Born: May 17, 1749, Berkeley, Gloucestershire, England
Died: January 26, 1823, Berkeley
English surgeon Edward Jenner is best known as the discoverer of vaccination for smallpox. Jenner lived at a time when the patterns of British medical practice and education were undergoing gradual change.
During this time, the division between the trained physicians and the apothecaries or surgeons-
English surgeon Edward Jenner is best known as the discoverer of vaccination for smallpox. Jenner lived at a time when the patterns of British medical practice and education were undergoing gradual change. During this time, the division between the trained physicians and the apothecaries or surgeons-
Jenner attended grammar school and at the age of 13 was apprenticed to a nearby surgeon. In the following eight years Jenner acquired a sound knowledge of medical and surgical practice. On completing his apprenticeship at the age of 21, he went to London and became the house pupil of John Hunter, who was on the staff of St. George’s Hospital and was one of the most prominent surgeons in London. Even more important, however, he was an anatomist, biologist, and experimentalist of the first rank; not only did he collect biological specimens, but he also concerned himself with problems of physiology and function. The firm friendship that grew between the two men lasted until Hunter’s death in 1793. From no one else could Jenner have received the stimuli that so confirmed his natural bent-
In addition to his training and experience in biology, Jenner made progress in clinical surgery. After studying in London from 1770 to 1773, he returned to country practice in Berkeley and enjoyed substantial success. He was capable, skillful, and popular. In addition to practicing medicine, he joined two medical groups for the promotion of medical knowledge and wrote occasional medical papers. He played the violin in a musical club, wrote light verse, and, as a naturalist, made many observations, particularly on the nesting habits of the cuckoo and on bird migration. He also collected specimens for Hunter; many of Hunter’s letters to Jenner have been preserved, but Jenner’s letters to Hunter have unfortunately been lost. After one disappointment in love in1778, Jenner married in 1788.
Smallpox was widespread in the 18th century, and occasional outbreaks of special intensity resulted in a very high death rate. The disease, a leading cause of death at the time, respected no social class, and disfigurement was not uncommon in patients who recovered. The only means of combating smallpox was a primitive form of vaccination called variolation-
It was, in present-
The story of the great breakthrough is well known. In May 1796 Jenner found a young dairymaid, Sarah Nelmes, who had fresh cowpox lesions on her hand. On May 14, using matter from Sarah’s lesions, he inoculated an eightyear-
Despite errors and occasional chicanery, the death rate from smallpox plunged. Jenner received worldwide recognition and many honours, but he made no attempt to enrich himself through his discovery and actually devoted so much time to the cause of vaccination that his private practice and personal affairs suffered severely. Parliament voted him a sum of £10,000 in 1802 and a further sum of £20,000 in 1806. Jenner not only received honours but also aroused opposition and found himself subjected to attacks and calumnies, despite which he continued his activities on behalf of vaccination. His wife, ill with tuberculosis, died in 1815, and Jenner retired from public life.