Costume Candidate for 2013: Lady Montagu

Backers of our Kickstarter project will get to vote on which new costumes we do for 2013. This series of posts is designed to briefly introduce the many notable women and legendary figures we’ll be considering.

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu was a brilliant essayist and poet whose husband was the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire. While stationed with him in Constantinople, Lady Montagu made friends with Turkish women and learned about their practice of smallpox inoculation: the deliberate grafting of a small amount of smallpox virus onto a healthy person’s skin to induce immunity to the disease. The technique was widespread in the Ottoman Empire, and in fact was well known in China, India, and parts of Africa. When Lady Montagu returned home she embarked on a campaign to introduce smallpox inoculation in Britain. Despite some setbacks she was ultimately successful, and by the mid-18th century inoculation was an accepted part of British medicine. (Edward Jenner, a country doctor who practiced Montagu’s method of inoculation, subsequently developed vaccination as a safer alternative. Jenner used cowpox virus—vaccination is from the Latin vacca for cow—to induce immunity to smallpox, which worked because the two diseases produce similar antibodies.)

In addition to being a major pioneer of public health, Lady Montagu was a feminist and a fashion innovator. The two things went together in her mind, and on both counts she felt that Turkish women were far better off than their European sisters. She did much to introduce Ottoman dress to western Europe, and numerous portraits show her decked out in the glorious yet comfortable fashions of Constantinople.

Think we should add a Lady Montagu costume to Take Back Halloween? Make sure you join our Kickstarter project so you can vote!


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