Lady Mary Worthley Montague (1689 – 1762) was an English aristocrat and writer, described as “the very first example of a secular work by a woman about the Muslim Orient”. In 1716, her husband was appointed British ambassador in Istanbul and where they spent 2 years.
The story of her voyage and of her observations of Eastern life is told in ‘Letters from Turkey’, a series of lively letters full of graphic descriptions; Letters is often credited as being an inspiration for subsequent female traveller/writers, as well as for much Orientalist art.
While in Turkey, she visited the women in their ‘zenanas’, learning Turkish, making friends and learning about Turkish customs. She recorded a particularly amusing incident in which a group of Turkish women, horrified by the sight of the corset she was wearing, exclaimed that “the husbands in England were much worse than in the East, for [they] tied up their wives in little boxes, the shape of their bodies”. Lady Mary wrote that nowhere else were women as free as they were in the Ottoman Empire.