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Isabel Zendal Gómez (born 1773) was a Spanish nurse from Galicia who took part in the Balmis Expedition (1803-1806, Real Expedición Filantrópica de la Vacuna), which took smallpox vaccination to South America.[1][2]

She had previously been the supervisor or "rectoress" of an orphanage in A Coruña, and her role on the expedition was to take care of the group of 22, later 26, small orphan boys who carried the virus from which the vaccine was prepared.[2]

The three-year expedition aimed to vaccinate millions of people against smallpox, and had the support of king Charles IV of Spain whose daughter had died of the disease.


Her name has been spelled in some 30 different ways including Isabel Sendales y Gómez, Isabel López Gandalia, Ysabel Gómez Sandalla and Isabel Cendala y Gómez. A street in A Coruña, Galicia, Spain is named Calle Isabel Lopez Gandalia in her honour.[3]


In 1950 the World Health Organization recognised her as the first nurse in history to take part in an international mission.[4]

Julia Alvarez's novel Saving the World (2006, Algonquin Books ISBN 9781565125100) draws on Zendal's experience on the expedition.[5][6]


  1. ^ "Adéntrate en su Historia: Isabel Zendal". Asociación Isabel Zendal Gómez. Retrieved 2 October 2017.
  2. ^ a b "La dama de la vacuna, Isabel Zendal (1773-?)". Mujeres en la historia. Retrieved 2 October 2017.
  3. ^ Garcia, Rodri (11 September 2009). "La calle Isabel López Gandalia recoge una de las 30 versiones que hay de los apellidos de esta mujer". La Voz de Galicia. Retrieved 2 October 2017.
  4. ^ "La rectora Isabel, al descubierto". La Opinion A Coruna. 21 November 2014. Retrieved 2 October 2017.
  5. ^ "About the Book: Saving the World". Reading Group Guides. Retrieved 2 October 2017.
  6. ^ Alvarez, Julia. "Books: Saving the World". Julia Alvarez. Retrieved 2 October 2017.