Category: Gender History

Looking to the Edge, or Networking Early Modern Women

http://dijitalkss.com/page/2?daki/ Posted on January 31, 2016 by - Conferences, Databases, Early Modern History, Gender History, Networks, News

It’s a funny thing, really, that after several decades of women’s history in the academic world, historians should still need to be told how to go about finding women. ‘Look to the edges’, exhorted Amanda Herbert in her keynote address for ‘Networking Early Modern Women’. This was no less than a call to arms, especially amidst the #femfog (in which a prominent medieval historian claimed that feminists intimidate and victimize men, obscuring manly good sense in a feminist fog).[1]

V0007640ETR Angels, demons and representations of flesh and the devil cr Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org Angels, demons and representations of flesh and the devil crowd around a stool upon which the different elements that make up a human burn and smoke; representing a test of faith. Etching by C. Murer after himself, c. 1600-1614. 1622 By: Christoph MurerPublished: 1622 Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

segnali sicuri opzioni binarie The origins of #femfog? C. Murer, c. 1600-1614. Image Credit: Wellcome Images, London.

http://www.boligsalg-spanien.dk/?nlnl=binaire-opties-beste-broker&635=e5 binaire opties beste broker The goal of the add-a-thon, hosted by the great Six Degrees of Francis Bacon project, was to add more women into the database’s networks. And the Sloane Letters team[2] was (virtually) there! As Hillary Nunn noted in a review of Six Degrees, there were initially few women in the database, in large part because the project drew heavily on the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography when identifying networks.

Elizabeth Monck (née Cavendish), Duchess of Albemarle, after Unknown artist etching and line engraving, late 18th to early 19th century NPG D30497 Image Credit: National Portrait Gallery, London. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/

finanzennet binäre optionen Elizabeth Monck (née Cavendish), Duchess of Albemarle, after Unknown artist. Image Credit: NPG D30497, National Portrait Gallery, London. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/

piattaforme trading opzioni binarie demo From a Sloane perspective, the Six Degrees database also lacked any of the women in Sloane’s networks–even though much of Sloane’s early patronage came from women. For example, Sloane was the Duchess of Albemarle’s household physician for several years after returning from Jamaica. The Duchess later married the Duke of Montagu, and Sloane was consulted by the extended Montagu family.

Sloane also corresponded with women about a range of subjects beyond medical treatment. Widows like Margaret Ray, Margaret Flamsteed, and Anna Hermann consulted him about bookselling and publishing. Some women, such as the Duchess of Bedford and the Lady Sondes, asked for advice about family matters. Other female correspondents shared an interest in natural philosophy; Cecilia Garrard, for instance, sent him specimens and the Duchess of Beaufort discussed botany (and, at her death in 1715, bequeathed him her herbarium). All of this I know through long familiarity with Sloane’s correspondence.

binary option bullet forum But what does the picture of women’s networks look like if we take a step back from individual letters to examine the cumulative data in the Sloane Letters database?

To prepare for the Six Degrees add-a-thon, research assistant Edward Devane extracted all of the Sloane Letters references to women who were born before 1699–the cut-off date for inclusion in the Six Degrees database. I also asked him to create a shortlist of women who had clearly strong connections with Sloane: women who appeared frequently, referred to social contact, or wrote several letters. There were 339 female individuals on the long list who were mentioned in the letters at least once. But for the shortlist? A mere twenty-seven women.

hop over to this website Look to the edge, indeed!

opcje binarne demo bez depozytu The group of strongly connected women picked up several crucial relationships, such as Sloane’s friendship with Lady Sondes; his old family connection to Anne Hamilton (dowager Countess of Clanbrassil); and his assistance of Margaret Ray, widow of Sloane’s good friend John Ray.

opzioni binarie candele But the most important connections in Sloane’s life were only to be found in the margins. This was quite literally the case for his family relationships (wife and daughters) who appear in postscripts, along the lines of: ‘My humble service to your Lady and daughters’. There are also occasional references to his other female family members—mother, nurse, sisters, aunts… As for the Duchess of Albemarle, she was mentioned only a few times in a handful of letters from Peter Barwick.

Of course, it is not surprising that people whom Sloane saw frequently do not appear in the letters, but their absence obscures the social, family and patronage networks that would have been important to Sloane’s daily life. Although the women remain hidden as strong connections when extracting basic data, the Sloane Letters database can still be searched by name or relationship, which makes it easier to sift through the masses of correspondence to find scattered references to his family networks.

Image Credit: University of Cambridge Digital Library.

Image Credit: University of Cambridge Digital Library.

Then there are the female correspondents who didn’t even appear in the list at all because they signed their names using initials. Take, for example, J. Squire who wrote to Sloane in 1731. There is nothing in the letter that explicitly suggests that J. Squire was a woman. However, the linkage of the three names—Squire, Abrahm de Moivre and Sloane is telling. Jane Squire had a proposal to determine longitude, which attracted the interest of De Moivre and Sloane. How many other women are to be found lurking behind initials in the correspondence?

What we mean when we talk about networks might also need to be broadened when we look to the edge. Do we just trace important people with wide networks? Do we just trace those whose biographies can be verified? Just how inclusive should we be?

A family group of a woman and four children flanked on either side by figures of children. Engraving by Aug. Desnoyers after himself after Raphael. Image Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

A family group of a woman and four children flanked on either side by figures of children. Engraving by Aug. Desnoyers after himself after Raphael. Image Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

Sloane’s loose connections present a number of women who saw Sloane as a part of their network, even if the women did not play a meaningful role in his life. Mrs. E. Martin wrote to Sloane in 1725 and 1726 asking for his help in a person situation. Her lover, Mr. Knight, had abandoned her and their children to marry another woman. By 1726, the situation was worse: Mr. Knight had her confined, removed her child, and frozen his payments to her. Mrs. Martin noted that Sloane had once treated her. This was typical; there were several one-off letters from former patients asking for assistance, presumably because Sloane was one of the most important people they knew.

However, the names that Mrs. Martin dropped in the letters also suggest that she thought Sloane might have personal influence: Mr. Knight, Mr. Isted, and Mr. Meure. Isted was Sloane’s son-in-law, while Knight and Meure were friends of Isted and Sloane. Perhaps these other connections were a little too close, because Sloane dismissed her altogether:

I rec’d yors & am in no manner of condition either to advise or relieve you being perfectly a stranger to what you write & not in a possible way of helping you, being full of affairs in my own profession that I have neither time nor abilities to be assisting to you.

Mrs. Martin was, indeed, a woman found at the edge—of survival and social networks.

At first glance, looking at the list of letter-writers, women hardly factor in Sloane’s correspondence. There were women who wrote directly to Sloane, but most women appear only as subjects, mentioned by medical practitioners, family members or friends (their, er, networks?). One of the reasons that I developed the Sloane Letters database was to make those hidden women more findable; if we describe the letters beyond authorship, women’s stories and networks suddenly become visible.

And it is only by looking to the edges in the first place that the outlines of early modern women’s networks emerge, revealing how women were at the centre all along.

[1] David Perry has a good summary on #femfog and links to other criticisms here: http://www.thismess.net/2016/01/grab-your-balls-and-problem-with-blind.html

[2] The team included my University of Essex research assistants (Edward Devane and Evie Smith) and me.

The Tale of Jane Wenham: an Eighteenth-century Hertfordshire Witch?

The Story

F. Goya, Three witches or Fates spinning, with bodies of babies tied behind them.  Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

F. Goya, Three witches or Fates spinning, with bodies of babies tied behind them.
Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

The tale of Jane Wenham, found guilty of witchcraft in 1712, begins as all early modern witch stories do: with a suspicion.[1] A local farmer, John Chapman had long attributed the strange deaths of local cattle and horses to Wenham’s witchcraft, although he could not prove it. It was not until 1712 that he became sure of her guilt.

On New Year’s Day, Chapman’s servant, Matthew Gilston, was carrying straw outside the barn when Wenham appeared and asked for a pennyworth of straw. Gilston refused and Wenham left, saying “she’d take it”. As Gilston was threshing in the barn on 29 January, “an Old Woman in a Riding-hood or Cloak, he knows not which” asked for a pennyworth of straw. The old woman left muttering at his refusal and Matthew suddenly felt compelled to run to a farm three miles away, where he asked the farmers for some straw. Being refused, “he went farther to some Dung-heaps, and took some Straw from thence”, then took off his shirt and carried the straw home in it.

This was enough evidence for Chapman who “in Heat of Anger call’d [Wenham] a Witch and Bitch”. On 9 February, Wenham went to the local magistrate Sir Henry Chauncy for a warrant for slander, “expecting not only to get something out of [Chapman], but to deter other People from calling her so any more”. Now that the suspicion was in the open, Wenham could try to put the rumours to rest.

Chauncy, however, had “enquired after her Character, and heard a very ill one of her”. He referred the case to the local minister, Rev. Mr. Gardiner on 11 February, who advised them to live peaceably together and ordered Chapman to pay a shilling. Wenham thought this was inadequate; “her Anger was greatly kindled” against the minister and she swore that “if she could not have Justice here, she would have it elsewhere”.

Francis Bragge, another clergyman, stopped by just as Wenham was leaving. Within the hour, the Gardiners’ maidservant Anne Thorn, aged about 17, seemed to become the focus of Wenham’s wrath. The Gardiners and Bragge rushed into the kitchen when they heard a strange noise. There, Thorn was “stript to her Shirt-sleeves, howling, and wringing her Hands in a dismal Manner, and speechless”. She “pointed earnestly to a bundle which lay at her Feet”, which turned out to be oak twigs and leaves wrapped in her gown and apron.

Finally able to speak, Thorn said that “she found a strange Roaming in her Head, (I use her own Expressions,) her Mind run upon Jane Wenham, and she thought she must run some whither; that accordingly she ran up the Close, but look’d back several Times at the House, thinking she should never see it more”. Thorn claimed that she spoke to Wenham, then returned home–all within seven minutes, which meant that she had run over eight miles an hour. This was all the more impressive since she had injured her knee badly the night before. What might have been a wild fancy was verified by two witnesses: John Chapman and Daniel Chapman.

This was only the beginning of Thorn’s torments. The next day, Wenham asked why Thorn lied and warned her: “if you tell any more such Stories of me, it shall be worse for you than it has been yet, and shov’d her with her Hand”. And so she did suffer fron convulsions and pain, compulsions to collect more sticks or to submerge herself in the river, an ability to move quickly despite her injured knee, and a violent desire to draw the witch’s blood.

Wenham claimed that the Devil had come to her in the form of a cat. Here, Beelzebub - portrayed with rabbit ears, a tiger's face, scaled body, clawed fingers and bird's legs. From: Compendium rarissimum totius Artis Magicae sistematisatae per celeberrimos Artis hujus Magistros, 1775. Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

Wenham claimed that the Devil had come to her in the form of a cat. Here, Beelzebub – portrayed with rabbit ears, a tiger’s face, scaled body, clawed fingers and bird’s legs. (Compendium rarissimum totius Artis Magicae, 1775.) Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

Wenham was arrested for witchcraft on 13 February. Four women searched Wenham’s body for witch’s teats or other Devil’s marks, but none were found. A local minister, Mr. Strutt, tried to get her to say the Lord’s Prayer, which she could not do. On 16 February, in the presence of Wenham’s cousin, Strutt and Gardiner took Wenham’s confession. She admitted to bewitching Anne and to entering into a pact with the Devil sixteen years previously, just before her husband’s death.

The trial by jury began on 4 March, presided over by Sir John Powell. Several neighbours gave evidence, blaming the deaths of two bewitched infants and various cattle on her. Some mentioned strange visitations by noisy cats, including one with Wenham’s face. Many described Thorn’s continued convulsions, her pinch marks and bruises from invisible sources, and strange cakes of feathers in Thorn’s pillows. The judge was sceptical throughout. For example, he “wish’d he could see an Enchanted Feather; and seem’d to wonder that none of these strange Cakes were preserv’d”. The jury deliberated for two hours before finding Wenham guilty and sentencing her to death. Justice Powell, however, reversed the death sentence and later obtained a royal pardon for Wenham.

The Pamphlet War

F.Goya, The Sleep of Reason produces monsters.  Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

F.Goya, The Sleep of Reason produces monsters.
Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

In April 1712, Francis Hutchinson wrote to Hans Sloane about the trial, which he had attended. The case was a cause célèbre in England, dividing the educated elite along the lines of rationalism and superstition. On the one side were clergymen such as Bragge, who wrote A full and impartial account of the discovery of sorcery and witchcraft, practis’d by Jane Wenham of Walkerne in Hertfordshire (1712). On the other side were those like Hutchinson, a curate of St. James’s Church in Bury St. Edmunds, who was troubled by the excess of superstition that he had witnessed. Although he shared “some historical Collections and Observations” with Sloane on the subject of witchcraft as early as 1712, it was not until 1718 that Hutchinson published An historical essay concerning witchcraft. Why the delay?

Janet Warner of the Walkern History Society suggests that Hutchinson may have been worried about damaging his own reputation, but I think that the clue is in Hutchinson’s foreword, which he addressed to Sir Peter King, the Lord Chief Justice of Common Pleas, and Sir Thomas Bury, Lord Chief Baron of Exchequer. Hutchinson claimed that he would have continued his historical observations in obscurity “if a new Book [by Richard Boulton], which very likely may do some Mischief, had not lately come forth in Two Volumes, under the pompous Title of A Compleat History of Magick, Sorcery, and Witchcraft, &c.”

Hutchinson feared the public reaction to the book, which promoted the belief in magic and witches. As if people needed more encouragement: Bragge’s Full and impartial account, for example, had gone to four editons within the first month! Such beliefs were dangerous, and not just as a habit of thought, as the events in Walkern had shown. To Hutchinson, the clergymen involved in the Wenham case had behaved irresponsibly, being “as deep in these Notions, even as Hopkins [witchfinder] himself, that hang’d Witches by Dozens”. Instead of preventing superstition from spreading, as Hutchinson intended to do, they had taken a leading role in encouraging it.

Afterword

It was obvious that Wenham could no longer remain in Walkern, given the town’s insistence that she was guilty. Captain John Plummer was described by Hutchinson as a “sensible man” for taking Wenham under his protection—“that she might not afterward be torn to peeces”. Wenham lived there “soberly and inoffensively” until 1720 when Plummer died. She lived another ten years under the care of William Cowper, the 1st Earl of Cowper, dying at the age of 90.[2]

 

[1] This account is taken from Francis Bragge, A full and impartial account of the discovery of sorcery and witchcraft, practis’d by Wenham Wenham of Walkerne in Hertfordshire, upon the Bodies of Anne Thorn, Anne Street, &c. (1712). (Yes, this is the same Francis Bragge who gave testimony in the case!)

[2] Both men were also correspondents of Hans Sloane’s.

Looking after your family until the end: the cost of caregiving in historical perspective

A very old man, suffering from senility. Colour stipple engraving by W. Bromley, 1799, after T. Stothard. Image credit: Wellcome Library, London.

A very old man, suffering from senility. Colour stipple engraving by W. Bromley, 1799, after T. Stothard. Image credit: Wellcome Library, London.

Another day, another governmental exhortation that families just aren’t doing enough to keep society going… This time, it is Simon Hughes (the UK coalition’s justice minister) who suggested that British people had lost a sense of duty to care and were neglecting the elderly. Caregivers regularly bear the brunt of governmental disparagement, especially at a time when an ageing population puts increasing stress on limited resources. The solution, Hughes proposes, is that we look to immigrant cultures who understand the necessity of sacrifice for the good of elderly family members.

Gee, that’ll do the trick… (There’s a thorough dissection of Hughes’ statements  over at (Dementia Just Ain’t) Sexy.) But what I want to discuss here is the problematic view of the past underpinning Hughes’ assertions. He ignores the daily experience of modern caregivers and instead assumes that British family responsibility was much more important back in the halcyon olden days.

Let me introduce you to the Meure family in the early eighteenth century, whose case suggests the high costs of caregiving at a time when there were no other options. The Meures were naturalized Huguenot immigrants who had moved to London shortly after Louix XIV had revoked the Edict of Nantes in France. The family’s immigrant status is worth noting, given that the myth of dutiful families relies on the belief that they remained in one place.

The location of the French Academy, where a different sort of dancing now takes place. Image source: my own photograph.

The location of the French Academy, where a different sort of dancing now takes place. Image source: my own photograph.

Abraham Meure (senior, hereafter “Meure”) established a boarding school for French Protestants in Soho, but the school—which taught fencing, dancing, drawing and languages—quickly attracted of the English nobility. Times must have been good for the family, as Abraham Meure (junior, hereafter “Abraham”) styled himself as “Gent.” when he married Elizabeth Newdigate in 1707.

Somewhere around 1708, Meure’s son-in-law Moses Pujolas wrote to Hans Sloane. Sloane had previously acted as a legal witness on behalf of Meure who suffered from dementia and senility. The father’s need for care was not disputed within the family; rather, this was a matter of ensuring that Abraham could take over his father’s interests. Unsatisfied with the facts of the case, the jury at the Court of Chancery wanted Meure to attend court. Moses worried that ‘he isn’t in a fit state to conduct himself without embarrassment’ and hoped that Sloane would attest to treating Meure’s senility over time.[1] The family appears to have been protecting Meure by preserving his dignity. The Court treated the debility as temporary, but then removing Meure’s power irrevocably wasn’t the family’s goal, either. The Meures delayed three more years before seeking a permanent ruling.

Meure’s last will dates from 1703 and was proven in 1716.[2] Although it’s hard to know when exactly Meure’s dementia began, the will makes it clear that his daughter Magdalene Pujolas and her family were living with him. According to the will, Abraham received the bulk of his father’s estate, but was to pay Moses £500 as specified in the marriage articles and, within six months of Meure’s death, Magdalene would receive a further £500. Meure declared:

Further, I give my daughter Magdalen Pujolas her board for all the time she lived with me since her marriage, and for three months after my decease, as alsoe the Board of her Husband Moses Pujolas his Children, and servants, and I doe prohibite my Eldest son or his Executors ever to make any demand thereon upon any amount whatever.

In addition, Moses could take back everything in his two furnished chambers and any Pujolas possessions elsewhere in the household. There were bequests to other family members: Robert Pujolas (Magdalene’s son), £500; Andrew Meure (son), £450; and Magdalin Meure (Andrew’s daughter), £100. The particularly generous bequests to the Pujolas family hints that Meure expected them to remain with him indefinitely and that they may already have been providing him with domestic assistance. The Meure family was not wealthy, although the school provided a sufficiently comfortable living to remunerate the Pujolas family for their long-term assistance.

The evidence is, admittedly, patchy. No family records or other letters to Sloane refer to Meure’s deteriorating state, though Moses’ reference to Meure’s likely embarrassment in court suggests that he was in a bad state a mere five years after writing the will. It must have been agonizing for those closest to him who continued to care for him until his death circa 1714, which was when Abraham took over as ratepayer for the property.

Moses and Abraham for many years had a friendly relationship. For example, Moses was Abraham’s guarantor in his marriage settlement of 1707. Not long after Meure died, there were growing tensions within the family. And it is these letters that suggest what the real cost of long-term caregiving was for Magdalene.

In 1719, Abraham wrote to Sloane to question Moses’ treatment of his sister:

I beg the favour of you to lett me know when you saw my sister Pujolas last, and how you found her, her husband saith that he locked her up by your advice.

Sloane replied that he had not treated Mrs Pujolas for several years, but had looked into the matter for Abraham. Magdalene had, apparently, ruined her health, by ‘coveting and drinking large quantities of hott liquors’.

The case must have been severe. Sloane was concerned enough to advise Moses to consult a lawyer about locking Magdalene up in order to limit the quantities of alcohol that she consumed.

Coincidence?

[1] British Library, Sloane MS 4060, ff. 142-3. Pujolas thanked Sloane for an affidavit in BL MS 4060, f. 141,

[2] London Metropolitan Archives, PROB 11: Will Registers – 1713-1722 – piece 554: Fox, Quire Numbers 173-208 (1716), Will of Abraham Meure.

Nursing Fathers, Slacking Dads and False Assumptions

Things I learned on the weekend… Slacker dads watch sports instead of read their children stories. They avoid housework and childcare as much as possible. They prefer work-life to domesticity. And above all, they look upon “Wet Wipe” daddies—those who are prepared with things like spare nappies and who concentrate on what their children are doing—with contempt. Or so claims Alex Bilmes, editor of Esquire, who shared his “Confessions of a slacker dad” in The Guardian. Bilmes wonders when being a good father became so complicated, concluding that “[t]he expectations of fathers have changed. More is demanded of us.” Righto. And off he went at speed, riding on his false assumptions about fatherhood in the past!

A father feeding his infant whilst the mother attends to domestic jobs and a small child plays with its food. Etching after A. van Ostade, 1648.  Image Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

A father feeding his infant whilst the mother attends to domestic jobs and a small child plays with its food. Etching after A. van Ostade, 1648. Image Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

Joanne Bailey, author of the excellent Parenting in England 1760-1830, certainly has much to say on the complexities of fatherhood, identity and parent-child relationships. Being a dad was not, historically, exactly a walk in the park (with or without a Scandinavian buggy). As Bailey points out in one of her blog posts, Georgian fathers experienced (and were expected to experience) a profound range of postive and negative emotions.

In another post, she explains that Georgian society expected men as well as women to be emotional beings, resulting in an ideal that fathers should be “tender” or “nursing” or—to use a modern term–“involved”. Victorian and mid-twentieth century fatherhood, by contrast, emphasised less emotional expression (particularly in men), shifting the cultural focus to fathers’ roles as breadwinners.

The anti-Wet Wipe father Bilmes would, I expect, be surprised by (what I now call) the Medicinal Plaister Papas of the early eighteenth century: the men who performed a wide range of caregiving roles within the household, including nursing and remedy preparation. The Sloane Correspondence is filled with concerned fathers who oversaw the health care of their children.

Many fathers provided detailed reports of their children’s health and administered treatments. In a letter dated 1 February 1697, John Ray grieved for his daughter who had died of an apoplectic fit after three days of delirium. He blamed himself for giving her one of his own remedies, only to see it fail on this crucial occasion.

William Derham was concerned about his “little daughter”, aged nine, on 3 November 1710. She had been “seized immediately with a great suffocation like to have carried her off divers times”. Derham reported his daughter’s symptoms (sore throat and lungs, heart palpitations and blindness) and described her treatments, including the use of a microscope to examine her eyes. It is possible that a local physician had undertaken the microscopic examination, as the language is ambiguous. But knowing Derham’s scientific interests, it seems more likely that Derham examined his daughter’s eyes himself.

Others were concerned that their own sins might be visited upon their offspring with terrible consequences. Edward Davies, on 8 July 1728, was worried that his son’s joint pain might affect his head. In addition to reading up on John Colbatch’s remedy for convulsive distempters ( A Dissertation Concerning Mistletoe, 1723), Davies had treated his son with Daffy’s Elixir. Davies had two main questions. First, he wondered if his own past mercury treatments (for venereal disease?) had caused his son’s ill health: “my blood was poyson’d in my youth with a Quicksilver-gird & I wish my off-spring do not suffer that”. Second, he was also unsure whether teaching his son Latin to prepare him for public school would do him more harm than good in his condition. Raising a child was a fraught venture, from passing on one’s own health problems to training them well for the future. In any case, Davies was deeply involved in his son’s upbringing.

Fathers also exchanged useful medical knowledge. In August 1723, Mr. Townshend wrote to Sloane that his daughter Ann had been on her way to visit Sloane about her blindness, but  Townshend had such trouble parting with her that she would be “14 days longer”—and he would have preferred it if Sloane could come to Exeter! A month later, Townshend expressed his gratitude for Sloane’s help, although Ann was no better. Townshend had, nonetheless, suggested that Mr. Farrington and others contact Sloane for assistance.

Sure enough, that same day, Mr. Farrington had written to Sloane about his daughter’s eye problems. Farrington noted that when his daughter (now 21) was ten, she’d suffered from such violent head pain that she was expected to die. She eventually lost sight in both her eyes and although she was able to move around the home and gardens, she was unable to travel beyond them. Farrington described the nature of her limited sight, as well as the treatments and diagnosis that she had received. By the next month, Farrington waivered between hope and despair based on Sloane’s (unknown) response, but he sent Lady Yonge to collect Sloane’s remedies. As of 23 November 1723, Farrington noted that Sloane’s treatments seemed to be working “and the load she hath had above the eyes taken off”.

These last two cases reveal two worried fathers, both of whom were familiar with the details of their daughters’ treatments. Townshend’s recommendation of Sloane’s assistance to his friends also suggests a network of fathers who exchanged medical knowledge—in the case of Townshend and Farrington, about their daughters’ shared problem.

Distant dads? Not at all! These early eighteenth-century Medicinal Plaister Papas who wrote to Sloane had far more in common with the modern Wet Wipe fathers than Bilmes and his Slacker Dad ilk.

An Eighteenth-Century Love Story

The Newdigate family became Hans Sloane’s patients around 1701, starting with Lady Frances Sedley (née Newdigate), her husband, and father-in-law. By 1705-6, Sloane was treating Elizabeth Newdigate (b. 1682) for colic, hysteria and fever (BL Sl. MS 4076, 1 July 1705, f. 173; 4077, 21 December 1706, f. 164). But Elizabeth’s complaints went far beyond the medical.

A letter of 1 November 1706 detailed her illness, penury, and unhappy family situation. Specifically, she blamed the “distruction of my health if not to the loss of life” on her brother and sisters who were “miserably unkind” to her. This was partly financial, as her brother Dick

wou’d not help me to one peny of money when I was sick in London but forsed me to borow of strangers.

Dick had apparently even written to “all my Relations [that] I unjustly demanded mony of him when he was not in my debt”.

But the siblings were being unreasonable in another way, too. They had dismissed her illness, telling everyone “that I was distracted and had no illness but that of being in love”. She swore innocence in the matter, insisting that she had not even really spoken to the man.

Theodore Lane, A young woman escapes down a rope of sheets, intending to elope with her lover, n.d. Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

Theodore Lane, A young woman escapes down a rope of sheets, intending to elope with her lover, n.d. Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

Of course, she must have done… or perhaps her siblings had put the idea of an unsuitable match into head. A year later, she married Abraham Meure, the son of a Huguenot schoolmaster–self-styled a “Gent.” in the marriage contract of 3 September 1707 (Warwickshire County Record Office, CR 136 C2734).

For a woman from a good gentry family, this was a bad choice of husband. A torn-out page from the family Bible makes clear that Elizabeth had “married herself” (WCRO, CR 136/B830). Her father made the point again in the marriage settlement, promising “That for and notwithstanding the consent and good likeing of the said Sr Richard Newdigate is not obtained”, he would still pay her portion. Abraham, nonetheless, does appear to have been a man of some means. Not only did he renounce his claim on and interest in Elizabeth’s portion, “out of the great love and affection” he had for her, but he would provide an annuity of £300.

Elizabeth’s letter reads like a cry for pity.  Perhaps, by playing upon her defenselessness, she hoped to persuade Sloane to mediate on her behalf. Given her eventual success in marrying Abraham, it is entirely possible that Sloane did help. Sloane certainly continued on as physician to the Newdigate and Meure families. And over time, Abraham became a close member of the family, helping his brother-in-law William Stephens during financial difficulties.

Unfortunately, Elizabeth and Abraham’s match was short-lived. Elizabeth died on 9 July 1710, just two weeks after giving birth to their son John.

A Horrifying Pregnancy and Cesarean Operation in Eighteenth-Century Ireland

A surgeon performing a Caesarean operation on an agonized woman who had apparently been carrying a dead baby in her womb for five years. (Reproduction, 1933, of a woodcut, 1560.) Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

A surgeon performing a Caesarean operation on an agonized woman who had apparently been carrying a dead baby in her womb for five years. (Reproduction, 1933, of a woodcut, 1560.) Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

John Copping, the Dean of Clogher, wrote two letters to Hans Sloane in 1738 about a “Caesarian Operation performed by an ignorant Butcher” (British Library Sloane MS 4055, ff. 293-295, ff. 334-338). Copping first heard about the case of Sarah McKinna of Brentram, which had happened four years previously, from another clergyman. He then visited the McKinna family.

Mrs McKinna married at the age of sixteen. She did not menstruate until after marriage and then it took nearly a decade for her to become pregnant. Two months after giving birth to a second child, Mrs McKinna again developed the usual symptoms of pregnancy. The symptoms continued as expected over the next nine months, but then stopped suddenly. Over the next seven years, she had no menstrual periods and was “perpetually afflicted with the most violent Pains” in her abdomen.

At this point, she developed a swollen abdomen and, once more, the symptoms of pregnancy. Seven months into this “uncertain account”, she developed what she thought was a boil about the size of a goose-egg just above her navel, which gave her “very great Pain” and leaked a “watery humour”. A midwife and three or four physicians visited her, but unable to help, “left her as a dying Woman”.

The “boil” then broke:  “from this Orifice started the Elbow of a Child, which hung some Days by the Skin, visible to abundance: At length she cut if off for her own Relief”.* Mrs McKinna sent for local butcher, Turlog O’Neill. By the time he arrived, Mrs McKinna was in “an expiring condition” and “begged him to help her”. He did not do this lightly: “the Man was frightened, and went to sleep”. When he awoke, he acted decisively, giving “her a large Draught of Sack, and I suppose, took one himself”.  

O’Neill “made so large an Incision above and below the Navel, as enabled him, by fixing his Fingers under the Jaw of the Foetus, to extract it”. The hole was, according to Mr McKinna, “as large as his Hat”. O’Neill had to pull the bone “backward and forward to loosen it”. Bad enough. But keep in mind,Mrs McKinna was conscious the entire time, her senses numbed only by the large glass of fortified wine.

After removing the jaw, O’Neill spotted something black inside the hole—other bones. He removed as many as he could, but some remained inside, over time working their way out through the navel or “from the Womb the natural Way”. Each instance caused Mrs McKinna great pain.

According to the story that Copping first heard, Mrs McKinna fully recovered within six weeks and only had a small rupture in the belly. The situation was not nearly so cheery, Copping discovered:“She might be about the House, but she was 15 Months confined to the House”. The hole was still so large that Copping was able to “put a Finger a pretty Way up into the Body”… four years after the operation.

Copping, who had sympathetically described Mrs McKinna’s pain throughout his account, raised a collection so that she could be treated in Dublin.

A horrifying case, but it does tell us much about the eighteenth-century world. While we tend to see the experience of pregnancy as self-evident, it was not always so clear-cut for early modern women. Stopped menstruation was not unusual for women in poor health or who lived in poverty, as Mrs McKinna did. Copping, for example, described the McKinnas as ignorant, with poor speech. Mrs McKinna may have had many of the signs of pregnancy, but such signs could also be interpreted as health problems such as dropsy, especially if no baby appeared. In any case, she had a prior history of irregular menstruation.

Copping’s account highlights the growing demands for better medical and scientific evidence during the eighteenth century. He did not just provide the clergyman’s anecdote as fact, but followed it up with the McKinna family in person. He corrected the clergyman’s version: the woman took nearly ten years, not two, to conceive; the woman did not recover as well as rumour suggested;  the operation did not occur all at once, but in several parts. By the 1730s just being interesting was not enough for a case to appear in the Philosophical Transactions.+

Mrs McKinna and her “putrefied” baby were certainly medical curiosities at the time. Copping, like everyone else, treated them as such. He noted, for example, that he could not send any of the bones to Sloane because other physicians had already taken them. But he did at least act ensure that the long-suffering woman would receive treatment– unlike the vultures who had scavenged bits of the skeleton without even stopping to close up Mrs McKinna’s wounds.

*Fetuses occasionally develop outside the uterus. See here for a recent case.

+Admittedly, the issue in which it appeared had its fair share of odd cases, from monstrous births to odd items in urine.

Sloane: Part of the Family

By Alice Marples

When thinking about famous figures in the history of science, it can sometimes be easy to forget that they were not working in isolation. A lot of recent research has focused on exploring the domestic contexts of scientific production, and paints a picture of kitchen table-top experiments and hoards of curious visitors mucking up the carpet. Men of science were the heads of households, supported (and, likely, just about tolerated) by their families and servants, who were often called in to help.

Yet, when I first began reading through Sloane’s correspondence, I was still surprised by the extent to which wives and children featured in the letters. The broad geographical shape and intellectual form of the international Republic of Letters, linking scholars who had often never met, necessitated a certain contractual form of conduct in epistolary exchanges: elevated, polite and very, very formal. Though the letters in Sloane’s collection are polite, the business discussed within them flows easily from formal to familial, with the knowledge exchanged alternating between the scientific and the social.

John Smybert, The Bermuda Group (1728-1739), Yale University Art Library. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

The first letter from John Ray (1627-1705) – a naturalist-parson and patron of Sloane’s, easily the single person with whom he corresponded the most – concludes his discussion of the state of the scientific community with the request that Sloane should come visit Ray in Black Notley, as he and his wife would love to see him. There is a great deal of affection communicated through these letters, giving the impression that Sloane was very much part of the furniture within the Ray household.

Sloane’s increasingly long absences as he became busier and more successful as a physician and collector are mourned by Ray, his wife, and their daughters. After a relatively big gap in their communication in which Sloane is almost entirely taken up with administering to the rather-troublesome Lady Albermarle and her frequent health issues, we have this from Ray:

Monday last I received your kind letter attended with a rich Present of sugar to my Wife: They were both very gratefull & acceptable…. You have so highly pleased & obliged my Wife, that she is much in commendation of your generosity, & returns you her humble service & hearty thanks; wishing that you were here to partake of some of the effects of your kindnesse.

This present of sugar to the Ray family to make up for his absence was one which Sloane returned to again and again:

My little family are, I thank God, at present all in health…. We often tast of your kindnesse, & as often remember you, & talk of you. My wife salutes you with the tender of her most humble service. (Sloane MS 4036, f. 256)

Certainly lots of letters were written by current or future members of the Royal Society on account of the health of their family, such as Sir Godfrey Copley’s wife or William Sherard’s mother. Similarly, Sloane’s wife is present in many of the letters, with doctors, botanists and lords courteously asking after her whenever she is ill.

But networks built by demonstrable medical expertise and social power did not exist within a void. They were supplemented by personal connections maintained through everyday exchanges among friends and associates, and their families, all of whom were present within the learned community. For example, Sir Godfrey Copley felt compelled to beg on behalf of his wife that Sloane send her the reciept of Making Bacon like that of Westphalia. (Sloane MS 4036, f.188)

Wives swapped housemaids, passed on recipes and recommendations, and actively sought positions for friends and servants through the epistolary exchanges. Sons began working for individuals and companies after being recommended to them by those who knew their parents. Daughters were introduced to improving elder ladies, and written about fondly in letters between fathers. All these interactions appear in the letters as part of the scientific and scholarly information. These letters offer rewarding traces of domestic life, friendship, the role of women in patronage, and the familial world of natural history.

Sloane existed at the centre of a world-wide network of letter-writers, yet it is important to remember that often Sloane’s correspondence was not quite the same sort of exchange as that of the virtuous Republic of Letters. Time and again, there is evidence within the letters of the personal, informal and integrated worlds of families and friends behind this polite language and professions of worthy enterprise.

On this note, I leave you with the warm but exasperated postscript written along the edges of Sir Arthur Rawdon’s letter to Sloane, dated 30th March 1692:

My wife has made me open my letter agen to tell you that she is much troubled that you should write word that you were afraid the cause of my silence was that you had disobliged either her mother or her, she hopes you have a better opinion of them. (Sloane MS 4036, f.115)

Sloane was sometimes so deeply involved with the extended families and friends of his correspondents, that even his patron’s mother-in-law (assisted by his wife) was able to tease him.

Doctor Sloane and His Patients in Eighteenth-Century England

In April, I received the good news that the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada had decided to fund my project “Reconstructing the Lives of Doctor Sloane and His Patients in Eighteenth-Century England” for three years.This may have resulted in an impromptu dance around the room, but fortunately the walls won’t talk…

The dance of death. Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

The dance of death. Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

This is in many ways a project born of snoopiness. I have always loved to read about the mucky details of daily life, and the letters written to Sloane offer much by way of gore, suffering and family quarrels. But one thing has always frustrated me in my research: the size of Sloane’s correspondence (upwards of forty volumes, depending on what is counted). So many letters, so many stories, so often hard to find!

The goal of this phase of the project is to complete the database, Sir Hans Sloane’s Correspondence Online, and to produce a series of microhistories about Sloane and his patients. While the collection remains indexed only by author (as it largely is still), it is difficult to navigate. The purpose of my database is to make it possible to search Sloane’s correspondence for details, such as people mentioned, social occasions, or specific illnesses. The database also makes it easier to find all references to a patient, whether made by a medical practitioner, friend or parent. This is when, to my way of thinking, things start to get really interesting.

The family records of the Newdigates, for example, show that Sloane treated several members of the family. Elizabeth Newdigate’s letters to Sloane reveal a troubled young woman, beset by family strife that included two siblings with insanity, a lawsuit by the eldest son, and the daughters’ mysterious suit before Parliament (which was dropped) for their father’s “unnatural acts”. Reading the family references in Sloane’s letters alongside the Newdigate papers will be useful in uncovering the family’s dysfunction and the wider context of Elizabeth Newdigate’s illness letters. Gender, age and status all played key roles in the disputes. By reading cases like these alongside available family archives, I can use the medical letters as a point of entry into understanding the moments of illness within the wider context of patients’ and families’ lives.

The database can also be used to trace relationships. Consider, for example, Sloane’s relationship with the Duchess of Albemarle.  Although Sloane went to Jamaica with the Duke of Albemarle, he remained the Duchess’ household physician when he returned to London and even after the Duchess remarried the Duke of Montagu. The Pierreponts were the Duchess’ birth family, while the Cadogans were related to the Duke of Montagu: both families were regular patients of Sloane’s. In 1719, Sloane’s daughter even married into the Cadogan family. The letters from this group of related families provide insight into the workings of patronage, kinship, and Sloane’s career, as much as their collective health.

Sloane himself is a fascinating subject of study. There are only a handful of letters about Sloane’s family and business in the correspondence, but there are also many small bits of scattered information: what he prescribed, others’ attitudes toward him, references to his opinions, details about property management, clues to his family and social life…  His family life, too, was important for his career. He married Elizabeth Rose (née Langley), who was from a well-to-do London family and a widow of a wealthy Jamaican landowner; her wealth aided his ability to maintain the appearance of a gentleman (important in attracting wealthy clients) and to collect objects from around the world (which reinforced the image of him as a man of science). At the height of his career, Sloane was President of the Royal College of Physicians, President of the Royal Society and a royal physician—a man very much at the centre of the medical and scientific community, with opportunity to influence the health of the nation.

Case histories such as these will allow me to examine the way in which social and political networks, state-building and power structures were reinforced in the everday life of the early modern household.

And, of course, maximise my snoopiness.

An Unusual Case of Menstruation in Eighteenth-Century England

“Mrs Wilson’s Case”, undated and unsigned, appears in the final volume of Hans Sloane’s Medical Correspondence and Cases (Sloane MS 4078, f. 372). Mrs Wilson’s troubles began the previous spring. She noticed in May that her tongue was occasionally sore when she ate, which she assumed must have been the result of a loose tooth cutting it. An obvious conclusion, with a seemingly obvious treatment: having the tooth pulled. But she waited until July before taking “a Friends Advice” to do just that.

Watercolour drawing of a Hunterian chancre situated on the dorsum of the tongue, 1892. The patient was a young woman, aged 22. Credit: St Bartholomew’s Hospital Archives & Museum, Wellcome Images.

Mrs Wilson’s tongue continued to worsen and she called in “an old experienced surgeon”, who prescribed medicinal gargles of all kinds. By August, it was clear that the gargles were not helping. Mrs. Wilson had a noticeable ulcer on her tongue. This time, the surgeon prescribed other remedies to treat internal blockages, possibly caused by a scorbutic or venereal problem. He gave her mild mercurial pills and purges.[1] He salivated her.[2] He applied a seton to the back of her neck.[3] He gave her a linctus.[4]

Nowadays, we might think these sorts of remedies were overkill in treating a mere mouth ulcer, when surely a topical treatment like Bonjela would do the trick! But the use of the term “ulcer” to describe Mrs Wilson’s problem is misleading for modern readers; in early modern usage, “ulcer” referred specifically to an open sore that seeped morbid matter. This was a much more serious problem. She had other symptoms, too, such as a pinching in her throat and pain in her ear and head. The swelling of her tongue kept increasing.

During treatment, the sore had been “ebbing and flowing”, which initially gave some hopes of a cure, but when a fungus developed over it, the surgeon “confessed it to be a discouraging case”. He consulted a second surgeon, who seemed to have more success. The fungus cleared up within a week, allowing the second surgeon to focus once more on the ulcer—at least until the fungus reappeared within a fortnight. This was treated quickly, but the fungus again returned again two weeks later, and started to spread up the tongue. This was becoming cyclical. Another fortnight passed, at which point both surgeons decided to consult Sloane.

One section of the case, marked “N.B.” to indicate its importance, explained that the salivation had “brought her Courses [menstruation] uopn her before the Time, but she has never had them since.” Indeed, the situation took an odd turn: “Some time after the salivation the Tongue voided Blood wch the old surgeon acknowledged might be the Courses flowing to the Part & bled her in the Foot.” Mrs Wilson had since been bled twice, but “the Blood continues to flow thither periodically”.

Mrs Wilson, it appeared, was menstruating through her tongue. This process, known as vicarious menstruation, has been neatly described in a blog post by Helen King: nature seeking an alternative path out of a woman’s body when her menstrual flow was suppressed. The dominant explanation for menstruation was that the body needed to purge itself of a plethora of blood, which men ordinarily excreted through sweat; plethora would continue to build up in a person’s body, leading to a variety of health problems if it was not released. Common forms of vicarious menstruation included nosebleeds, coughing up blood, or bleeding haemorrhoids.[5] These alternative flows might have been ‘natural’, but they certainly weren’t desirable; the new pathways had been created by the acidity of the stagnant, corrupted mass of blood.

So what did the eminent physician Sloane think? His response is cryptically indicated by the prescription that he scrawled on the top of the page in two lines of Latin abbreviations. He agreed with some of the first surgeon’s treatments, recommending first that Mrs Wilson be bled from the foot. This was a common method of drawing down a woman’s menstruation and re-establishing its correct path. He also aimed to treat the corrupted blood, which was causing the ulcer, by means of a cathartic electuary (a strong purge). Sloane, however, may have been a bit sceptical about the mercurial treatments, as suggested by his prescription for gold powder—a treatment to counteract mercury poisoning.

The tongue itself was an unusual location for vicarious menstruation, but certainly not impossible: any open sore offered a potential exit for retained blood. Helen King wondered in her blog post how patients suffering from vicarious menstruation might have reacted. Mrs Wilson’s case describes her physical pains, as well as the discouragement of the first surgeon, which hints at her experience. But perhaps the simple list of symptoms is evocative enough: swollen tongue, ulcer, fungal growth and periodically bleeding tongue. Enough said. It puts my teeth on edge.

[1] Mercury was used to treat venereal and scorbutic problems, which were thought to result from a hot, poisonous humour.

[2] A treatment that aimed to drain bad humours of the body through a continuous flow of saliva.

[3] A small surgical hole in the skin, kept open to allow drainage of bad humours.

[4] A cough medicine, presumably in this case an expectorant one to expel the phlegm in the lungs.

[5] On menstruating men, see my Wonders and Marvels post. On a periodically bleeding leg ulcer, see Sara Read’s post.

 

Choosing the Countryside: Women, Health and Power in the Eighteenth Century

To honour International Women’s Day today, I have decided to return to my roots as a women’s historian. I first became a historian for feminist reasons: to recover women’s past and to understand the relationships among culture, body, gender, and status.

The control women had over their bodies has often been a staple topic of feminism and women’s medical history. We love to dig out (largely nineteenth and twentieth century) stories about the horrors inflicted upon women’s bodies: clitorodectomies, forced sterilisation, and more. They make for chilling telling. Or perhaps we look back to Antiquity: women as monsters or inferior, inverted men. We find the tales about menstrual blood being poisonous. It’s easy, surrounded by such stories, to assume that the goal of medicine has been about controlling women.

But the reality is far more complicated.

In the early eighteenth century, the misogynistic medical theories of inferiority, for example, were seldom practiced. All bodies were treated as humoral bodies, with specific temperaments that were individual to a patient. Medicine was highly interventionist (and often ineffective) for both sexes. And, more to the point, medical practitioners were dependent on their patients for success. This was not just in terms of payment or patronage.[1] . In an age before anaesthesia, or even stethoscopes, doctors and surgeons were unable to look inside the living body: patients’ stories were invaluable tools in diagnosis. Women could have much control over their own health.

Promising? Not exactly. These women’s choices were still limited in a multitude of ways. The ability to make decisions about one’s own body, whether historically or today, is an important marker of women’s equality. An old argument, perhaps, but one that is as true now as ever. When talking about control in the modern world, it often comes down to topics such as abortion or female genital mutilation. The dullness of day-to-day inequality is easy to overlook when there are more pressing issues.

Back in the eighteenth century, the fundamental inequalities within society can often be seen within the household. Women might, for example, have been well-treated by physicians–but, as letters to physician Hans Sloane show, their ability to make medical decisions was limited by something even more fundamental: access to money.

John Constable, Wivenhoe Park, Essex (1816). From: National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., USA (Wikimedia Commons).

A husband could decide when and how a woman saw a doctor. In 1715, physician William Lilly commented that his patient Lady Suffolk was well enough to travel to London from her countryside residence in order to see Sloane, but only “if my Lord thinks fitt to bring her”.[2] Even when a  woman was pleased with her medical care, her husband might choose another course of treatment, as one unnamed doctor complained. He had been treating Lady Salisbury in 1727, who agreed with his recommendation that she should go to the countryside while she recuperated. Lord Salisbury, however, had other ideas. He dismissed the unnamed physician, instead turning over his wife’s care to Dr. Hale. No reasons were given for the change.[3]

Whether or not a woman received care was also up to her husband. Although the head of a household was obliged to provide medical care for everyone within it, the extent of the care needed was open to dispute.[4] Mrs A. Smith, for example, found that her treatments in Bath were useful, but her husband refused to continue paying. Someone, she believed, “has told Mr Smith that I am very well and I only pretend illness to stay in Towne”. Her dependence on Mr Smith’s decisions was clear. She noted that she was unhappy, since “all my Ease depends a pone Mr Smith’s opinion of me”. Worried that she would become more ill if her husband sent her to the countryside, she begged Sloane to intervene by “tell[ing] him how you thinke me”.[5]

Family members might try to help if they believed a woman’s health was being affected by her husband’s choices, but this was complicated and not always successful. The law, after all, ultimately upheld the power of a husband over his wife. Jane Roupell wrote to Sloane about her daughter, Lady Anne Ilay, on the grounds that her son-in-law had weakened her daughter’s health through his lack of care. Mrs. Roupell asked if Sloane might visit before seeing her daughter, so she could “tell you somthings that she is ashamed to tell her selfe”. It would be best, she thought, if her daughter could recover away from her husband–perhaps, she suggested, Sloane might recommend that Lady Ilay be sent to the countryside.[6]

The countryside in these four letters becomes alternatively a place of health, a place of isolation or a place of refuge. Although we’ve moved on a lot since the eighteenth century, there are two basic women’s health issues that underpinned these seemingly simple disputes about going to the countryside: access to health care and finances.

Most often, the Sloane correspondence provides examples of women’s families wanting the best for their wives and daughters, but women were always in precarious positions. Each woman came from a wealthy background and had doctors (such as Sloane) who were potential allies, but as the cases show, women could not simply choose what treatment they wanted without consulting their families. One thing was clear: it was ultimately up to their husbands what a woman’s medical treatment should be.



[1] See for example, Wendy Churchill, Female Patients in Early Modern Britain (Ashgate, 2012).

[2] British Library Sloane MS 4076, f. 14, 28 July 1715.

[3] British Library Sloane MS 4078, f. 304, 26 March 1727/8.

[4] Catherine Crawford, “Patients’ Rights and the Law of Contract in Eighteenth-century England”, Social History of Medicine 13 (2000): 381-410.

[5] British Library Sloane MS 4077, f. 37, n.d.

[6] British Library Sloane MS 4060, f. 203, f. 204, n.d.

A longer version of this argument appears in: L.W. Smith, “Reassessing the Role of the Family: Women’s Medical Care in Eighteenth-Century England”, Social History of Medicine 16, 3 (2003): 327-342.