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Vaccination has saved millions of lives by harnessing the power of the immune system to confer resistance to infectious disease. While modern “vaccination” is relatively new, “inoculation,” or the transferring of “virulent matter” from infected to uninfected person, has earlier origins. For instance, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu played a pioneering role in popularizing smallpox inoculation in 1720s England by inoculating her own children. Across the ocean, the Puritan minister Cotton Mather advocated for inoculation against the demands of other religious leaders who viewed inoculation as an assault on the will of God. Neither of these individuals were doctors, or even scientists, yet they played a pivotal role in the advancement of what is often considered to be the greatest medical breakthrough in human history: the development of vaccination. In this intersection of literature and science, I analyze written works of Montagu and Mather as well as contextualize the medical and scientific discourse that was occurring at the time. In doing so, I argue that these two figures manipulated their place in the public eye and overstepped boundaries of gender (in the case of Montagu) and religion (in the case of Mather), in order to insert themselves into the scientific community and navigate a controversial scientific enlightenment.

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Vaccination--History; Vaccines--History; Montagu, Mary Wortley, Lady, 1689-1762; Mather, Cotton, 1663-1728


History of Science, Technology, and Medicine

Citizen Science and the History of Vaccination