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Jenner's Ladies: Women and Vaccination against Smallpox in Early Nineteenth-Century Britain

MICHAEL BENNETT
History
Vol. 93, No. 4 (312) (OCTOBER 2008), pp. 497-513
Published by: Wiley
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/24428855
Page Count: 17
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Jenner's Ladies: Women and Vaccination against Smallpox in Early Nineteenth-Century Britain
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Abstract

In 1798 Edward Jenner published his theory that cowpox inoculation (vaccination) provided immunity to smallpox, the greatest scourge of his age. In the following decade the practice spread remarkably rapidly, partly as a substitute for the older and more dangerous practice of smallpox inoculation (variolation) and partly through the creation of a larger constituency for immunization. While there is some awareness that Jenner was able to cultivate the support of some aristocratic ladies for the new prophylactic, there has been no study of the role of women and women's networks in the adoption and promotion of vaccination. Using a wide range of evidence, this article argues that women were crucial to the rapid establishment of the new practice: as mothers with experience of smallpox and cowpox; as discerning consumers and disseminators of medical knowledge; and as activists, in terms of both patronage and practice. A focus on vaccination offers a new perspective on women's roles in the private and public spheres, and in the mobilization of the British nation during the Napoleonic Wars.

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