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Beyond Home Remedy

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Beyond Home Remedy

Women in the seventeenth century were not allowed to become members of the College of Physicians (which licensed practitioners in greater London) or the Royal Academy of Science (which included such widely published figures as Robert Boyle). However, evidence shows that women did hold deep knowledge, gained from hands-on experience, in what have now become the fields of anatomy, botany, and chemistry. Even though women were rarely represented as experts and their direct influence was sparsely recorded, the observations they made were in line with those explained by early scientists, and the work they did contributed to the cultural moment in essential ways.

Hannah Woolley. The queen-like closet, or Rich cabinet. London, 1675

Important to this exhibition is Hannah Woolley's recipe for Syrup of Violets, in which she adds lemon, ostensibly to cut the sweetness of the tonic, and notes that the juice will change the syrup from an opaque purple and “make it look purely transparent.” This observation mirrors the observations of chemist Robert Boyle, who conducted experiments showing that acids turned deep purple liquids (such as Syrup of Violet and red cabbage water) red—and base (or alkaline) solutions turned the same liquids green. In essence, women were preparing medicines at home with a knowledge of botany, anatomy, and chemistry that equalled that of some of their male counterparts.

Jane Giraud. The Flowers of Shakespeare. London, 1845

Thomas Chamberlayne. Compleat midwifes practice. London, 1656


Experiments and Considerations

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