Circa 1716 by Charles Jervas

For a woman who is not well known these days and who lived way back in the 1700s, it’s surprising that there’s enough of a story to fill two episodes…Lady Mary Wortley Montagu is such a woman!

Raised on books, self-education, intelligence (and not a lot of supervision) her beauty got her noticed but it was her bravery to buck convention that made her memorable.

Mary Pierrepont was born in London, England, in 1689, to Evelyn Pierrepont and Lady Mary Fielding Pierrepont. When she was just a baby she was made a Lady when her father inherited the family Earldom. Three more siblings quickly followed and, sadly, her mother died shortly after Mary’s only brother was born.

Once under her politician Father’s care, he basically waved his hand toward his massive libraries and told her to go at it. With no formal education, Mary read, and read, and read, and read some more this time in Latin with a dictionary on her lap teaching herself the language. Then she started teaching herself grammar and began writing prose and poetry.  When it was time for her father to make a “proper” marriage for her, the man he chose wasn’t exactly Mary’s type so she eloped with one of her own choosing.

A baby, a boy, soon followed as did smallpox- first for Lady Mary’s brother, then for her.

With her husband’s diplomatic posting as the Ambassador to Turkey and- bucking convention- Mary began an extraordinary journey and a massive letter-writing project about her travels. While there, Mary gave birth to a daughter and learned of the local process she called “engrafting” and we would call “inoculating” against smallpox.

She had her young son treated and, after a very, very mild form of the illness, he was immune.

Back in England, Mary’s daughter became the first in England to be inoculated. Amid A LOT of controversies, many people began to undergo the procedure, including the children of then Princess Caroline of Anspach, future Queen of England.

And that’s where we’re going to end this episode, but trust us, there is a whole other life for Lady Mary ahead!


Media Recommendations will be on Part Two