Superstars in the war against smallpox
Conquering the great scourge
May 17, 2022
Super piece about the origin of the smallpox vaccine. Thanks for including the role of the “ordinary people” such as the old lady in Turkey, the old Greek lady, and farmer Benjamin Jesty. Isn’t it silly that Jenner gets all the credit ... at least in the school textbooks that I read.
The myth about the fair milkmaids is also quite rightly blown out of the water. Credit rather goes to Jenner’s marketing prowess and his scientific writing. I am reminded of Martin Luther’s hammering his 95 Theses to the church door at the Wittenberg Castle—there is no record of this happening and Luther never wrote about it. But he did distribute his 95 Theses widely as was the custom among mediaeval scholars.
If only an old Greek lady could help us with an effective vaccine against COVID ...!
Peter_G_Moll - 2022 05 20
Fascinating. We nearly bought the house opposite Jesty’s farm in Yetminster which had one of the famous blue plaques on it.
Camilla - 2022 05 19
Sign up for our email newsletter
Receive updates when we publish new content along with other exclusive bits and pieces.Subscribe to our newsletter
The Jenner story is really interesting. In most modern books and papers he is still given almost all of the credit for the smallpox vaccine. I have not yet found a biography that puts his work into proper perspective, and takes full account of his many predecessors in the war on smallpox.
He and some of his early followers were superlative publicists. But they saved huge numbers of lives in the process. It can be argued that Jenner was better at marketing than at science!
In 1805 Jenner wrote to Napoleon requesting that two of his friends, William Thomas Williams and Dr John Wickham, both men of science and literature, might return to England. According to a biographer of Jenner, it was either on this or a similar occasion that Napoleon exclaimed: “Jenner! Ah, we can refuse nothing to this man.” By then, he was famous the world over.
HowAndWhy - 2022 06 13