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Women and Science



“What Woman was such a Chymist as Paracelsus?”


Recipes for a Paracelsian salve used in healing wounds appear in several recipe books in the Folger collection. Many women from the period showed awareness of Paracelsian chemistry, an alternative to the ancient theories that otherwise dominated medicine. Paracelsus (1493-1541) was an alchemist and physician who, notably, furthered the use of minerals and more complex chemicals in the making of medicine. Some women recorded that knowledge in recipe books, demonstrating the female understanding of the more complex chemical structure of Paracelsian medicine-making.



Natura exenterata: or Nature unbowelled by the most exquisite anatomizers of her. London, 1655

Some who knew Aletheia (née Talbot) Howard, Countess of Arundel (d. 1654), named her the author of a book of medical recipes (seen above), which bears only the penname Philiatros in the preface, and the Countess’s portrait. Whether or not the Countess compiled the volume, its publication the year after her death with the elaborate engraving certainly connects her with the knowledge it contained. The catalog of “persons of quality and great experience in the art of medicine” from whom the recipes were taken includes forty-four women and fifty-eight men, one of whom is Paracelsus.

 
Paracelsus. Opera Omnia, medico-chemico-chirur. Geneva?, 1658



Grenville Family. Cookery and medicinal recipes of the Granville family. Manuscript, ca. 1640-ca. 1750



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