Thursday, 26 October 2017

26th October 2017 - On Small Pox and Dairymaids

Thought for the day:"The word Homeowner has the word MEOW in it - good luck pronouncing it in the future"

So - 1881 and the Gunfight at the OK Corral -

Also this is the anniversary of the eradication of Small Pox...

The one thing I remember from my early schooling on the subject was that Dairymaids appear in historical novels and children's tales as more beautiful - and this was apparently down to the fact that their exposure of Cow Pox meant that their skin was far clearer than most who ended up with small pox scarring...

But here is some more information I found...

No one really knows exactly where or when the smallpox virus originated. It may have been the cause of the plague of Athens, as described by Thucydides, and it probably caused the death of Ramses V and, later, Marcus Aurelius. Killing, blinding and disfiguring countless millions worldwide, "the pox" defeated armies, ended dynasties and ruined economies. It decimated North American Indian communities in the 16th century, South American tribespeople in the 1700s, and Australian Aboriginals a century later. Elizabeth I, Voltaire, Mozart and Abraham Lincoln all survived both its ravages and the bleeding, purging, puncturing, sweating and other dangerous remedies of their day.

Described by Macaulay as "the most terrible of all the ministers of death", it was spread rampantly by colonialism, religious expansion, trade, exploration and war; epidemics ran rife. By the 17th century it had replaced the plague as the principal cause of death. Unsurprisingly, then, smallpox was feared above all other infectious diseases.

The Royal Society in London gathered differing accounts of inoculation against smallpox from around the world and in 1717 variolation – the practice of inoculation by using matter drawn from a smallpox pustule and inserting it under the skin of a healthy person – was introduced to Britain. It was vigorously promoted by the Turkish ambassador's wife, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, who had witnessed the "folk practice" and had inoculated her own children.

Variolation usually produced a mild attack of smallpox, giving protection from future infection, but it was risky – and occasionally fatal – and, crucially, it actually assisted the spread of the disease since the recipient remained highly contagious yet was rarely quarantined. Nevertheless – after experimentation on several Newgate prisoners and on a handful of charity children proved to be effective – the practice began to be widely adopted among the nobility. A parallel process was enacted in America and parts of Europe: even Catherine the Great submitted herself to the needle.

Gradually refined, with gentler techniques obviating the earlier incisions, by the end of the century inoculation had become accepted practice among those who could afford it. But it had its detractors: many believed that it was illogical purposely to infect anyone and factions of the clergy argued forcefully against it.

In 1796 Edward Jenner, a Gloucestershire doctor, noticing that milkmaids who suffered from cowpox appeared resistant to smallpox, pioneered "vaccination", using material from the pustules of cows suffering from the related virus. It was the most significant breakthrough in the treatment and prevention of infectious disease that there had been and it was so at variance with established knowledge that Joseph Banks, then president of the Royal Society, advised against publication. Vaccination produced a mild, un-infectious reaction that also gave future immunity. It caught on. Jenner soon became the most famous (and wealthy) country doctor in the world.

The dramatic reduction in smallpox deaths wherever vaccination was introduced proved its efficacy, boosted its popularity and contributed to a decline in the practice of variolation. In order to transport vaccines to countries where they would have degenerated in heat and over time, and before the discovery of glycerine as a preserving agent, human "chains" were used through which vaccinations could be transferred "arm-to-arm", from one patient to the next.

In 1840 the Vaccine Act provided, in effect, the first free medical service in Britain, though compulsory vaccination remained highly contentious. Epidemics continued wherever there were mass movements of people but, after many further refinements and 200 years after Jenner's first vaccination, the World Health Organisation announced in 1979 that smallpox was the first (and still the only) infectious disease to have been effectively eradicated. Medically and politically, it was one of the most remarkable achievements of the century. Estimates suggest that it saves up to two million lives every year.

But it is interesting to note that the role of Dairy Maid became quite sought after - despite the hard work - it required hygene and was exclusively a female role ...

Eighteenth Century Women

Milking and dairy work was not just dominated by women, but considered an exclusively female profession in the eighteenth century. While men took care of cows; bought, sold and helped them calve, milking and preparation of their by-products was taken care of by women on a dairy farm, either family members of the farm or hire-in servants. David Dickson, in Old World Colony says ‘the handling of the milk, the initial preparation of the butter and its first salting were also female responsibilities; men, however, handled, packed and transported the firkins off the farm, and it was they of course who went to market.’

As an exclusively female area, dairy production provided opportunities for young single country women and the position was seen as quite prestigious as it marked dairymaids out as women of means and made them attractive suitors. Nuala Cullen goes into greater detail on the topic of dairymaids in ‘Women and the preparation of food in eighteenth-century Ireland’, in Margaret MacCurtain and Mary O’Dowd (ed), Women in Early Modern Ireland (Dublin; Wolfhound Press, 1991). She says that although good dairymaid’s were valued and treated with a degree of respectability ‘the reality… was that the work was merciless in its demands and required constant attention to hygiene.’ Cullen also points out not everyone appreciated the prestige and wealth these women gained. Mrs Delaney complained that these dairymaid’s were getting above their station. Their wealth allowed them to spend money on clothes unbecoming of their station: ‘dairymaids wear large hoops and velvet hoods instead of the round tight petticoat and straw hat and there is as much foppery introduced in the food as in the dress- the purest simplicity of ye country is quite lost!’.

Haute Cowture!

and a daily Trump..

Cheers - I raise a glass of milk to you

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