Lady Mary Wortley Montagu

1689-1762 (73 years old)

Great Britain

Year of great discovery/work

While living in Turkey, Lady Montagu—an English aristocrat and author—witnessed variolation or inoculating against smallpox. Uninfected people were exposed via material taken from the smallpox blisters of patients with a mild case of the disease. That material was smeared into small scratches or a small puncture wound in the healthy person’s arm. About 1 or 2 of every 100 people exposed to variolation contracted serious smallpox infections and died, compared to about 30 of every 100 people who died from smallpox infections. Lady Montagu promoted the practice upon her return to England in 1720, which was initially met with skepticism from the Western medical establishment until gaining widespread acceptance.

Did you know?
Lady Montague authored poetry, correspondence and travel essays while stationed in Turkey. These are among the period’s prized writings.