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Last Updated: Thursday, 26 May, 2005, 19:39 GMT 20:39 UK
Fasting girl in biog dictionary
Newspaper sketch of Sarah Jacob being monitored by doctors
Sarah Jacob's death was said to be reported in London newspapers
A 12-year-old girl who starved to death after rumours she had not eaten for two years has been added to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

Sarah Jacob, from Carmarthenshire, became well known across the UK as The Welsh Fasting Girl in the late 1860s.

Doctors from London travelled to her bedside in 1869 to monitor her claims but she died within 10 days.

Editor Dr Phillip Carter said the story of faith versus science was a "classic example" of mid-19th Century society.

Sarah began refusing food in October 1867 after falling ill earlier that year, showing symptoms including paralysis and staring fits.

She was said to survive on only a few drops of water a day and followers of Christianity drew comparisons between this behaviour and that of saints.

Those who believed her were said to leave coins as offerings.

Sarah became a curiosity to doctors, leading to round-the-clock checks to establish whether her claims were true or merely a hoax.

'Faith over matter'

Four years after her death in December 1869, physician Sir William Gull formally named the disorder of anorexia nervosa.

Dr Carter said of her inclusion in the dictionary: "Sarah Jacob is a classic example of a way of looking at a particular society, in this case the mid-19th Century, and seeing how people debate particular issues.

"Sarah's family was deeply religious and Sarah herself was a very strict reader of the bible.

"Weighed against her were London-based physicians and medical experts who claimed that her condition couldn't be real and she was a hoax and she was faking the fact that she had gone without food for the two years.

"Really it's a contest between London and the rest of the United Kingdom, it's a contest between science and religion and it's a contest of faith over matter."

Sarah's case was featured in the highly-regarded medical journal the Lancet and, when she died, the story was said to have covered bill boards in London.

After her death, Sarah's parents were charged with child neglect and unlawful killing.

They were convicted of the neglect charge and were both sentenced to six months in prison.

Sarah Jacob is joined in the 2005 version of the dictionary by three other Welsh people - politician Cledwyn Hughes, New Testament scholar David Davies and poet David Rowlands, who all died in 2001.


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