Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, 1689-1762


Writer, early `feminist’, socialite, introduced smallpox inoculation in England.

Mary Pierrepont, daughter of Duke of Kingston  eloped and married  Edward Montagu from Peterborough rather than marry the man her parents wanted her to. 16.

In December 1715 smallpox ruined her good looks and left her without eyelashes and with a deeply pitted skin.

Her husband ambassador to Turkey, 1717; Mary and child accompanied him to Constantinople; daughter Mary born, 1718; learned a little Turkish and had her son Edward inoculated against small-pox, 1717;

Left England for Venice alone (but apparently still on friendly terms with her husband) and never met her husband again.  Lived in Italy and France; husband died in England, 1761; returned to England and died, 1762.

Mary’s role in introducing innoculation is much more active than often supposed – not in introducing the medical procedure itself, but in changing the nature of the medical community. Sometime I will have to elaborate – for now, a small note from the The Imperial Dictionary of Universal Biography:

“The small-pox was a disease which had carried off her only brother, and which had nearly scarred herself for life. The mitigation of it promised by inoculation she introduced into England on her return from Turkey,and after a battle of several years, in whichshe was opposed by the faculty and the public — receiving, however the support of the clever princess of Wales, subsequently Queen Caroline — she triumphed, and thus paved the way for the adoption of Jenner’s great discovery.” (Universal Biography)

Jenner’s discovery was vacination, as opposed to inoculation (vacination was safer).

She had lived her life in a richly personal way… never bothering to be fussy or correct, and never influenced by public judgment. She was an aristocrat in that she knew what she wanted and went and took it without apologizing; and perhaps she was also one in the narrower sense of distrusting sentimentality and defying ennui and in seeking, if only in her letters, to please. … She hated bores, and she fled from them. She hated fools, and she quarrelled with them. …

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