Like many, many people in the northern hemisphere, I have a cold, which is probably why I've found the new exhibition at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC so intriguing. Beyond Home Remedy: Women, Medicine, & Science is running now through May 14. While women of every rank have traditionally been the family medical caretakers, dispensing home-made remedies and folk wisdom, this exhibition shows their early recipe and housekeeping books instead as the precursors to modern medicine, and stresses the female contributions to the growth of scientific learning.
One of the books on display is The queen-like closet, or Rich cabinet , above, by Hannah Woolley (1622-c.1675), published in 1675. Hannah came from a family where both her mother and her sisters were skilled in "physick and chirurgery," and her books on household management were among the first to be written by a woman for a female audience. Below is her recipe for syrup of violet, a popular remedy for soothing a sore throat. Yet this same simple syrup was also employed in experiments on color conducted by philosopher and chemist Robert Boyle (1627-1691). The Folger's site has a fascinating short video explaining these experiments, as well as how Hannah's concoctions, being made by a woman, would never merit the same attention as those of Boyle's, an educated gentleman and the son of an earl.
Meanwhile, if you, too, are suffering from a malady of the throat, here is Hannah's recipe transcribed – though good luck gathering fresh violets in January.
To make Sirrop of VioletsPick your Violets very clean, and beat them well in a Mortar, then strain them, and to one pint of the juyce take one quarter of a pint of Spring-water; put it into the Mortar with the stamped Violets which you have strained, stamp them together a while, and strain the Water well from them, and mix them with your other juyce; then put it into a long Gally-pot, and to each pint of juyce put in one pound of double Refined Sugar; let it stand close covered for the space of twelve hours; then put in a little quantity of Juyce of Lemmon, that will make it look purely transparent; then set your Gally-pot into a Kettle of seething-water covered, till you find it to be thick enough; then set it by till it is cold, then put it up.
Above: The queen-like closet, or Rich cabinet, by Hannah Woolley, London, 1675
Thanks to Michael Robinson for suggesting this exhibition to us.