Inoculation and vaccination

Sir, – In his article on vaccination ("Help immunologists to understand our perception of vaccination", January 18th), Joseph Roche credited Edward Jenner, a physician scientist who lived in the latter part of the 1700s, with the development of the modern version of the vaccine we use. While this is true, space did not permit the mention of a key contribution of a woman named Lady Mary Wortly Montagu, who preceded Jenner by about 60 years.

This self-educated woman was responsible for bringing the idea of inoculation back to England from the court of the Ottoman Empire, where she saw it used in her travels in Turkey.

She convinced Princess Caroline, wife of King George IV, to inoculate her children and thus afforded them protection against the scourge of smallpox. Although it should be said that the inoculation was first tested on Newgate prisoners, before the princess felt it safe to use on her children! When people saw the royals inoculating their children, the concept of inoculation to protect against infectious diseases took root.

Jenner refined and developed the process of inoculation and it came to be called vaccination, but Mary Montagu took the first steps.


Like those of many women in science, the contribution of Mary Montagu has been almost written out of history! – Yours, etc,



Professor of Biochemistry,

University College Cork.