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She Was A Beautiful And Wealthy Socialite, As Well As A Driving Force Behind Slowing The Spread Of Smallpox

Wellcome Collection - Mary Wortley Montagu. Lithograph by Villain after A. Devéria after C. F. Zincke.

You may have learned that in the 18th century, the severe spread of smallpox was eventually stopped through the process of inoculation.

But did you know that the person who introduced the life-saving practice to England was a woman?

Lady Mary Montagu was a beautiful, wealthy socialite, writer, and wife of a politician who lived in London. She was independent and smart and wrote satirical poems that were sometimes so hilarious yet scandalous that they had to be distributed anonymously.

In 1705, when she was only 16-years-old, her family was affected by the terrifying smallpox epidemic.

Unfortunately, she was infected and suffered tremendously. The disease was so bad that by the time she miraculously recovered, she was covered in scars and even lost her eyelashes.

Despite all the suffering she endured, Mary continued living her life. A year after she had the disease, her husband was appointed by the King to be an ambassador to Turkey.

Unlike most women who would’ve stayed home with the children, Mary and her 3-year-old son traveled to Turkey with her husband.

During her time in Constantinople (now Istanbul), Mary wrote pages and pages of detailed correspondence, specifically pertaining to the lives of women living there at the time. One specific subject she wrote about in 1717 changed the course of history.

Turkey, too, had been hit with the smallpox epidemic, yet Mary couldn’t help but notice that many of the citizens still had beautiful skin.

Wellcome Collection – Mary Wortley Montagu. Lithograph by Villain after A. Devéria after C. F. Zincke.

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