Encouraging Experimentation: Sarah Jackson

Studies of female experimentation by the likes of historian Alisha Rankin include the complexity of exchanging knowledge, through ‘letters of medical advice, medicine recipes, recipe collections, practitioners, equipment, ingredients and medication’ (1). This relates to the complicated transmission and circulation of receipts between groups of both females and interestingly also homosocial groups. This means that eighteenth-century female authors and compilers displayed both their own receipts and those they had acquired from elsewhere. Yet, we might question their choice to include more than one receipt for the same illness.

Historian Seth LeJacq states how ‘in some recipes, offers to avoid surgery are often not stated explicitly. With some ailments, surgery hovers as the implicit but seldom-mentioned alternative’ (2). Therefore, this might suggest that the inclusion of more than one receipt is an alternative to further prevent the need to consult a surgeon. However, these female compilers could instead be encouraging the reader to participate in experimentation; they must trial and identify which of the receipts best treats their ailment. Due to the books being compiled rather than written, experimentation becomes part of the receipt.  In a post about the role of efficacy statements (Experimentation and Preventative Medicine), we suggested that women chose receipts with statements of success, implying they had previously been experimented on. The receipts in this post are lacking in statements of efficacy, suggesting that the results are unknown until the reader has experimented for themselves. Evidence which particularly supports this comes from Jackson’s and Battam’s printed books. This is because the motives behind a printed edition of a receipt book are more likely to be public as opposed to personal, therefore suggesting that the purpose of the book was to serve as a medical aid for various readers.

Accordingly, we decided to compare Sarah Jackson’s 1755 book, Anne Battam’s 1750 book, and a 1767 manuscript (A book of culinary and medicinal recipes in various hands). Despite the manuscript being titled as ‘anonymous’, there are ownership signatures by ‘Mary Leigh’. However, we might challenge historian Catherine Field’s view that ‘assertion of authorship’ included ‘adding a name on the title page’ (3). This is because the signature is often from a compiler and owner rather than an author – many of the receipts are written in diverse handwriting. It is instead a collection of contributions. Nevertheless, ‘Mary Leigh’ is a female compiler and can be compared to Sarah Jackson and Anne Battam (who also face scepticism as to whether their receipts were their own). By making these comparisons, we hope to find that these corresponding receipts encouraged experimentation.

In Sarah Jackson’s 1755 The director: or, Young woman’s best companion, there are three receipts directed at the obstructions caused by kidney and bladder stones. These are Howe’s Water for the StoneAnother Water for the Stone, and Another for the Stone. To put these receipts into context, historian Raymond Anselment justifies these inclusions, stating that ‘the greater number of entries dealing with stones may reflect the widespread interest in painful bladder and kidney afflictions’ (4). Howe’s contribution includes methods such as distillation and ingredients such as Sassafras, Cow’s milk, white wine and nutmeg. The vast majority of these ingredients might be categorised as plant / animal substances, and are dependent upon the reader’s ability to obtain them.

Howe’s Water for the Stone – Reproduced with the permission of Special Collections, Leeds University Library (Cookery S/JAC)
Similarly, Another Water for the Stone requires plant ingredients such as Scabious Leaves, Pellitory of the Wall Leaves, and Flowers. This coincides with historian Elaine Leong’s argument, highlighting the importance of seasonality because ‘early modern home-based medical practices were tied to the land’ (5). Therefore, this encourages engagement with botany, as historian Jayne Archer states that ‘these receipt books also testify to the wide range of skills required of the housewife, including gardening’ (6). Literature and historiography regarding the seventeenth-century depicts a similar interest in land-based ingredients, suggesting that aristocratic women practicing medicine were already engaged in collecting natural ingredients. It would therefore appear that both these receipts are dependent upon the reader’s ability to acquire the ingredients.

Another Water for the Stone – Reproduced with the permission of Special Collections, Leeds University Library (Cookery S/JAC)

Another for the Stone shares contextual similarities with Another Water for the Stone, in that both recommend dosage repetition based on the Galenic astrological cycle within the human body. This being said, Another for the Stone features only non-standardised measurements (i.e. ‘as much as you can easily grasp in your hand’, and ‘the Proportion of a little Finger’). In comparison to the previous receipts (both predominantly standardised), this receipt appears to be aimed at a reader somewhat lacking in expertise of complex medicines. As of yet, this is the most significant hindrance as to whether the reader can participate in experimentation. If they cannot acquire the ingredients required for the first two receipts, then there can be no comparison of the final results.

Another for the stone
Another for the Stone – Reproduced with the permission of Special Collections, Leeds University Library (Cookery S/JAC)
More thought-provoking though is the variance in efficacy statements. Howe’s Water for the Stone claims to ‘prevent the Fits, and also Breeding of the Stone, if not destroy what is bred already’. Alternatively, Another Water for the Stone vaguely mentions the ‘excellent Virtues’ of the remedy. Notably, Another for the Stone has no efficacy statement. This lack of information on any desired outcome is the marked example of the encouragement of experimentation. The reader must trial in order to judge which receipt is the most efficacious for their needs. This is arguably a structural narrative strategy by Jackson to encourage her readers to discover for themselves the results and fill the gaps where the efficacy statements are missing. In order to do this, the reader could participate in experimenting with the receipts and recording which result was most desirable.

As has previously been stated, Jackson’s receipt books were released in printed edition. Though we cannot know for certain, it is likely that she did not participate in the experimenting and instead left this to her readers. Therefore, her choice to include corresponding receipts without clear displays of their results provides an insight into how female compilers wanted their audience to engage with medical literature.

We intend to find that similar comparisons can be made between corresponding receipts in Anne Battam’s receipt book and the anonymous manuscript. Subsequent entries will be made regarding the encouragement of experimentation by these female authors.  

(1) Alisha Rankin, Becoming an Expert Practitioner: Court Experimentalism and the Medical Skills of Anna of Saxony (1532-1585), Isis (2007)

(2) Seth LeJacq, The Bounds of Domestic Healing: Medical Recipes, Storytelling and Surgery in Early Modern England, Social History of Medicine (2013)

(3) Catherine Field, Many Hands Hands: Writing the Self in Early Modern Women’s Recipe Books, Genre and Women’s Life Writing in Early Modern England (ed. Michelle M. Dowd and Julie A. Eckerle) (2007)

(4) Raymond Anselment, The Wantt of Health: An Early Eighteenth Century Self-Portrait of Sickness, Literature and Medicine (1996)

(5) Elaine Leong, Herbals she peruseth: reading medicine in early modern England, Renaissance Studies (2014)

(6) Jayne Archer, Women and Chymistry in Early Modern England: The Manuscript Receipt Book (c.1616) of Sarah Wigges, Gender and Scientific Discourse in Early Modern Europe (ed. K P Long) (2010)


Evaluation of Methodology: Editions and Standardisation

One issue that has predominated our work so far is that we have very little definitive proof of the extent to which these female compilers trialled and experimented. It needs to be acknowledged that outside sources (contemporary to the period) played an influence on the work of these compilers. We know, for example, that Sarah Jackson often combined a number of contributions in her book, particularly from newspapers. There are ways to avoid being conjectural by looking at the ways female expertise was refined through edition alterations and the inclusion of certain receipts.  Historian Laura Knoppers refers to Heidi Brayman Heckel’s comment on marginalia, in that ‘it is not only what books do with readers, but what readers do with books’ (1). If we are to believe that Sarah Jackson and Anne Battam were active readers and users of these receipts, then we can apply Heckel’s argument to the diverse changes to editions.

We have previously concentrated on the removal / replacement and introduction of new receipts in Sarah Jackson’s 1754 and 1755 editions in our work on Dosage and the Impact of Age. Alternatively, modifications to more than one receipt book are largely identified through statistical analysis, particularly of standardisation. Both ingredients and dosages were either standardised (e.g. drams, ounces, pints, gallons), or non-standardised (e.g. handfuls, spoonfuls, ‘as much as the glass will hold’ (2)). The use of standardised measurements conveys the refinement of female medical expertise because:

  • It allows for easier amendments to dosages – medicines can be modified with less chance of serious consequences.
  • Increased focus is placed on empiricism, experimentation, experience and less reliance upon perception.
  • Women have the ability to reproduce medicines and maintain consistency; the dosages became universal. This made the probability of the receipt being successful higher because the instructions about administering dosage and quantities of ingredients are clearer and more standardised.
Palsy water, ‘as much as the glass will hold’ – Reproduced with the permission of Special Collections, Leeds University Library (Cookery A/BAT)

There are some recognisable differences between female compilers Sarah Jackson and Anne Battam regarding changes to standardisation in editions. Despite both women only releasing two editions each, the changes show both the progression and complexity of refining medical expertise. Jackson’s editions are a particularly prominent example of rapid progression. It is harder to argue that we witness conscious decisions to alter receipts in Battam’s book because of her death in 1755 (in-between editions).

Jackson’s editions, released in 1754 and 1755, have an increase from 56 to 62 receipts. In the 1754 edition, 33 contain standardised measurements. In the 1755 edition, 41 contain standardised measurements. This is an increase from 58% to 66%. Therefore, this could be an attempt to make medicine more universal. In particular, the receipt For the Yellow Jaundice states that the size of certain ingredients could be problematic and require modification (e.g. woodlice). This might therefore explain the improvements in the standardisation of both ingredients and dosages in the 1755 edition. Examples of receipts containing standardised measurements include To kill and bring away all Sorts of Worms(pints, ounces), and Brandy Elixir (ounces).

To kill and bring away all Sorts of Worms – Reproduced with the permission of Special Collections, Leeds University Library (Cookery S/JAC)

However, this elixir also features the non-standardised measurement of spoonfuls. Notably, Jackson’s 1755 edition witnesses a minor increase from 23 to 25 receipts containing non-standardised measurements. This conflict with the previous statistics somewhat complicates an argument that these women were entirely progressive towards expertise.

Due to Battam’s death in 1755, midway between the publication of the first and second (also last) editions in 1750 and 1759, complications arise regarding standardisation in her compilation. While she may have made some contributions to modifications between 1750 and 1755, she is not entirely responsible for the disparities in standardisation between editions.

In Battam’s 1750 edition, 23 of 25 receipts (92%) contain standardised measurements. In her 1759 edition, 46 of 51 receipts (90%) contain standardised measurements. Hence, there is a very small decline in standardisation despite the increase in receipts included. Additionally, the number of receipts containing non-standardised measurements increased from 8 in 1750 to 14 in 1759. Looking at these figures alone would depict a decline in the importance of encouraging female expertise. However, by using the small amount of information found on Battam’s year of death, we can question the extent to which she is responsible for the collection of receipts included in the second edition. Although it is likely that Battam played a part in editing the second edition, we can’t be sure which receipts were picked by a third party source. This brings our statistical analysis of the receipt books into question. Nevertheless, by comparing the two editions we can suggest a lack of consistency in terms of standardisation across eighteenth-century receipt books.

While it is arguable that Battam had no intention to increase her medical expertise, we cannot disregard the fact that there are a surprising number of additional receipts four years after her death. We should therefore take into account these numerous contributions. In 1750, Battam’s book featured 7 named contributions. In 1759, this number had increased to 16, meaning 31% of the receipts explicitly claimed alternative ownership. Typically, the majority of contributions were made by the gentry, family, or local physicians. The inclusion of receipts from other collections was a staple of eighteenth-century receipt books. Despite only 31% of receipts being explicitly named as contributions we will never know the exact number of receipts that were from alternative sources. This issue becomes even more difficult in Battam’s case due to her death in-between editions. Post-death, Battam obviously could not approve (or disapprove) of certain receipts.

 It is therefore evident that changes to editions provide one of the clearest pictures of the conscious decisions made by these female compilers. Arguably, this can be categorised as experimentation; these women actively engaged with and most likely trialled the receipts they included, while making appropriate modifications. However, as these two examples of female compilers show, medical receipts in the eighteenth-century varied from book to book.  When looking at printed books, we also face issues of ownership; as we can’t be sure which receipts (if any) were chosen by the compilers. This makes attempts to collect and analyse data challenging as we can only make assumptions about their motives for including certain receipts.  The data we collected points to an increase in standardisation in Sarah Jackson’s compilations. Nevertheless, some examples are more complicated than others.  Battam’s collection of receipts contrasts noticeably with Jackson’s in our study of attempts to refine medical expertise.

(1) Laura Knoppers, Opening the Queen’s Closet: Henrietta Maria, Elizabeth Cromwell, and the Politics of Cookery, Renaissance Quarterly (2007)

(2) Anne Battam, The lady’s assistant in the oeconomy of the table: a collection of scarce and valuable receipts (1750/59)

Experimentation and Preventative Medicine

Having only focused on the administering of medicine, we decided to search for other examples of refined medical expertise. Interestingly, several of the receipts included by female compilers Sarah Jackson and Anne Battam focus on preventative techniques. It is hard to define a category under which this form of medical expertise falls. However, it is likely that mid-eighteenth century women and/or their readers participated in some form of experimentation surrounding preventative medicine. This might appear insignificant when compared with later discoveries of causation. Yet, the continuing use of preventative medicine shows us the prevailing desire to refine medical expertise.

In these instances, receipts containing statements of efficacy (displaying the success of the remedy) are the key identifier of female medical expertise. It is likely that these female compilers chose their receipts based on a number of factors, one being the likelihood of success. Due to these statements of efficacy being our main focus, this relates closest to the category of experimentation. Despite not knowing if these women wrote their own receipts, a statement of efficacy means someone has had to test the receipt and display its results.  Perhaps the decision to include receipts containing preventative techniques within their efficacy statements shows their conscious decisions to engage with Galenic principles and move away from relieving symptoms.

In the seventeenth and eighteenth-century, discoveries of the cause of an illness was scarce. Diagnosis was unintended and, instead, a desire to be cured of the symptoms was sought. The analysis of symptoms predominated the field of medicine. Historian N. D. Jewson elaborates on this, explaining how ‘symptoms were not regarded as the secondary signs of internal pathological events, but rather as the disease itself’ (1). It is unsurprising, then, that when contemporary physicians such as Dr Sydenham instructed others to ‘cure the disease, and do naught else’, the obligation of the doctor was to simply cure the symptoms (2). This means that we are unlikely to find many examples of treatments which cure the ailment rather than relieve the symptoms or even attempt to prevent them.

Sarah Jackson includes a receipt that engages with the prevention of symptoms as opposed to relieving them. Despite including receipts by eminent physicians such as Sydenham, Jackson’s The director: or, Young woman’s best companion contains statements of efficacy in which certain symptoms are prevented prior to their occurrence. One example of this Galenic principle is the inclusion of Howe’s Water for the Stone. Under the circumstances in which there is a ‘Fit of the Stone’, the receipt claims that the medicine ‘will prevent the Fits’ (3). Similarly, The Yellow Salve claims to be efficacious in that it will ‘prevent proud Flesh’ (4). In both instances, the analysis of symptoms and preventative techniques are employed by the writer. Nonetheless, it does not yet treat the cause of the ailment (nor identify the cause of discomfort). Therefore, this is an example of Jackson’s involvement in female medical expertise. The likelihood of her having any involvement in the authorship of these receipts is slim. Despite this, she has actively chosen to include receipts that feature efficacy statements (a strong indication of previous experimentation). They are also examples of the successful prevention of symptoms, something which Jackson might have chosen to focus on when displaying receipts with effective results.

Howe’s Water for the Stone – Reproduced with the permission of Special Collections, Leeds University Library (Cookery S/JAC)
The Yellow Salve – Reproduced with the permission of Special Collections, Leeds University Library (Cookery S/JAC)

Notably, Jackson’s 1755 edition of receipts features one in which the title reads To prevent vomiting after Meat. The purpose of the receipt is clearly to focus upon the reader’s symptoms (as a result of eating meat). Noticeably, preventing the symptoms is not the most significant step away from orthodox medicine (particularly when compared to developments surrounding aetiology). Instead, Jackson perhaps included a receipt which conformed to symptom-based treatment because identifying a cause was (and still is) intensely complex and significantly costly.

Nevertheless, the receipt uses assertive language in its conclusion, which is a shorter version of an efficacy statement. By including yet another receipt proven to be successful at preventing illness, Jackson again becomes involved in medical expertise through experimentation. Not knowing whether she claimed authorship to this receipt does not take away the fact that Jackson has read and identified a receipt that outwardly displays its success as a result of experimenting.  

To prevent vomiting after Meat – Reproduced with the permission of Special Collections, Leeds University Library (Cookery S/JAC)

There is a sense of disparity between both Sarah Jackson and Anne Battam in their approach to preventative medicine. Battam’s The lady’s assistant in the oeconomy of the table contains receipts with a more complex and refined approach to preventative medicine. In Battam’s inclusion of Locatelli’s balsam (in the 1750 edition), the efficacy statement maintains that the medicine is ‘good for inward bleeding’ (5). Initially, it can be observed that this receipt is conforming to orthodox medicine by relieving symptoms and following Galenic principles involving preventative medicine.

Additionally, by treating inward bleeding, the balsam treats the cause of further symptoms. The discomfort associated with internal blood loss is being prevented. While this is not identifying the cause of inward bleeding, it is preventing the cause of further illness. This is very similar to Sarah Jackson, in that both women appear to be actively choosing receipts that have been experimented on and their results displayed. Both women engage with female medical expertise not only through distant experimentation, but also through their focus on the medical treatment that was desired at the time. The symptoms associated with each ailment are relieved and prevented, proving that both Jackson and Battam resolved to find receipts that were desirable to their readers.

Locatelli’s balsam – Reproduced with the permission of Special Collections, Leeds University Library (Cookery A/BAT)

Furthermore, the inclusion of the receipt To make and use the antiscorbutick juices is the most noteworthy illustration of Battam’s engagement with preventative medicine. The title itself informs us of the purpose of the receipt, antiscorbutic being the adjective for ‘preventing scurvy’. During the 1730s and 1740s, developments were made towards identifying the cause of scurvy. Though it was not yet labelled as a Vitamin-C deficiency, it was argued that the illness was caused by a lack of fresh fruit and vegetables. Consequently, Battam (or her predecessor post-death in 1755) might have chosen to include this receipt in her 1759 edition because of the use of ingredients such as ‘sea-scurvy grass’, ‘horse-radish roots’, and ‘Seville oranges’, all of which conformed to contemporary ideas of the prevention (and aetiology) of scurvy (6). There is no efficacy statement accompanying this receipt, meaning we might doubt whether Battam (or her predecessor) chose a receipt that had previously been experimented on. Having said this, adjectives such as ‘antiscorbutick’ would advertise to the reader that this female compiler might have consciously decided to include a receipt whereby the experimentation is evident in the title.

To make and use the antiscorbutick juices – Reproduced with the permission of Special Collections, Leeds University Library (Cookery A/BAT)

Overall, both Sarah Jackson and Anne Battam convey female medical expertise through experimentation. The use of efficacy statements requires trialling in order to publish results. It is likely that these women acknowledged the experimentation involved in producing efficacy statements. This means that the receipts would have been perceived as highly reliable and effective in their preventing of symptoms. Circulating the importance of relieving and preventing symptoms was a well-grounded theory by the mid-eighteenth-century. Therefore, these women engaged with medical expertise by both highlighting the importance of experimentation and the outcomes of this, namely preventative medicine.

(1) N. D. Jewson, Medical Knowledge and the Patronage System in 18th Century England, Sociology (1974)

(2) Jewson (1974)

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

(4) Jackson (1755)

(5) Anne Battam, The lady’s assistant in the oeconomy of the table: a collection of scarce and valuable receipts (1750/59)

(6) Battam (1750/59)                                                                 

Dosage and the Impact of Gender


Following on from our last post on Dosage and the Impact of Age, we have decided to focus on alterations of dosage based on gender. Historiographical debates have so far centred around dissection and the limited opportunities for formal education for women. According to N.D Jewson, dissection in the early modern period was ‘widely regarded as an insult to the body’ (1). This means that domestic medical healers, who were often women, would have had limited knowledge about the workings of the body due to a lack of dissection. Further research on women’s lack of knowledge can be found in Doreen Evenden’s work which suggests that it was ‘unthinkable’ for women to attend dissections held by the Barber-Surgeons company (2). This could be because in 1745 the Company of Surgeons became a separate organisation from the Barber-Surgeons. Making the distinction between the two companies more formal could have made it harder for women to access professional medical education due to contemporary ideals about gender roles. Both arguments make alterations of dosage based on gender, such as those found in receipt books compiled by Sarah Jackson (The director: or, Young woman’s best companion published in 1754 & 1755), surprising. These receipt books counter the arguments historians have proposed on formal medical knowledge by giving advice to readers (who were most likely women) about how to alter dosage based on gender without professional medical expertise.

Jackson’s compilation of medical and culinary receipts includes one noticeable medical receipt which mentions altering the dosage based on gender. The receipt For the Yellow-Jaundice is interesting because it recommends altering the amount of ingredients in the treatment based purely on gender. The advice of ‘eleven sows, or Wood- Lice if they be large, (if small, thirteen)’ for a man and ‘nine large Wood-Lice, or eleven small ones’ for a woman shows an understanding of the differences between male and female anatomy. This contrasts Jewson’s argument that there was a lack of understanding about the body (3). By acknowledging that the receipt may need altering for men, it assumes that the reader has basic knowledge about the human anatomy. The inclusion of this receipt could suggest that domestic healers (notably women) were, by the eighteenth-century, becoming more aware of the need to experiment with the quantities of ingredients used in treatments.


Notably, alongside recommendations to change the quantity of ingredients based on gender, the receipt also gives instructions about the size of woodlice needed. If this alteration is read in line with Alisha Rankin’s argument that writing a receipt ‘encompassed the knowledge of all the properties of a remedy’s ingredients’, it seems the Yellow-Jaundice receipt can suggest more about knowledge of dosage and measurements than first appears (4).  We could see the inclusion of precise, standardised amounts of ingredients and dosage as evidence of attempting to create an efficacious result. After undertaking a comparative study of the 1754 and 1755 editions of Sarah Jackson’s book, we found an increase in the number of standardised receipts from 58% in 1754 to 62% in 1755. Equally, there was a decrease in the amount of non-standardised measurements used in receipts from 42% in the 1754 edition to 40% in 1755. This illustrates progression to a more standardised set of receipts with measurements such as ounces, drams, grains, pints and quarts becoming more commonly used in the 1755 edition. Despite appearing in both editions of Jackson’s compilation, the receipt doesn’t follow this trend of increasing standardisation. Perhaps this is because the receipt instead gives instructions on the size of ingredients rather than giving a standard measurement. Just like standardised measurements show concerns about the receipt being reproducible, the alteration based on size shows an understanding of the problems the receipt could cause to readers trying to follow the instructions.

The clear instructions given in terms of ingredients can also be found in advice on dosage. The receipt recommends taking the treatment for three days, ‘then forbear three mornings, and then do it for three mornings again’ (5). The cyclical nature of the dosage repetition could be linked with Galenic principles which show a connection between bodily cycles and astrology. Taking a more straightforward approach, we could simply see the cycle of dosage as a way to advise healers to alter the dosage as they see necessary. This links with ideas already covered in Dosage and the Impact of Circumstance.

By looking at alterations in ingredients and dosage based on gender, the receipt For the Yellow-Jaundice shows that formal medical education was not required to administer effective medical treatments. In the receipt books we have chosen to study, Jackson is unique in recommending different dosages based on gender. Even though, as Doreen Evenden states, ‘licensed women were expected to only practice on women’, the receipt shows a basic understanding of how to treat both sexes (6).  This could be down to an increase in female participation in medical experimentation.

(1) N. D. Jewson, Medical Knowledge and the Patronage System in 18th Century England, Sociology (1974)

(2) Doreen A Evenden, Gender Differences in the Licensing and Practice of Female and Male Surgeons in Early Modem England, Medical History (1998)

(3) Sarah Jackson, The director: or, Young woman’s best companion (1754)

(4) Alisha Rankin, Becoming an Expert Practitioner: Court Experimentalism and the Medical Skills of Anna of Saxony (1532-1585), Isis (2007)

(5) Jackson (1754)

(6) Evenden (1998)

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)

Dosage and the Impact of Circumstance

We decided to start our research by concentrating on the modification of dosages in varying circumstances. This might bring forward instances of what we have labelled ‘female medical expertise’, whereby women chose to acknowledge the importance of receipts that focus on conditions affecting dosages.

Despite placing the focus of our research upon female medical expertise, the following receipts are likely to have been passed from one generation to the next by both men and women. This problem of authorship and ownership (showing the strong likelihood of overlaps between male and female involvement), means we have to decide how we wish to define female medical expertise. 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.
  • (In relation to this post) 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.

During the mid-eighteenth-century, the modification of household medicines was particularly prominent. Historian Elaine Leong proposes that household drugs were impacted upon by customisation. The variation of ‘strength according to their own requirements’ plays a central focus in the study of dosage alterations (1). Using the argument proposed by historian Leong, we might begin by suggesting that female medical expertise is, in this case, categorised as the conscious decision to include receipts that encourage customisation. Alterations of dosages relied upon three dominant factors: age, gender and circumstance. Circumstance-based dosages are associated with terminology such as ‘strength’ and ‘constitution’. Consequently, the dosage administered is impacted upon by the individual’s perception of their patient’s build, framework, and existing state of health. This is particularly prominent in Anne Battam’s 1750/1759 The lady’s assistant in the oeconomy of the table, in which there are two receipts relating to the alteration of dosage. The following examples are heavily based on inference and judgement; the reader must choose how many dimensions they wish to modify.

Battam chose to include the receipt To make the famous friar’s balsam, whereby the dosage must be altered ‘either by outward application, or taking it in drops, according to the age and constitution of the patient’ (2). Firstly, the method for administering the dosage is an added dimension – the reader is given a choice. The recommendations depict the writer’s presumption that the reader can determine the most effective way of administering the treatment as well as the dosage required. The methods are impacted directly by both ‘age’ and ‘constitution’. Despite these being vague judgements based purely on two factors, it is important to acknowledge that the receipt encourages methodological experimentation based on the perceived wellbeing of the patient.

To make the famous friar’s balsam – Reproduced with the permission of Special Collections, Leeds University Library (Cookery A/BAT)

This is mirrored in Battam’s inclusion of Dr Willis’s Spring-ale, in which the dosage is administered ‘according to your age and strength’ (3). This receipt also adheres to the trend of relying on the reader’s perception of their patient’s health, followed by a mere estimation of the dosage that their ‘age’ requires. The lack of categorisation regarding age and different levels of ‘strength’ provides implications as to how both doctors and their followers (such as Battam) regarded dosage as important but not yet precise. Therefore, the ambiguous and unspecific instructions given by people whose advice was sought and respected suggests an incomplete understanding of the implications of altering dosage.

Dr Willis’s Spring-Ale – Reproduced with the permission of Special Collections, Leeds University Library (Cookery A/BAT)

Notably, Sarah Jackson also conforms to this contemporary interest in the impact of circumstance on dosage in her 1754/1755 book The director: or, Young woman’s best companion. Similar to Anne Battam, Sarah Jackson’s inclusion of the receipt for Elixir Salutis, or never failing Cordial administers the dosage ‘according to the Constitution and Strength of the Patient’ (4). The use of ambiguous adjectives such as ‘constitution’ and ‘strength’ is again evident. This leads to the persistent problem of inference; the imprecise vocabulary relies on the reader’s perception of the literary meaning as well as their existing medical knowledge.

Elixir Salutis, or never failing Cordial – Reproduced with the permission of Special Collections, Leeds University Library (Cookery S/JAC)


Nevertheless, Sarah Jackson includes a receipt which introduces new circumstances with the alteration of dosage, such as the likelihood of gaining successful results under varying conditions. This is prominent in To help delivery, in which the likelihood of success might be impacted by a change of circumstance, in this case a stillbirth. Whilst still relying on the midwife’s judgement, the receipt explains how ‘half a Dram’ of the ingredients must be given ‘in a little warm Ale’. However, ‘if the Child be dead give a Dram of it’ (5). This significant change in circumstance is mirrored by a change in dosage, suggesting the receipt has been tested prior to publication. Therefore, it is evident that early modern households recognised the necessity to increase the dosage to match the increased discomfort of the patient. Interestingly, this is the only given example of a circumstance-associated dosage in which a standardised measurement is provided. The ambiguity of administering medicine based on singular descriptions such as ‘strength’ and ‘age’ was no doubt a recurring issue.

From this, it would be of benefit us to study examples of receipts in which ‘age’ is more specifically addressed. This would lead to a better picture of female medical expertise in the mid-eighteenth-century.

To help Delivery – Reproduced with the permission of Special Collections, Leeds University Library (Cookery S/JAC)


(1) Elaine Leong, Making Medicines in the Early Modern Household, Bulletin of the History of Medicine (2008)

(2) Anne Battam, The lady’s assistant in the oeconomy of the table: a collection of scarce and valuable receipts (1750)

(3) Anne Battam, The lady’s assistant in the oeconomy of the table: a collection of scarce and valuable receipts (1750)

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

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