Amy: History & English undergraduate at the University of Leeds (second year). Interested in the history of gender and religion (medieval & early modern).

Claire: History undergraduate at the University of Leeds (second year). Interested in the history of medicine and religion (medieval & early modern).

The purpose of our research is to identify examples of medical expertise among women in the mid-eighteenth-century. Women and their contributions to medical culture are at the centre of our interests. By focusing on elements such as experimentation, dosage and ingredients, we intend to find examples of refined expertise in female-run medicine in the mid-eighteenth-century. Having initially chosen to study only printed texts, we found ourselves confined to the problems surrounding authorship and ownership. Therefore, we have chosen to outline ‘female medical expertise’ as:

  • The way in which these women consciously decided to include particular receipts in their books.
  • The heightened likelihood of receipts being experimented on by both the female compiler and the reader.
  • The way in which alterations between two editions of the same book display the revisions made by these women to their medical literature.
  • Female compilers engaging with receipts that contain empirical and precise methods (e.g. standardised measurements).
  • Any other factors we might discover while conducting this research.

Having chosen to study medical texts written by women (Anne Battam’s The lady’s assistant in the oeconomy of the table: a collection of scarce and valuable receipts, 1750 and 1759 and Sarah Jackson’s The director: or, Young woman’s best companion, 1754 and 1755), it was important to identify other research within this field. Historians who have focused on the role of receipt books as possessing medical importance include Catherine Field, Elaine Leong, Sara Pennell, Alisha Rankin, Deborah Harkness, Seth LeJacq and several others. Among general analyses of receipts within these books, historians have chosen to focus on experimentalism within the household, gentlewomen and Christian duties, and the roles of women as domestic healers. 

By studying empiricism and medical expertise, we hope to be able to explore wider themes associated with gender and medical care in this period. This includes elements such as standardisation and the following of contemporary principles of medicine such as Galenic and Paracelsian. An area of particular interest is the difference between editions of the same receipt books and why these revisions were made. The books we have chosen to study both feature two separate editions. Studying different editions of the same book will allow us to make comparisons about why receipts were omitted or extended. Additionally, we hope to evaluate the extent to which female medical expertise took place in terms of medical culture.