By Grace O’Mara, WWP Research and Encoding Specialist and PEAK Award Recipient
Over the past four months, I have spent my time researching Sarah Jinner’s 1659 almanac “An Almanack and Prognostication for the Year of our Lord 1659 being the Third After Bissextile Or Leap Year: Calculated for the Meridian of London, and may Differently Serve for England, Scotland, and Ireland / by Sarah Jinner Student in Astrology”1 and Mary Holden’s 1688 title “The Women’s Almanack for the Year of our Lord 1688 being the Bissextile, Or Leap-Year: Calculated for the Meridian of London and may Indifferently Serve for any Part of England / by Mary Holden, Midwife in Sudbury and Student in Astrology”2. In August 2020 I applied for a Project-Based Exploration for the Advancement of Knowledge (PEAK) award in the hopes that I would be able to explore how the practice of encoding can help one better comprehend these two works and their engagements with women’s healthcare in a public setting. Sarah Jinner and Mary Holden were popular almanac writers during the 17th-century and analyzing their texts can give insight into the structure of this genre and its various topics. Encoding these pieces allows for the comparison of similar works and can provide one with a better understanding of how female writers commented on healthcare, specifically women’s and reproductive health.
Receiving a PEAK award from Northeastern University allows an undergraduate to delve into the areas of research they are interested in. Applying for this grant required me to have a clear list of goals and outcomes that I wanted to accomplish as a part of this project. I knew that I wanted to encode Sarah Jinner’s 1659 almanac as well as Mary Holden’s 1688 almanac, while also learning more about this form of literature and how these works are connected to women’s healthcare.
The Exploration of Almanacs and the Content Within
I had a relatively solid idea of how I wanted to approach this task as I have encoded texts in the past. I have been working with the Women Writers Project since my first semester of freshman year (fall 2019). I have helped encode multiple pieces from this time period which gave me an idea of what to expect when approaching these two texts. While I have mostly encountered novel/narrative style works, my experience with those pieces benefited how I encoded Jinner and Holden’s titles.
I started with preliminary research on the genre of almanacs and their content so I would have some understanding of what I would find in Jinner and Holden’s pieces. Works such as “The Medical Content of English Almanacs 1640–1700” and “English Almanacs, Astrology and Popular Medicine, 1550-1700” by Louise Hill Curth provided a trove of information on the content of this type of work as well as brief explanations of Jinner and Holden’s involvement in this field. Articles like “Sex, Astrology, and the Almanacs of Sarah Jinner” by Chantelle Thauvette expressed the ways these almanacs engage with the topic of women’s healthcare and its importance, adding to how one views the two documents.
Louise Hill Curth has published many works on the topic of almanacs and their content. In her article, “The Medical Contents of English Almanacs 1640-1700” Curth highlights the popularity of this type of literature, stating that there were “1,392 almanacs printed between 1640 and 1700”3 (255) and around “350,000 to 400,00 copies” (258) were printed every year in this time period. Curth points out that the closure of the theaters likely had to do with the increased interest in printed art/communication (263); she writes that almanacs were the “first true form of mass media” (256). The author draws attention to the importance of the advertisements usually placed at the end of an almanac; the inclusion of such commercialization played a role in medical materialism in Britain. One key concept that Curth wants her audience to understand is that “the major emphasis was on preventive medicine, centered on the Galenic concept of the non-naturals or environmental factors that could be manipulated to various degrees” (281). This means that medicine was centered around humoral theory and revolved around the idea of the four humours: black bile, yellow bile, phlegm, and blood. It was understood that to be healthy all humours needed to be balanced and if they were not, one’s balance could be restored by adding or removing things from the body. It was also believed that these imbalances were caused by “the various and different Aspects and Positions of the Stars” (265). Curth explains why astrology was so ingrained in works that aimed to present medical information, writing that “specific celestial movements were thought to be orchestrated by God who was their “chief Gouvenrour” and could cause disease in individuals, whole communities, or even nations, at his will” (265); therefore, understanding the movement of the planets and stars could inform someone as to when they may become ill. This is an extremely important concept as it explains why one writing medical advice would have also benefited from having astrological knowledge.
In chapter three, “‘Students of Astrology and Physick’: The Authors” of Curth’s book “English Almanacs, Astrology and Popular Medicine, 1550-1700”, she further explores the genre as well as the works of Sarah Jinner and Mary Holden. Sarah Jinner, Mary Holden, Dorothy Partridge, and Sarah Ginnor are the most popular female almanac writers, yet it is believed that not all of them were female despite their representation as such. Curth points out that while there is no conclusive evidence, many scholars believe that Sarah Ginnor was a male author that used their writing to parody Sarah Jinner. Sarah Ginnor has been attributed one almanac in 1659, and Curth states its content is “clearly a satirical copy of the first and contains highly misogynistic references which suggests that it could have been written by a man”4 (68). It is also interesting to note that Sarah Jinner released an almanac that same year and it would be strange of her to release two separate almanacs for the same time period. The Women Writers Online (WWO) collection includes Sara Ginnor’s text in its repository, and as part of this research project I encoded Sarah Jinner’s 1659 almanac; this means that using WWO one could compare the two. The earliest example of an almanac written by a woman is Sarah Jinner in 1658; while Curth states she believes others came before, they have yet to be discovered (68). Curth writes that Jinner’s first work mainly focused on women’s health while her 1659 almanac follow-up included medical advice for both sexes (69). She explains that it is common for authors to write under fictitious names as they worried that writing an almanac may ruin their reputation. Curth points out that some believe that Richard Saunders may have written one of Mary Holden’s almanacs as one of the phrases he included in his works appeared at the end of Holden’s 1689 text (71). Curth draws specific attention to Holden’s 1688 almanac (the one encoded for this project), explaining that the portrait at the start of the work does not align with the beauty standards of the time, hinting it could have been produced by a man (71).
In “Sex, Astrology, and the Almanacs of Sarah Jinner”, Thauvette offers up many points to consider, reiterating the idea that Jinner’s goal is to inform women of how they can control their reproductive health. Thauvette expresses the importance of examining these almanacs as they “provide an important clue as to how the rhetoric of popular discourses about women’s insatiable and invariable sexual appetites intersected with the practical concerns of timing menstruation, conception, and childbirth, concerns that influenced when women chose to have sex”5 (247). The public nature of publication also reminds one how significant these almanacs were in distributing information to a large group of people; Thauvette writes that “Jinner’s almanacs play an important role in the transmission of up-to-date gynecological knowledge from the medical elite to common, literate persons and rural physicians, who might not otherwise be able to obtain it” (244). Thauvette explores how Jinner is providing her female readers with the tools they require to manage and regulate their reproductive health on their own, granting them autonomy over their bodies.
Learning more about the structure of almanacs, the basics of medical knowledge of the time, and the attitudes of other scholars towards Sarah Jinner and Mary Holden alerted me to the important elements of the texts I needed to look out for when encoding. Doing research before examining Jinner and Holden’s works allowed me the opportunity to form expectations about the pieces prior to crafting the markup which I believe helped me identify interesting features while encoding.
Encoding the Texts
I knew the best way to fully understand these works would be to encode them first, take note of striking components, and at the end, go back to those elements and explore their importance. Encoding the texts first granted me the opportunity to see how each aspect of the pieces built off the others. After being aware of the structural features of the works, I was then able to better comprehend how significant the actual content was, as well as what the implications on women’s health were.
One of the main challenges I encountered while encoding these documents was translating the tables into markup. Both Jinner and Holden’s texts have twelve tables at the start of their works that act as calendars; each table represents a month of the year, and each day is highlighted in some way. I had little experience encoding tables before this, and as such, had to learn the best way to articulate the information on the page using markup. Data on the far-right column in both almanacs was the most difficult to present as sections of the text expanded across multiple rows.
<cell rows=”4″>☿ <mcr rend=”slant(italic)”>Stat.</mcr> SS. ☉,<lb/>high, turbulent
Encoding for Row 24 of the Month of February Calendar on Page 5 of Sarah Jinner’s An Almanack and Prognostication for the Year of our Lord 1659 being the Third After Bissextile Or Leap Year: Calculated for the Meridian of London, and may Differently Serve for England, Scotland, and Ireland / by Sarah Jinner Student in Astrology. London, Printed by John Streater for the Company of Stationers, 1659. ProQuest.
While Sarah Jinner does not include any details on what each column represents, one can infer that each row represents a day and the information that follows describes what is occurring on that day. The second column, which consists of letters in the blackletter typeface is possibly used to keep all the dates in order and in sequence across the twelve months of the year. To aid her readers she does include a key for the symbols commonly used in the right column.
While Jinner does not explain what each of her columns represents, Holden does. When describing February, Mary Holden includes short titles for what all the columns in her tables mean. Although Holden’s table does not perfectly match that of Jinner’s, it does provide insight into what each of Jinner’s columns may be illustrating.
The information provided in Holden’s almanac can lead one to hypothesize that columns four and six of Jinner’s text have to do with the position of the sun and moon. If I had not also encoded Holden’s work, I would not have been able to make this observation. This shows one of the benefits of encoding two pieces from the same genre. Encoding Jinner’s almanac also helped me while working with Holden’s piece. When looking at the images above one can see that while Jinner clearly indicates the month with the phrase “February hath XXVIII Daies” (5) the box on page two of Holden’s text is blank; this is true of all of Holden’s calendars. It appears that she may have used red ink within those boxes and as a result, it does not show up on the black and white copy of the pdf. Knowing Jinner’s method of labeling calendars allows one to fill in the gaps left in Holden’s work.
Both texts have intriguing typographical features that I think warrant mentioning. First, in both cases, there is evidence that when printing, some letters may have been in short supply. At the end of the two works, some letters start to appear in a different font than used prior. Sarah Jinner stops solely using blackletter m’s and Mary Holden changes the capital letters C and M to italic as well as using two V’s next to one another (VV) to represent W. I also predict that in the calendar portion of Holden’s almanac there was a lack of a and g blackletter typeface as in the second column there are multiple occasions where those letters are consistently missing. There are many instances where Jinner spells the same word in different ways; one example being how she uses both “month” and “moneth”. The spelling of a word could change based on how the printer wanted to present the information; meaning, if adding an extra letter forced the word into the next line the word may be shortened. The typography of both Jinner and Holden’s texts exhibit that print culture was not focused on producing texts that maintained typographical consistency.
As already mentioned by Curth, Jinner’s work has lots of medical advice for both sexes; however, what was most appealing was her inclusion of information on products one can use to prevent miscarriage, aid with the “falling down of the womb” (Jinner 17), help men and women with “fruitfulness” (17), stimulate pregnancy, maintain a healthy pregnancy, and help clear a womb after someone has miscarried. Even though Curth states Jinner’s 1658 almanac contains the most information for women (Curth, English Almanacs 69) her 1659 text provides a portion of knowledge that any woman would find significant. In Thauvette’s text, she also mentions there are recipes for women to help regulate their menstrual cycle (245) which in this work Jinner provides at least three recipes to aid with this task.
Jinner’s almanac contains many ways one can use common ingredients to help with menstrual problems while Holden’s almanac focuses more on general advice. Holden’s piece did not draw attention to women’s healthcare to the same extent that Jinner’s did, and Holden’s included much less medical advice in general. One of the few places that Holden specifically references female health is at the end of the document when she is listing advertisements. In this section she suggests that women read a separate work by her, writing that it includes “Excellent Remedies for all Women troubled with Vapours, Rising of the Mother, convulsion fits; also the Canker in the Mouth, so much ease, that the patient will hardly feel it; and all other Diseases incident to my own Sex” (Holden 19).
Some other interesting features from Sarah Jinner’s document, include her reference to witchcraft and fortune tellers. This is especially intriguing as these two types of people tend to be regularly linked to astrology. Jinner writes “Jupiter being in the 9th house, denoteth terrible Dreams and Visions, unquietness of the Mind in sleep, increase and discovery of Witches and Fortune-Tellers” (12); interestingly, she is predicting that the movement of the planets will allow more witches to be discovered. She even goes on to say that she believes an eclipse will cause several witches to be put to death: “I Shall take little notice of this Eclipse, the Effects of it will principally be seen upon corn and cattle: It will be of some advantage to those that trade in Marchandize, and it fore telleth, of several Upstarts that shall pretend to Divine Revelations and Visions. Likewise the death of several Witches” (13). What is most intriguing is how Jinner herself is foretelling the future yet making it clear that she is distinct from witches and fortune tellers.
Sarah Jinner’s mention of gemstones as an ingredient to help with medical issues is also worth noting. Jinner proposes that one should “Take conserve of Roses, lie ounces: Conserve of Burrage, Buglas, Balm, of each an ounce: Bolus prepared, a dram: Pearl, prepared a quarter of an ounce of Rubies, Jacinths, Saphir, each a scruple: Cinamon, a dram; mix them together, and make an Electuary therof” to help “stay the immoderate flux of the Terms” (15). Her recommendation that someone could use Pearl, Rubies, Jacinths, and Saphir (Sapphire) to help regulate one’s period reminded me of a modern New Age practice to use crystals to help with bodily functions. It is intriguing that practices such as astrology, using herbs for medicinal purposes, and crystals for healing, are now associated with the occult and other practices that Christians during the 17th-century would have found abhorrent.
Jinner also utilizes her voice in this work to give her opinions on the political atmosphere. In her observations for the month of January, she explains: “The Season is not more turbulent and unconstant then the Affairs of State, at his present beginning of the Dear: Divers eminent Persons are reduced to private condition, or worse: Imprisonment the deserts of others, and death of some, I should have said, rather their chance: for it falleth out sometimes in so depraved an Age as this, that the most honest, suffer moſt: Trave will not abound, the Treasure of the Common-wealth is much exhausted: pray to be delivered” (18). She appears critical of the government through her diction writing the affairs of state are “turbulent and unconstant” (18). She continues her political commentary in her March observations declaring: “I wish we had peace with Spain, plainer I dare not speak: some kind of probability there is, that the people may have some eminent Champions to assert their Liberties, not onely by Pen, but also by Counceland Arms: the Clergy still endeavour to keep the Cart on the Wheels. Novice-Lay Pulpetiers being more and more to decline their impudent and audacious publike bablings: the Sectaries decreaſe in credit and number” (19). Sarah Jinner uses her platform to express her opinions on the country’s enterprises in an effective way; the way she voices her views is powerful and acts as an example for other women, showing that they, just like Jinner, can develop their own responses to the actions of their country.
Sarah Jinner’s 1659 almanac contains a much larger list of advertisements than Mary Holden’s. It includes many texts to aid those interested in several topics such as politics, history, medicine, and more. One of the most interesting works Jinner names is The History of Magick by G. Naudeus, written in French and later translated into English.
I found this title and description quite striking and decided to research the content of the work. Bauman Rare Books who used to own a first edition copy of this text, explains that the goal of The History of Magick, is to defend scientists who had been accused of witchcraft. This elaborates on the distinction between the content of almanacs and the occult. Knowing that at the time scientists had to defend their practices shows how in this period the difference between medicine and magic was not always clear. Bauman Rare Books also explains that Naudeus established four groups of magic: “divine, theurgic, natural and witchcraft—distinguishing the first three as licit and witchcraft as illicit”6 . Further investigation of this advertisement can give insight into the beliefs of Sarah Jinner and how she viewed herself as a scientist who understood there were different types of “magic” one could be involved in.
Mary Holden’s document includes many unique components that make its point of view distinct from Sarah Jinner’s. Holden’s almanac includes lots of practical advice for her readers such as recommended payment plans, the dates of the reigning kings and queens of Britain, as well as a long list of fairs that were set to take place in 1688.
One small detail that I found interesting in this piece is how under her May observation paragraph she recommends to “plant Stock Gilliflowers in Beds in the full of the Moon” (11). This is not the only time Holden suggests doing something based on the state of the moon; she later writes “Sow Lettice, Radiſhes, and ſuch like Herbs at the full of the Moon, then they will not run to ſeed this month” (11). In many of her monthly observations, she asserts that planting seeds under a specific moon will be either helpful or hurtful. Her belief that the cycle of the moon will change the health of what is being planted is extremely intriguing and reminds me of how Jinner believes the use of crystals can help with medical issues. When read today, some of the ideas prevalent in both Jinner and Holden’s almanacs can remind one of the practices of those who participate in New Age spirituality as well as other nature-based religions.
Main Findings and Conclusion
Encoding texts helps one better understand their structural components as well as their content. In terms of both Jinner and Holden’s almanacs, these two works highlight how female authors were able to talk about women’s healthcare to a large audience. Jinner was able to use the genre of the text to her advantage to talk about reproductive health in a time when the topic was taboo. While most almanacs have a similar structure, the individual author can express their opinions and interests in this setting; Jinner and Holden both highlight health to inform with the hopes that their advice will aid those that do not have easy access to medical care. It is clear that Jinner’s almanac offers more medical advice for women than Holden’s does; however, it would be interesting to explore the complete collection of texts by these two authors and compare their full bodies of work. Another potential next step for this project could be to either explore other almanacs written by female authors during this time or to encode the pieces of male authors to compare how and even if the topic of female health is discussed.
- Jinner, Sarah, active 1658-1664. An Almanack and Prognostication for the Year of our Lord 1659 being the Third After Bissextile Or Leap Year: Calculated for the Meridian of London, and may Differently Serve for England, Scotland, and Ireland / by Sarah Jinner Student in Astrology. London, Printed by John Streater for the Company of Stationers, 1659. ProQuest. Web. 4 Aug. 2020.
- Holden, Mary. The Womens Almanack for the Year of our Lord 1688 being the Bissextile, Or Leap-Year: Calculated for the Meridian of London and may Indifferently Serve for any Part of England / by Mary Holden, Midwife in Sudbury and Student in Astrology. London, Printed by J. Millet for the Company of Stationers, 1688. ProQuest. Web. 4 Aug. 2020.
- Curth, Louise Hill. “The Medical Content of English Almanacs 1640–1700.” Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences, vol. 60, no. 3, 2005, pp. 255–282. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/24632196. Accessed 4 Aug. 2020.
- Curth, Louise Hill. English Almanacs, Astrology and Popular Medicine, 1550–1700. Manchester University Press, 2007. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctv5npjcx. Accessed 9 Jan. 2021.
- Thauvette, Chantelle. “Sex, Astrology, and the Almanacs of Sarah Jinner.” Early Modern Women, vol. 5, 2010, pp. 243–249. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/23541519. Accessed 2 Aug. 2020.
- Bauman Rare Books. “History of Magick First Edition – Gabriel Naude.” Bauman Rare Books, Bauman Rare Books, 2021, www.baumanrarebooks.com/rare-books/naude-gabriel/history-of-magick/89782.aspx.