Mother Seacole
August 12, 2008 10:05 AM   Subscribe

When Jamaican-born Mary Seacole, an experienced nurse, volunteered her services to the British Army during the Crimean War, she was rejected. Undaunted, she travelled to Crimea at her own expense and built a "mess-table and comfortable quarters," which she called the "British Hotel," and began taking care of soldiers. Her work was snubbed by Florence Nightingale, who called Seacole "a woman of bad character" and insinuated that the convalescent hotel was little more than a bordello, but Mary was beloved by the men in her care who called her "Mother Seacole." Her autobiography, Wonderful Adventures of Mrs. Seacole in Many Lands [link goes to full text and illustrations], was published a year after the war ended. Mary, who was feted by high-ranking military men and high-born civilians, went on to other nursing-related pursuits, including a stint as personal masseuse to Alexandra, Princess of Wales. Her work in Crimea was but one highlight in a very interesting life.

For more information:

Mary Seacole, the Forgotten Nightingale - Part 1, Part 2. [Be sure to have your ad blocker and/or pop-up blocker turned on. I thought the article was worth including, but there may be some annoyances for the unprotected].

Wikpedia has an extensive page on Mary Seacole's life.
posted by amyms (11 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
This is fantastic. Thank you so much for this post.
posted by perilous at 10:26 AM on August 12, 2008

Wow. I've read two biographies on Nightingale but there was no mention of Seacole.
posted by orange swan at 11:27 AM on August 12, 2008

I guess she is better known in England where she was popularly voted the "Greatest Black Britain".
posted by stbalbach at 11:33 AM on August 12, 2008

Thanks for this. I had never heard of her until this post and I'm glad I now know a little about this terrific person.
posted by hojoki at 12:15 PM on August 12, 2008

Fantastic post.
posted by mothershock at 12:17 PM on August 12, 2008

Yeah, this is a valuable FPP! Thanks so much.
posted by Fenriss at 12:28 PM on August 12, 2008

Fascinating, thank you.
posted by jokeefe at 12:32 PM on August 12, 2008

From W.H. Russell's introduction:

She is no Anna Comnena, who presents us with a verbose history, but a plain truth-speaking woman...

Hey now! Don't be dissing Anna Comnena! OK, she may have been a tad verbose, but she told some great stories and she was in on everything that happened. If you want to know about 12th-century Byzantium, she's your gal.

Now that I've got that quibble off my chest: Great post! I look forward to reading more of the book.
posted by languagehat at 12:52 PM on August 12, 2008

WTF Florence Nightingale??? I remember reading a story about her when I was a little girl. I think it was a giant reprinted issue of Wonder Woman. I would put a towel over my head and another around my waist and play wartime nurse/Molly Pitcher (I wasn't too into historical accuracy). Dangit, I'm disappointed.
posted by spec80 at 3:01 PM on August 12, 2008

I had heard about Mary Seacole many years ago briefly and had wanted to know more, so this is a pleasant post to see. Enjoyed reading her 'Wonderful Adventures'
posted by eye of newt at 9:07 PM on August 13, 2008

In her autobiography:

A good-looking, bold woman, with fine, bad eyes, and a determined bearing; dressed ostentatiously in perfect male attire, with shirt-collar turned down over a velvet lapelled coat, richly worked shirt-front, black hat, French unmentionables, and natty, polished boots with spurs. She carried in her hand a handsome riding-whip, which she could use as well in the streets of Cruces as in the towns of Europe; for an impertinent American, presuming – perhaps not unnaturally – upon her reputation, laid hold jestingly of the tails of her long coat, and as a lesson received a cut across his face that must have marked him for some days.

This woman might just show in my dreams tonight in some form (at least I can hope).
posted by eye of newt at 9:31 PM on August 13, 2008

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