Dosage and the Impact of Age

Increasing medical expertise during the seventeenth and eighteenth-centuries often involved the growing recognition of anatomical differences between adults and children. Despite female author Sarah Jackson’s receipts (in her book The director: or, Young woman’s best companion, 1754 & 1755) being published in a time of anti-dissection, they contain profound examples of the dosage of medication being altered to accommodate the needs of a child. Having previously witnessed the means by which ‘age’ remained an ambiguous (or missing) factor, it is interesting to acknowledge the growing importance of expertise in child-specific dosages.

Historiographical debate has focused on child-specific dosages. Historian Lisa Smith introduces the eighteenth-century concern of raising healthy children. Smith performed an analysis of medical texts in the epistolary format, finding that women were more likely than men to write to doctors concerning their child’s health (1). On the other hand, historian Jonathan Andrews explains how early modern institutions intended to discover ‘how children’s minds, bodies and constitutions were conceptualised’, and ‘why treatments were adjusted and made more specific for children’ (2). Therefore, Smith and Andrews provide contrasting views as to whether we should regard child dosages as maternal responsibilities or empirical and medical expertise.

It is important to acknowledge that we can rarely be sure of the fact that these women wrote their receipts themselves. Despite not explicitly mentioning the contributor, many receipts were copied from elsewhere. However, as ‘compilers’ (i.e. collecting receipts from other texts and compiling their own book), they made the conscious decision to include these receipts for a number of reasons. Jackson’s inclusion of the receipt for An excellent Surfeit-Water states that ‘The Dose for a Man is two Spoons full, for a Child one Spoonful’ (3). In this case, the lack of standardised measurement is immediately indicative of the absence of empiricism. Instead, it appears to be a mere recognition of the necessity to lower the dosage for a child. This could be considered to be simply part of a woman’s maternal responsibility, as supported by historian Lisa Smith. In this case, the receipt book as a whole would support a woman’s role in childcare alongside refining medical expertise. We might depict the likes of Sarah Jackson as ‘medical’ authors or compilers. However, domestic receipts ran alongside medical receipts. If we associate domesticity with the role of the female in the household, this would suggest that caring for children overlapped with both medical and domestic elements of eighteenth-century literature.

An excellent Surfeit-Water – Reproduced with the permission of Special Collections, Leeds University Library (Cookery S/JAC)

Notably, the transmission of receipts from one owner to the next included the intermingling of receipts by both men and women. This means that we cannot know for sure whether the receipts presented in Sarah Jackson’s book were written by a man. If this is the case, the previous statement (suggesting that receipts depicted a woman’s concern for her child’s health) should be re-considered. There are more receipts in Jackson’s book which suggest elements of experimentation are related to the improvement of child dosages. Theories of female ‘concern’ for child health are gradually replaced with the desire for medical expertise in these later instances.

Sarah Jackson only published two editions of her book in 1754 and 1755. Despite only one year’s difference, we witness the disappearance of For a Cough in a Young Child, replaced with An infallible Remedy for the Hooping-Cough in Children, a Day Cold or Cough in the Adult. Notably, the entirety of the ingredients are altered, along with the purpose and versatility of the receipt. This displays the possible role of experimentation in early modern households. Experimentation might have been performed by the author or compiler in order to better understand the anatomical differences and similarities between man and child. To have trialled and modified (in this case – eradication and replacement) proves to us that early modern institutions truly did aspire to gain knowledge on childhood health.

An infallible Remedy for the Hooping-Cough in Children – Reproduced with the permission of Special Collections, Leeds University Library (Cookery S/JAC)
For a Cough in a young Child – Reproduced with the permission of Special Collections, Leeds University Library (Cookery S/JAC)

This refined medical expertise, proposed by historian Jonathan Andrews, is continued in the receipt for The Red Powder famous for Curing of Fevers of all Sorts, and Agues. The explanation for the administering of dosage is as follows: ‘To a Child fifteen Grains, to a Youth twenty-two Grains, to a Man or Woman thirty, or more’ (4). The introduction of standardised measurements of ‘Grains’ heightens the precision (and empiricism) of the receipt. Moreover, the categorisation of both ‘Child’ and ‘Youth’ as well as adults depicts an awareness of the gradual anatomical changes to the human body. It is therefore evident that Jackson’s choice of receipts, while depicting maternal responsibilities, strongly associate with eighteenth-century medical expertise.

The Red Powder – Reproduced with the permission of Special Collections, Leeds University Library (Cookery S/JAC)

However, when studying these receipts, the latter sheds light on the lack of anatomical awareness of gender differences. The same dosage is to be administered to both men and women. This could be due to issues of anti-dissection. Alternatively, there are receipts in which gender dosages are more specific, however this requires further study.

(1) Lisa Smith, The Relative Duties of a Man: Domestic Medicine in England and France, 1685-1740, Journal of Family History (2006)

(2) Jonathan Andrews, History of Medicine: Health, Medicine and Disease in the Eighteenth Century, Journal for Eighteenth-Century Studies (2011)

(3) Sarah Jackson, The director: or, Young woman’s best companion (1755)

(4) Sarah Jackson, The director: or, Young woman’s best companion (1755)


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