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Sharing Knowledge

Women's Networks

Strong evidence suggests that women often shared their medical knowledge. Some women kept notebooks in which they included recipes from their friends. Sometimes these books were passed down through several generations of women who would add more recipes from their own experience. Other evidence of womens networks comes from printed recipe books, which often reproduce remedies that had appeared in womens private recipe books (called receipt booksin the period). And of course, other women sometimes turned around and copied these printed remedies into their own recipe books. The result was an invaluable accumulation of medical insight and experience.

Jane Dawson. Cookbook of Jane Dawson. Manuscript, late 17th century

In Jane Dawson's cookbook, pictured above, many recipes are followed by the name of a woman -- Mrs. Warton, Mrs. Pelham, etc. -- demonstrating both that Jane Dawson copied or was given these recipes by another woman and that another woman had successfully used the remedy. In one dramatic example, she writes that Mrs. Warton "saved a woma[n]s life with this that was given over for dead."

Penelope Patrick. Receipt book of Penelope Jephson. Manuscript, 1671 and 1674/75

Leonhart Fuchs. De historia stirpium commentarii impensis et vigiliis elaborati. Basel, 1542

Katherine Packer. A book of very good medicines for several diseases wound and sores both new and old. Manuscript, 1639

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