The Story of Inoculation Being Brought to the West

In 1717 Lady Mary travelled to Turkey with her husband, the British Ambassador at Constantinople. There she first witnessed variolation. She described the procedure in a letter to her friend Sarah Chiswell:

The small-pox, so fatal, and so general amongst us, is here entirely harmless by the invention of ingrafting, which is the term they give it. There is a set of old women who make it their business perform the operation every autumn... People send to one another to know if any of their family has a mind to have the small-pox: they make parties for this purpose, and when they are met (commonly fifteen or sixteen together), the old woman comes with a nut-shell full of the matter of the best sort of small-pox [pus from a victim of a mild attack], and asks what veins you please to have opened. She immediately rips open that you offer to her with a large needle (which gives you no more pain than a common scratch), and puts into the vein as much venom as can lie upon the head of her needle, and after binds up the little wound with a hollow bit of shell... The children or young patients play together all the rest of the day, and are in perfect health to the eighth. Then the fever begins to seize them, and they keep their beds two days, very seldom three ... and in eight days' time they are as well as before their illness... Every year thousands undergo this opera¬ tion... There is no example of any one that has died in it; and you may believe I am very well satisfied of the safety of the experiment, since I intend to try it on my dear little son... and I should not fail to write to some of our doctors very particularly about it, if I knew any one of them that I thought had virtue enough to destroy such a considerable branch of their revenue for the good of mankind. (1 April 1717; vol I, pp. 184-5)

This statement was to prove prophetic. On her return to England, Lady Montagu had her daughter inoculated and she succeeded in interesting Caroline, Princess of Wales, in the procedure. Under Lady Mary's direction experiments were conducted, first on half a dozen condemned prisoners, and then on six orphans. The experiments were successful and the Princess had two of her daughters inoculated. The practice spread rapidly throughout the country despite vehement opposition from both the medical profession and the Church. In a rebuttal to these attacks. Lady Mary published anonymously her 'Plain Account of the Inoculating of the Small-Pox by a Turkey Merchant.' Since variolation did occasionally result in severe disease (fatal in perhaps 2-3 per cent of cases, as compared with 20-30 per cent with naturally contracted smallpox), the popularity of inoculation declined, but not before the practice had spread to continental Europe and North America.


Lady Mary Wortley Montagu introduces inoculation to small pox to the wester world.

Folksonomies: history science ancient inoculation medicine

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Inoculation (0.947151): dbpedia | freebase
Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (0.873284): dbpedia | freebase | yago
Vaccination (0.760670): dbpedia | freebase
Edward Jenner (0.678575): dbpedia | freebase | yago
Smallpox (0.591763): dbpedia | freebase
Edward Wortley Montagu (0.412239): dbpedia | freebase | yago
Lady Louisa Stuart (0.403743): dbpedia | freebase
John Hervey, 2nd Baron Hervey (0.402409): dbpedia | freebase | yago

 Hypatia's Heritage (Beacon Paperback, 720)
Books, Brochures, and Chapters>Book:  Alic , Margaret (1986-11-15), Hypatia's Heritage (Beacon Paperback, 720), Beacon Press, Retrieved on 2011-04-12
Folksonomies: history science feminism science history