Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (1689 (recorded as baptism rather than birth) - 1762) was a British aristocrat and wife of the British ambassador to Turkey.

Largely self-educated, and something of a polymath, it was plain that she did not intend playing the role of the passive and ornamental diplomatic wife.

Her interest in smallpox was firmly rooted in the personal. She had been afflicted by the illness herself, and though she survived, her famous beauty was forever marred. Her brother had died of the illness.

She befriended the women she met in Turkey and discovered that they protected their children from smallpox by a process then known as "variolation" which involved introducing a small amount of the virus into the bloodstream of the person to be protected. She had her own children treated this way, and though there was the predictable opposition, she found both professional support in the person of the embassy physician, Dr Maitland, and royal patronage from Caroline, the Princess of Wales, who had her own children inoculated.

She left behind vast quantities of correspondence, and it is suspected that although published under a pseudonym, a book with the highly provocative title of "Woman not Inferior to Man" was her handiwork.

Eventually, variolation was succeeded by Jenner's process of vaccination, but we will never know how many lives have been saved or enhanced by this pioneering woman.

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