Mary Kettilby, A Purveyor of Practical Advice

Mary Kettilby. A collection of above three hundred receipts in cookery, physick, and surgery: for the use of all good wives, tender mothers, and careful nurses. The second edition. London: Printed for Mary Kettilby, 1719.

During the early modern period, women often functioned as the primary caregiver in a household. They were often the first people to offer basic medical care to the sick, and some noblewomen prepared medicines that they could distribute to the poor as an expression of charity.

During the 17th and 18th centuries in particular, a number of household remedy books were published. These were often published in the vernacular, which would make them accessible to literate women who might not have had any formal education in Latin. They also frequently appeared as hybrid remedy books and cookbooks – usually one half of the text block was dedicated to “cookery” while the other contained recipes in “physick," hinting at medicine’s close relationship with the so-called domestic arts.

This particular work of domestic medicine was assembled by Mary Kettilby. Mary was the wife of Walter Kettilby, a London publisher whose output included a number of medical publications; after his death, she took over the business. The work’s introduction includes the following disclaimer: “I make no doubt, but the Learned Gentlemen of the Faculty will be too Generous to Mis-construe this small Collection of Physical Receipts (design’d for the Service of those who are neither within the Reach of their Visits, nor in a Capacity of Gratifying their Trouble) as an Invasion of their Province, or a Disrespect to their Persons....And I am proud to own, that most of the Prescriptions came from the most Eminent hands in that Profession.” Note how she is careful to avoid the charge that she is infringing on the rights of the male medical professionals who were associated with the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons.

Continue – Peter Lowe