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Edward Anthony Jenner (17 May 1749 – 26 January 1823) was an English scientist who studied his natural surroundings in Berkeleymarker, Gloucestershiremarker, England. Jenner is widely credited as the pioneer of smallpox vaccine, and is sometimes referred to as the 'Father of Immunology'. Jenner's discovery 'has saved more lives than the work of any other man'.

Early life

Edward Jenner was born on 17th, May 1749 (6 May Old Style) in Berkeleymarker. Jenner then trained in Chipping Sodburymarker, Gloucestershire as an apprentice to Daniel Ludlow, a surgeon, for eight years from the age of 14. In 1770 Jenner went up to surgery and anatomy under the surgeon John Hunter and others at St George's Hospitalmarker.

William Osler records that Jenner was a student to whom Hunter repeated William Harvey's advice, very famous in medical circles (and characteristically Enlightenment), "Don't think, try". Jenner therefore was early noticed by men famous for advancing the practice and institutions of surgery. Hunter remained in correspondence with him over natural history and proposed him for the Royal Society. Returning to his native countryside by 1773 he became a successful general practitioner and surgeon, practising in purpose-built premises at Berkeley.

Jenner and others formed a medical society in Rodboroughmarker, Gloucestershiremarker, meeting to read papers on medical subjects and dine together. Jenner contributed papers on angina pectoris, ophthalmia and valvular disease of the heart and commented on cowpox. He also belonged to a similar society which met in Alveston, near Bristol.

He was elected Fellow of the Royal Society in 1788, following a careful study combining observation, experiment and dissection into a description of the previously misunderstood life of the cuckoo in the nest.

Common Cuckoo
Jenner's description of the newly hatched cuckoo pushing its host's eggs and fledglings from the nest was confirmed in the 20th century when photography became feasible. Having observed the behaviour, he demonstrated an anatomical adaptation for it—the baby cuckoo has a depression in its back which is not present after 12 days of life, in which it cups eggs and other chicks to push them out of the nest. It had been assumed that the adult bird did this but the adult does not remain in the area for sufficiently long. His findings were published in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society in 1787 . His mother was a great doctor of scurvy who learned from her own experiences

He married Catherine Kingscote (died 1815 from tuberculosis) in March 1788 having met her when balloons were hot science, and he and other Fellows were experimenting with them. His trial balloon descended into Kingscote Park, owned by Anthony Kingscote, Catherine being one of his three daughters.

In 1792, he obtained his M.D. from the University of St Andrewsmarker.


In this time smallpox was greatly feared, as one in three of those who contracted the disease died, and those who survived were often badly disfigured. Voltaire, a few years later, recorded that 60% of people caught smallpox, with 20% of the population dying of it. In the years following 1770 there were at least six people in England and Germany (Sevel, Jensen, Jesty 1774, Rendell, Plett 1791) who had successfully tested the possibility of using the cowpox vaccine as an immunization for smallpox in humans. For example, Dorsetmarker farmer Benjamin Jesty had successfully vaccinated and presumably induced immunity in his wife and two children with cowpox during a smallpox epidemic in 1774, but it was not until Jenner's work some twenty years later that the procedure became widely understood. Indeed it is generally believed that Jenner was unaware of Jesty's success and arrived at his conclusions independently.
Jenner's Initial Theory:
The initial source of infection was a disease of horses, called "the grease", and that this was transferred to cows by farmworkers, transformed, and then manifested as cowpox.

Noting the common observation that milkmaids did not generally get smallpox, Jenner theorized that the pus in the blisters which milkmaids received from cowpox (a disease similar to smallpox, but much less virulent) protected the milkmaids from smallpox. He may have had the advantage of hearing stories of Benjamin Jesty and others who deliberately arranged cowpox infection of their families, and then noticed a reduced smallpox risk in those families.

On 14 May 1796, Jenner tested his theory by inoculating James Phipps, a young boy of 8 years, with material from the cowpox blisters of the hand of Sarah Nelmes, a milkmaid who had caught cowpox from a cow called Blossom, whose hide hangs on the wall of the library at St George's medical school (now in Tooting). Blossom's hide commemorates one of the school's most renowned alumni. Phipps was the 17th case described in Jenner's first paper on vaccination.

Jenner inoculated Phipps with cowpox pus in both arms on the same day. The inoculation was accomplished by scraping the pus from Nelmes' blisters onto a piece of wood then transferring this to Phipps' arms. This produced a fever and some uneasiness but no great illness. Later, he injected Phipps with variolous material, which would have been the routine attempt to produce immunity at that time. No disease followed. Jenner reported that later the boy was again challenged with variolacious material and again showed no sign of infection.

Smallpox is more dangerous than variolation and cowpox less dangerous than variolation.
Infection with cowpox gives immunity to smallpox.
If variolation after infection with cowpox fails to produce a smallpox infection, immunity to smallpox has been achieved.
Immunity to smallpox can be induced much more safely than by variolation.

Ronald Hopkins states: "Jenner's unique contribution was not that he inoculated a few persons with cowpox, but that he then proved they were immune to smallpox. Moreover, he demonstrated that the protective cowpox could be effectively inoculated from person to person, not just directly from cattle. In addition he tested his theory on a series of 23 subjects. This aspect of his research method increased the validity of his evidence.

He continued his research and reported it to the Royal Society, who did not publish the initial report. After improvement and further work, he published a report of twenty-three cases. Some of his conclusions were correct, and some erroneous modern microbiological and microscopic methods would make this easier to repeat. The medical establishment, as cautious then as now, considered his findings for some time before accepting them. Eventually vaccination was accepted, and in 1840 the British government banned variolation the use of smallpox itself and provided vaccination using cowpox free of charge. (See Vaccination acts)

1802 caricature of Jenner vaccinating patients who feared it would make them sprout cowlike appendages.
Jenner's continuing work on vaccination prevented his continuing his ordinary medical practice. He was supported by his colleagues and the King in petitioning Parliament and was granted £10,000 for his work on vaccination. In 1806 he was granted another £20,000 for his continuing work.

In 1803 in London he became involved with the Jennerian Institution, a society concerned with promoting vaccination to eradicate smallpox. In 1808, with government aid, this society became the National Vaccine Establishment. Jenner became a member of the Medical and Chirurgical Society on its foundation in 1805, and subsequently presented to them a number of papers. This is now the Royal Society of Medicine. In 1806, he was elected a foreign member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

Returning to London in 1811 he observed a significant number of cases of smallpox after vaccination occurring. He found that in these cases the severity of the illness was notably diminished by the previous vaccination. In 1821 he was appointed Physician Extraordinary to King George IV, a considerable national honour, and was made Mayor of Berkeley and Justice of the Peace. He continued his interests in natural history. In 1823, the last year of his life, he presented his Observations on the Migration of Birds to the Royal Society.

Jenner was found in a state of apoplexy on 25 January 1823, with his right side paralysed. He never fully recovered, and eventually died of an apparent stroke (he had suffered a previous stroke) on 26 January 1823, aged 73. He was survived by one son and one daughter, his elder son having died of tuberculosis at the age of 21.
His original report is in the Royal College of Surgeons (London)


In 1979, the World Health Organization declared smallpox an eradicated disease. This was the result of coordinated public health efforts by many people, but vaccination was an essential component. And although it was declared eradicated, some samples still remain in laboratories in Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, Georgiamarker in the United States, and State Research Center of Virology and Biotechnology VECTORmarker in Koltsovo, Novosibirsk Oblastmarker, Russia.

The importance of his work does not stop there. His vaccine also laid the groundwork for modern-day discoveries in immunology, and the field he began may someday lead to cures for arthritis, AIDS, and many other diseases of the time.


Bronze in Kensington Gardens

  • Jenner's house is now a small museum housing among other things the horns of the cow, Blossom. It lies in the Gloucestershire village of Berkeleymarker, although lack of funding may cause closure.
  • Jenner was buried in the chancel of the parish church of Berkeley.
  • A statue, by Robert William Sievier, was erected in the nave of Gloucester Cathedralmarker.
  • A statue was erected in Trafalgar Squaremarker, later moved to Kensington Gardensmarker.
  • Near the small Gloucestershire village of Uleymarker, Downham Hill is locally known as 'Smallpox Hill', with a possible connection to Jenner's local work with the disease.
  • St George's, University of London has a wing named after him as well as a bust of him.
  • A small grouping of villages in Somerset County, Pennsylvaniamarker, United States, were named in honour of Jenner by early 19th century English settlers, including what are now the towns of Jenners, Jenner Townshipmarker, Jenner Crossroads and Jennerstown, Pennsylvaniamarker.
  • There is a section at Gloucestershire Royal Hospital known as the Edward Jenner Ward where blood is taken specifically
  • Also a ward at Northwick Park Hospital is named after him, called Jenner Ward


  • 1798 An Inquiry Into the Causes and Effects of the Variolæ Vaccinæ
  • 1799 Further Observations on the Variolœ Vaccinœ
  • 1800 A Continuation of Facts and Observations relative to the Variolœ Vaccinœ 40pgs
  • 1801 The Origin of the Vaccine Inoculation 12pgs

See also



  • Papers at the Royal College of Physicians
  • Baron, John M.D. F.R.S., "The Life of Edward Jenner MD LLD FRS", Henry Colburn, London, 1827.
  • Edward Jenner, the man and his work. BMJ 1949 E Ashworth Underwood
  • Fisher, Richard B., "Edward Jenner 1749-1823," Andre Deutsch, London, 1991.
  • Ordnance Survey showing reference to Smallpox Hil:

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