Who Was Nurse Mary Jane Seacole?

(and, on bias in education)

On the bus last week I was reading the latest New Yorker and came upon a short, front-end piece by Ian Frazier on Mary Jane Seacole, a Jamaican nurse who tended wounded soldiers in the Crimean War. As best as I can recall, I’d never heard before of Florence Nightingale’s colleague.

Wiki Commons image

From Two Nurses:

Florence Nightingale strongly disapproved of Mary Jane Seacole, but that did not stop either of them. The former invented the profession of nursing and became famous for her work on the battlefields of the Crimean War. The latter grew up in Jamaica, knew native remedies learned from her Jamaican mother…supported herself by selling jams, pickles, and spices after her husband’s death, travelled widely, and offered to nurse soldiers in the Crimean War with Nightingale. Turned down, Mary Seacole went to the Crimea anyway. She paid her own expenses, tended the wounded on both sides, constructed a hotel-clinic from scrap, and handed out wine and hot tea to the soldiers. They loved her…

Moving beyond the certainly fact-checked details on the legend of Mary Seacole, I learned that there is a Society for the Advancement of the Caribbean Diaspora, based in Brooklyn, a borough in the city where I live. And confirmed that March was Woman’s History Month.

Seacole’s autobiography, Wonderful Adventures of Mrs. Seacole in Many Lands, was an 1857 best-seller, Frazier wrote. According to the University of Pennsylvania’s Digital Library, James Blackwood, a 19th Century London publisher based at Paternoster Row, put forth her story.

So much to learn here. I wonder if anyone’s written a Seacole biography other than her own?


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  • There is an excellent biography of Mary Seacole written by Jane Robinson, published in 2005. The New Yorker article made mention that there are plans for a memorial statue for Mary Seacole. I am the Vice-Chairperson, the memorial will be in the grounds of St Thomas’ hospital in London, once the outstanding funds are raised! Follow the campaign on twitter.com/seacolestatue or via: http://www.maryseacoleappeal.org.uk

  • Hello Elaine, sorry was in a bit of a rush with original posting. Here are more details: hardback published in 2005 in London, UK by Constable & Robinson. Paperback published in 2006 by Robinson, London. Cheers from London! Elizabeth

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