At the end of the eighteenth century, Edward Jenner discovered that exposure to cowpox
provided safe and effective immunity to smallpox, one of the world’s deadliest diseases.
Using an array of printed and archival documentation, this article explores how as
word of the world’s first vaccine spread to Spain and its empire, smallpox vaccination
was initially associated with women. In fact, medical practitioners initially relied on
elite women to promote vaccination, advocated teaching women to vaccinate their own
children, and even created pamphlets to instruct them in the procedure. However, the
mechanisms that the Spanish Crown used to extend access to the vaccine on both in
Spain and across the Americas quickly transformed the simple procedure into a medical
operation to be performed only by male medical professionals.