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Upcoming Seminar: "Women’s spaces of knowledge: Lady Mary’s contribution to the Covid vaccine" 1st May


'Women’s spaces of knowledge: Lady Mary’s contribution to the Covid vaccine' by Mich Page (Independent Academic)

In 2019 a new coronavirus started a pandemic, prompting global pharmaceutical companies to develop new vaccines. There followed a series of ‘lockdowns’ during which I turned my thoughts to vaccination: to its beginnings. It was during one of the ‘releases’ from lockdown when I was walking in the heart of Thomas Hardy’s ‘Wessex’ that I came across a plaque to Benjamin Jesty (1736 – 1816). It told of his deliberately inducing smallpox immunity in his servants and family by inoculating them with cowpox. Folklore remedies involving cowpox were known about in many dairy-farming communities, where local midwives oversaw these practices. His treatments predated the work of Edward Jenner (1796) who is usually credited with the discovery of smallpox vaccine, by some 20 years. Historical records revealed that primitive forms of vaccination were used as early as 1549 in China, and somewhat later in India, Africa and the Ottoman Empire. But, in 1717, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu wrote to her friend: ‘I am going to tell you a thing... The small-pox, so fatal, and so general amongst us, is here entirely harmless. . . . There is a set of old women, who perform the operation,…with a nut-shell full of small-pox, … She puts into the vein as much matter as can lie upon the head of her needle, and after that, binds up the little wound . . . .’ And then she told the King!