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18 June 2014
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Legacies - Gloucestershire

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Myths and Legends
From myth to legend

Old wives tales

Jenner was born and brought up in Berkely in Gloucestershire, among farming families. After qualifying, many of his patients were farmers, labourers, and milk maids. From this community, he heard of many old wives tales relating to the treatment and prevention of illness, most of which could never be proven when examined. One that did however was that milk maids were "fair of face, the prettiest girls in all the land".
Milkmaids' skin would be infection free
This was no allusion to a genetic beauty only found in women who worked with cows, more that they were one of the only groups of women in society who were very rarely disfigured by smallpox scars.

Further local folklore told him that milk maids could never get the malady; they were "protected by some force of nature".

Upon examination of his patients during the 1788 epidemic, he saw there was some truth in the matter, even when whole families were struck down by the condition. If a daughter, wife or sister was a milkmaid she was very rarely affected by it. This local legend made Jenner think, and fostered one of medicine's biggest breakthroughs ever.

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