Category Archives: Lady Mary Wortley Montague

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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Women of Peterborough Tour 7/2/2011

Women of Peterborough Tour 7/2/2011

What a great day today discovering the women of influence in Peterborough, over the years. It was powerfully windy, but a beautifully bright sunny day.  Our tour guide light heartedly informed us of the many influential women of their time in history. We are not normally aware of these incredible, fascinating women in our daily lives in Peterborough.

Ranging from; the good, the bad, and the ugly behaviour.  If ASBO’s were around many years ago banning drunken behaviour in the streets.  “Jack the Ripper” (allegedly) may not have got hold of Alice McKenzie in Whitechapel, London; his last victim.   Alice was known to Peterborough’s red light district in Boongate.  Also upsetting the locals in the Butchers, (where Halifax now is) when she came frequently to work and visit family; who had lived in Peterborough.  My bank is the Halifax, so I will now think of Alice whenever I go in.  As she challenges the butcher’s wife, waving sausages at her…..couldn’t do that now with health and safety laws.

If Lady Mary Wortley Montague in 1712, didn’t have an inoculation for small pox in Turkey. It may have been someone else that bought to England, and established the idea of the inoculation practice we have today; to protect us from dangerous diseases.  For me, it is a regular event each year to have the vaccination flu injection.  From the strength of her work, it was vaccinations that were introduced a few years later.  I have asthma, so any hint of a cold will hinder my breathing normally.  I will be thinking of Lady Mary Wortley Montague, when I next have my injection and the experiences she might of had to have this.

The dedication and the 24/7 selfless attitude of Florence Saunders; who set up the District Nursing Health Service, for the disadvantaged women of Boongate.  She had a passion for those who lived in the most deprived areas in Peterborough.  I too have a passion for women and their welfare; but I think I will stick to volunteering at the Women’s Centre, as Florence died quite young in her early forties.  Due to probably the very hard work and dedication she put into looking after these ladies.

It was the kindness of one lady Katherine Clayton known for her good works in Peterborough.   This brings faith, and inspiration to others.  She was motivated to raise money for her favourite queen Katherine of Aragon’s, demolished tomb in Peterborough Cathedral.  After some thoughtless Bishop, decided to break up the original marble for his conservatory flooring.  Funds were raised in a very unique way; by contacting many wealthy ladies with the same name (Katherine).  I would like to think that maybe someone would have the same respect for me if I had been in that situation.  Or at least put my ashes in an empty coffee jar.

It was very clear to me that these were incredible, fearless women that stood out from the crowd.  There were many more I haven’t mentioned. It was not easy to be a woman in times past.  Women were not encouraged to do anything other than be impeccably behaved wives, and dedicated mothers; to stay home and do some embroidery.  If you weren’t lucky to be in that life style; you were in the complete opposite and walked the streets passing your days in a haze of gin.  Bed hopping from husband to husband.

Or maybe tragically having the misfortune to just get your whole family on the wrong boat in an effort to start a new life in America.  The Sage family was the largest family with 10 children to die in the sinking of the Titanic. Having brought their ticket from the shipping company, ‘Thomas Cook’ (the original shipping company building is now a jewellers) in Peterborough.  How tragic was that.  To be of the wrong class too, if they had been in the upper classes their chances of survival would have been better.  Not a great advert for Thomas Cook, but then it wasn’t their fault the ship ran into an iceberg in the reportedly most unsinkable ship. But that’s just life for you.

I think as long as we can have a little courage, faith, hope and encourage others along the way; who knows what remarkable pathways are around the corner for any of us.

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Peterborough Women – A guided walk hosted by Peterborough Museum

Victorian mortuary photograph of murder victim...

Image via Wikipedia

On 7th February 2011, the Hands on History: Women who shaped Peterborough research group were kindly provided with a free guided walk, with thanks to Peterborough Museum.  The following links take us to some of the talks that our guide ‘Stewart’ shared with us.  It was a cold a windy day, so please excuse the wind on some of the talks.

Alhflaed of Northumbria

Lady Mary Wortley Montague

Alice McKenzie

Edith Cavell


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