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‘Leech Finders’ by George Walker, 1814

© 2021 Royal Pharmaceutical Society


Leeches, a type of parasitic worm that feeds on blood, were used in medical bloodletting. ‘Leech Finders’ depicts three women, wearing white bonnets, wading in water collecting leeches. It was the job of the leech finders, usually women, to collect these creatures for medical use. The leeches attached themselves to the legs and feet of the women who plucked them off and stored them in the little barrels of water. Doctors grew rich at the expense of these low paid women.


Leeches were such a popular treatment that by 1830 demand outstripped supply all over Europe.