It was created to be a trading port with the continent and was mostly populated by traders, craftsmen, and wealthy citizens. Londinium was estimated to have a population of about 30,000. This wealthy city was ripe for looting and, unfortunately for the citizens, there was no military presence (especially with the ninth legion now inoperable). The second legion was called in to fight, yet they failed to arrive. The people of Londinium knew that they were ill prepared. Continue reading “Boudica’s Quest for Vengeance Part 2”