Tag Archives: smallpox

COVID-19 and the Black Death

Colleen Donnelly  Denver, Colorado, United States   A street during the plague in London with a death cart and mourners. Colour wood engraving by E. Evans. Wellcome Library no. 6918i. Source During the fourteenth century waves of the bubonic plague washed across Europe. Doomsday books of the age described an apocalypse that wiped out one-quarter […]

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu and smallpox

JMS Pearce Hull, England   Fig 1. A painting of Mary Wortley Montagu by Jonathan Richardson the Younger. Via Wikimedia. There are few examples of people with no medical training who independently make significant advances in medical practice. One such person was the elegant, aristocratic Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (1689-1762)—daughter of Evelyn Pierrepont, 1st Duke […]

Plague epidemics and the evolution of language in England

Andrew P. K. Wodrich Washington, DC, United States   Pierart dou Tielt’s illustration depicts the mortal toll of the Black Death in a Belgian town circa 1353. Similarly, the plague decimated the population of England, spurring the change from French to English as the country’s dominant spoken language. Via Wikimedia Commons here.  Epidemics have had a profound impact […]

Strange complications of vaccination

In this caricature James Gillray makes fun of the supposed complications of using the cowpox vaccine to prevent patients from getting the smallpox. Several people are shown having cows emerge from their hands, mouths, or buttocks, or develop horns that sprout from their heads. This is obviously not a very safe vaccine! The Cow-Pock – […]

How a small town kept smallpox small

Annabelle Slingerland Leiden, the Netherlands   Fig. 1 Presentation of smallpox. To make a mountain out of a molehill is a vice, but to keep the mole underground is a virtue. The little town of Tilburg in the south of the Netherlands was not accustomed to seeing mountains, but when a molehill first came into […]

Vaccinating a young child

The entire household has assembled to watch a child being vaccinated against smallpox. Inoculation with material derived from cowpox lesions was still sufficiently novel to excite such interest. It had been first attempted in 1796 by Edward Jenner, who used the term vaccination because the Latin for cow is vacca and cowpox was called vaccinia. […]

Plagues and prejudice

Anne Jacobson Oak Park, Illinois, United States   Figure 1. Honolulu Chinatown fire of 1900. Hawaii State Archives.  It was a calm, clear January morning on the gritty streets of paradise. Honolulu, the capital of the newly-annexed U.S. territory of Hawaii, was ushering out a century of upheaval that had included the arrival of explorers, […]

Lady Mary Wortley Montague: variolation against smallpox

Born in 1689, Lady Mary Wortley Montague was the most colorful Englishwoman of her time—an eccentric aristocrat, writer, and poet. In 1715 while still a young woman, her beauty was marred by a severe attack of smallpox. She had eloped in 1710 rather than accept an arranged marriage, and in 1715 her husband became British […]

Louis XIV and his ailments

Introduction For over 300 years King Louis XIV has occupied a special place in the heart of every Frenchman. He brought glory to his country, extended its boundaries, and promoted the arts and letters so that French culture became second to none in Europe. For many decades his neighbors trembled at the sound of his […]

Edward Jenner and the dairymaid

Smallpox has plagued mankind since time immemorial, causing huge epidemics with great loss of life and often changing the course of history. The disease could be prevented or ameliorated by variolation, the subcutaneous inoculation with fluid from smallpox lesions into non-immune individuals. Variolation had been used for centuries, even for members of royal families. It […]