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60 Stryker Road
Scottsville, New York 14546
Newly opened in 2009,Westside Cemetery
offers a scenic park setting and other ammenities
Owned and Operated by the Grove Place Cemetery Association
On This Day in History
Recipes for Success>How women shared medical knowledge in the 17th century.In 17th-century England, recipe collections, which included sets of instructions on how to produce different foodstuffs, cleaning products and, crucially, medicines to use at home, were compiled by both men and women. Women’s medical work was limited mainly to the domestic environment, so these collections meant that women made a particular impact on the early modern medical sphere. While men could train as physicians, apothecaries and surgeons, women were denied access to Oxford and Cambridge universities, the Royal College of Physicians and the Company of Barber-Surgeons. Midwifery was the only professional medical opportunity open to them. Consequently, manuscript recipe collections written by women reveal to us their enthusiastic and insightful contributions to a practice in which their official role was considerably restricted.Transmission of knowledgeThe primary function of medical recipe collections was the transmission of knowledge, especially between laywomen, and collections were often passed between mothers and daughters. Lady Grace Mildmay, for example, wrote that she wished to pass her medical writings to her daughters and granddaughters: ‘Writing as familiar talk and communication to them, I being dead, as if I were alive.’ She left her collections to her daughter, Lady Mary Fane, upon her death in 1620. Ann Fanshawe also passed her recipe collection to her daughter, Katherine, who wrote that it was ‘given me by my mother’ in 1678, two years before Ann’s death, and added more recipes in her own hand. Similarly, Lady Johanna St John bequeathed her compilations to her granddaughter and daughter in her will, dated 1704.Women intended their recipe collections to be used continually over time. The original author would often leave blank sheets at the end of each section, which enabled and encouraged their descendants to add their own recipes to the collection. Mary Fane’s comment that her mother’s collection was ‘treasure of this my worthy mother’s mind’ suggests that recipe collections became memorials for family members and shaped perceptions of the family’s past. With their combined emotional and practical aspects, bequeathed collections connected generations of women, living and dead.Manuscript collections were usually based on received recipes, hence the fact that they were contemporarily called ‘receipts’ rather than ‘recipes’, a name that survived into the 20th century. The majority of women exchanged, rather than invented, formulae for medicines. Recipes attributed to others often named the laywomen who were their donors. For example, Lady Ayscough recorded ‘my Lady Allen’s water good for the stomack’ in 1692, while Bridgett Parker noted in 1663 that a recipe for a cordial water came from ‘the Countess of Rutland’ and a cure for jaundice was given by ‘Lady Wilkinson’.Women’s domestic medicine also had a familial, collaborative nature. In 1680 Johanna St John accredited various recipes to ‘my cosen Cutts’, ‘Lady St. John’ (perhaps her mother-in-law), ‘my cosin Lane’, ‘my aunt Masham’ and ‘my grandmother’. Similarly, Bridgett Parker’s collection from 1663 recorded recipes for ‘my grandmothers green salve’ and ‘my sis Parkers cure for a rupture’ and notes treatments which have cured ‘my cosen Scots maid’ and ‘my cosen Knights son’. Manuscript compilations were, in this way, often the product of joint authorship of several family members as well as knowledge pooled from their wider social networks.Medicine for allMen were also involved in these familial medical networks, although never as prominently as women. Frances Catchmay’s scribe wrote in her compilation that she ordered it to ‘be delivered to her Sonne... deseringe and chardginge him to let every one of his Brothers and Sisters to have true copies’ after her death. Elizabeth Godfrey recorded a recipe entitled ‘my father’s purge’. Men both generated and circulated domestic medical knowledge and the writing of recipe collections reflects a desire to communicate with both female and male kinsfolk. Furthermore, men were accredited as recipe donors in women’s compilations. Elizabeth Hirst’s diet drink, for example, came from ‘Mr Lee’ and her remedy for yellow jaundice was ‘given me by Mr Elton’. Nevertheless, relatively few laymen were acknowledged as recipe donors in comparison to lay women. While they were not excluded from the sphere of domestic medicine, it does seem that men were on the periphery.The donor names in women’s recipe collections also suggest that medical knowledge was passed between individuals from a range of social standings and not just the upper classes. Ann Fanshawe, for example, attributed recipes to ‘Lady Butler’, ‘Dr Burges’, ‘the Earl of Cleveland’, ‘the King of France’, ‘Mr Rozell, apothecary of London’ and a ‘servant of Francisco Morenas’, suggesting that individuals from a range of social backgrounds could be the sources of recipes, either as inventors or intermediaries. The naming of members of the aristocracy or royalty in titles, however, was a tactic which signified a recipe’s reliability to a reader. Although it is unlikely that the medicines were actually endorsed by these individuals, reference to them suggests that the collectors believed they were receiving the same medical advice as royalty and so trusted it all the more.More broadly, the involvement of several social classes in the circulation of recipes indicates that status was not a barrier to the transmission of medical knowledge, whether through verbal communication, written correspondence or printed materials. These collections are testament to the pluralism of medical authority in early modern England; licensed physicians were far from the only medical practitioners.Medical miraclesNevertheless, the question remains of whether these recipe collections, once compiled, were regularly used for their intended purpose of making and administering medicine. There are several signs that indicate that the recipes were indeed followed. Probatum est, or ‘it has been proved’, was added as a postscript to several recipes, such as Elizabeth Hirst’s recipes for deafness and ‘a paine or weakness in the back’ or Lady Ayscough’s instructions ‘for the plague’, indicating that the remedy had been successfully tried and could therefore be trusted by the reader. Lady Ayscough’s plague instructions involved boiling sage, dill, pepper, ginger, nutmeg and some medicinal waters in two pints of sack (wine) over the fire. She told readers to ‘take of it warme morning and evening if you be already diseased, if not once a day is sufficient in the plague time’. They could ‘trust this for a certain, that never man, woman or child was ever deceaved by this drink’ and that it was also good for the sweating sickness and smallpox.Trust maxims, relating to the writer’s personal experience of these medicines, also lent them authority. Mrs Corlyon, for example, confirmed that ‘a special ointment’ for weak children or elders ‘hath often been experienced and hath done very much good’, while Elizabeth Hirst noted beside Dr Willis’ recipe for kidney stones that ‘this water to my own knowledge has done great cures’. These endorsements could be embellished, appearing as cure stories that proved recipes’ reliability by recounting successful applications. Named patients often provided further credibility. Elizabeth Godfrey’s compilation includes a ‘receipt for cancer in the breast’ which ‘cured Mrs Finches’ maid’ and Bridgett Parker recorded a ‘receipt to dry up the rhume’ which cured ‘my cuson Knights son who for many years could not seen to read when he was a youth but can now see very well’. Likewise, Johanna St John provided a recipe to aid conception alongside the claim that ‘Mrs Patrick conceived twice together with it and she advised one that had been nine years married on whom it had the same effect’. This is more than mere hearsay, revealing a network of women behind the written recipe and demonstrating that verbal transmission and written records of medical knowledge were intrinsically linked.Domestic medicine’s status as a written extension of established oral tradition may explain why it was often trusted and preferred over physicians’ treatment. Johanna St John’s collection records breast cancer cures which saved ‘Mrs Ernly who had been in most of the best surgions hands and was given over’ and ‘Goodwife Cook when the Drs and surgions had given it over’, as well as a recipe for ‘fitts of convulsion which cured Mrs Sand after many Drs had tryed their skill’. These endorsements imply that traditional remedies could be just as successful as professional medicine and, while not explicitly critical of physicians, they imply that lay women’s personalised care could offer relief and even cure in cases where professional medicine had failed.In early modern culture, authority and trust came from proof of practice and success, particularly as medicine was not yet fully institutionalised. People often chose domestic remedies over the advice of a licensed physician because of the persuasive cure stories and personal trust maxims included in these manuscript recipe collections.The voice of authorityThe issue of personalised care is significant. Several collections concentrate on certain ailments, suggesting that their author, or her family or friends, were particularly susceptible to these complaints. Margaret Boscowen recorded 17 remedies for ‘the King’s Evil’, or scrofula, in her book because her daughter is thought to have suffered from the condition and Ann Fanshawe may have noted the dosage for a child in her smallpox recipe because her two young daughters contracted the disease. Other specialisations are also evident: Mrs Corlyon recorded several remedies for eye problems, while Lady Frances Catchmay’s collection included multiple recipes for wounds and childbirth. In addition, Lady Ayscough describes one recipe as being ‘for goodwife Feere’, suggesting that recipes could be tailored to suit the needs of an individual. The availability of physicians and medical institutions rose towards the 18th century and the personalised and adaptable nature of manuscript recipe compilations may explain why domestic medicine remained popular.Manuscript compilations also allowed women to construct their own medical authority at a time when overt female self-celebration was discouraged. The self-confidence of female practitioners is most explicitly expressed in the ways in which they advocated medicines based on their own personal use. When Mrs Corlyon, or her scribe, declared that her recipes ‘have been experienced and tryed by the special practice of Mrs Corlyon’, she was promoting her own skills and trustworthiness as a medical practitioner, as her personal approval confirmed remedies as reliable. Furthermore, all recipe collections are written in a notably authoritative tone, with regular use of the imperative. Lady Ayscough, for example, directed readers to ‘take... the purest myrrh’ for medicine to hasten labour, but cautioned that it ‘must not be given unless the child comes right’. Similarly, Elizabeth Godfrey stated that her recipe ‘is the right way of making sweet powder of Montpellier’, asserting the merits of her version over those of others.Women’s wisdomThe high volume of surviving manuscript collections authored by women and their proof of use demonstrates that the compiling – and following – of medical recipes was a popular and regular female practice. The production of these collections was a highly social activity, and bequeathals show that their authors used them to connect emotionally with their descendants. Additionally, recipe accreditations illustrate complex and predominantly, although not exclusively, female networks, often consisting of family members, through which practical knowledge was transferred and recorded.Manuscript recipe collections are objectified proof of the ways in which women cared for themselves and others in a personal, specialised manner, and illustrate their capacity for self-expression. In a period in which females are often viewed as possessing little agency, particularly in the field of medicine, recipe collections show generations of women who were confident in their abilities to heal and were trusted to do so by their families and communities.Emma Marshall studied History at the University of Durham. This essay was awarded the History Today/Royal Historical Society Undergraduate Dissertation Prize, 2017.
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