Mary Seacole

I just finished reading a very long but interesting biography of Mary Seacole. When I mentioned her to my husband, he immediately knew who I was talking about. He’s from Jamaica where Mary was born. She was born on November 23, 1805 to a Scottish father and Jamaican mother. Her father was a soldier in the British Army and her mother was a free woman. Mrs. Seacole was a doctress, a healer who used traditional Caribbean and African herbal remedies. She ran Blundell Hall, a boarding house, considered one of the best hotels in Kingston. It was from watching and helping her mother, that Mary became interested in nursing.

Mary was proud of her Scottish ancestry and called herself a Creole. Legally, she was classified a mulatto, a multiracial person with limited political rights. She was also very proud of her black ancestry. “I have a few shades of deeper brown upon my skin which shows me related—and I am proud of the relationship—to those poor mortals whom you once held enslaved, and whose bodies America still owns.” Being the educated daughter of a Scottish officer and a free black woman with a respectable business would have afforded Mary a high position in Jamaican society.

Mary married Edwin Horatio Hamilton Seacole, rumored to have been the illegitimate son of Horatio Nelson and his mistress, Emma, Lady Hamilton. Edwin was a merchant. The newly married couple moved to Black River where they opened a provisions store which failed to succeed. In the early 1840s, they returned to Blundell Hall.

During the years 1843 and 1844, disasters struck Mary and her family. They lost much of the boarding house in a fire on Kingston. Blundell Hall burned down and was replaced by the New Blundell Hall which was deemed “better than before.” She lost her husband and then her mother. Overcome with grief, Mary didn’t move for days. Then she composed herself and assumed the role of manager of her mother’s hotel and plunged herself into work, turning down many offers of marriage. She became a widely respected among the European military visitors to Jamaica who frequently stayed at Blundell Hall.

During the cholera epidemic of 1850 which killed 32,000 Jamaicans, she treated patients and blamed the outbreak to infection brought on a steamer from New Orleans, Louisiana. Shortly after she arrived in Cruces, Panama where her half-brother moved, cholera struck. Familiar with the disease and having treated those who had the infection, Mary moved into action, treating the first victim who survived. This did wonders for her reputation and many patients were brought to her as the infection spread. The epidemic raged, causing many casualties which filled Mary with exasperation with the victims, claiming that they “bowed down before the plague in slavish despair.” Towards the end, she too became sick but managed to pull through.

During the Crimean War, disease broke out and hundreds perished, mostly from cholera. Hundreds more died while waiting to be shipped out or on the voyage. It was during this time that Florence Nightingale was charged with the responsibility of forming a detachment of nurses to be sent to the hospital to save lives. After suitable candidates were selected following interviews, Florence left for Turkey. Mary tried to join the second group of nurses to the Crimea. She applied to the War Office and other government offices but arrangements for departure were already underway. She applied to the Crimean Fund, a fund raised by the public to support the wounded in Crimea for sponsorship to travel there but again, she was refused. Resolute, she decided to travel to Crimea using her own resources and to open a British Hotel.

On the ship Malta, Mary met a doctor who recently left Scutari, where Florence Nightingale was. He wrote Mary a letter of recommendation to Florence. Mary visited Florence at the Barrack Hospital in Scutari, asking for a bed for the night as she planned to travel to Balaclava the following day to join Thomas Day, her Caribbean acquaintance. In her memoirs, Mary mentioned that Florence was very friendly. They found a bed for her and breakfast was sent to her in the morning.

As she had planned, Mary opened the British Hotel near Balaclava. Meals were served there and there was outside catering. It prospered. Meals and supplies were provided for the soldiers. One frequent visitor was Alexis Soyer, a French chef who advised her to concentrate on food and beverage service and not to have beds for visitors as the few either slept on board the ships in the harbor or in tents in the camps.

The Special Correspondent of The Times newspaper highly commended Mary’s work, citing, “Mrs. Seacole…doctors and cures all manner of men with extraordinary success. She is always in attendance near the battle-field to aid the wounded, and has earned many a poor fellow’s blessings.”

Florence Nightingale acknowledged favorable views of Mary to Soyer and Mary had told him how kindly Florence had given her board and lodging. When Soyer mentioned Mary’s inquiries of her, Florence responded pleasantly and with a smile that , “I should like to see her before she leaves, as I hear she has done a great deal of good for the poor soldiers.” Yet, Florence didn’t want her nurses to associate with Mary and in a letter to her brother-in-law, Sir Harry Verney, she insinuated that Mary had kept a “bad house” in Crimea and was responsible for “much drunkenness and improper conduct”. This letter came at the time when Mary approached Sir Harry for the opportunity to assist in the Franco-Prussian War because of his involvement in the British National Society for the Relief of the Sick and Wounded.

In spite of this, Mary moved in royal circles. Prince Victor of Hohenlohe-Langenburg, a nephew of Queen Victoria was one of Mary’s customers in Crimea when he was a young Lieutenant. Perhaps as a token of gratitude and appreciation, he carved a marble bust of her in 1871 which was exhibited in the Royal Academy summer exhibition a year later. Mary also became the personal masseuse to the Prince of Wales who suffered from white leg rheumatism.

Sadly, while she was well-known at the end of her life, Mary quickly faded from public memory and her work in Crimea was overshadowed by Florence Nightingale’s for many years. And there were controversies surrounding Mary. It has been argued that she is being promoted at the expense of Florence Nightingale. According to Professor Lynn McDonald, “…support for Seacole has been used to attack Nightingale’s reputation as a pioneer in public health and nursing.”

There are claims that her achievements have been exaggerated for political reasons and a plan to erect a statue of her at St. Thomas’ Hospital in London, describing her as “pioneer nurse” has sparked some outrage. According to those who oppose, Mary has no connection with the institution whereas Florence Nightingale did. In Dr. Lang’s opinion, she “does not qualify as a mainstream figure in the history of nursing.”

Mary’s name appears in an appendix to the Key Stage 2 National Curriculum, as an example of a significant Victorian historical figure but teachers are not required to include her in their lessons. At the end of 2012, it was reported that she would be removed from the National Curriculum. This was opposed by Greg Jenner, the historical consultant to Horrible Histories. He believes that removing Mary from the curriculum would be a mistake in spite of the fact that her medical achievements have been exaggerated.

In January 2013, Operation Black Vote launched a petition to request that Education Secretary Michael Gove not drop Mary Seacole or Oloudah Equiano from the National Curriculum. Reverend Jesse Jackson and others wrote a letter to The Times, protesting the proposed removal of Mary Seacole from the National Curriculum. The campaign was a success as Michael Gove was forced to concede after receiving approximately 35,000 signatures.

Today, Mary Seacole is remembered in the Caribbean. She was posthumously awarded the Jamaican Order of Merit in 1991. In 1954, the headquarters of the Jamaican General Trained Nurses’ Association was christened “Mary Seacole House”. This was quickly followed by the naming of the University of the West Indies in Mona, Jamaica. A ward at the Kingston Public Hospital is named in her memory. In Britain, buildings and organization now commemorate her by name and near the bottom of Fleet Street in London a Seacole Lane existed until it was redeveloped in the 1980s.

Notes to Women celebrate this pioneer in healing and helping those who were sick. She may not have been a registered nurse and her achievements may have been exaggerated but what matters is that she had the heart for nursing. There are some in the nursing profession who not in it because it is their passion. Mary Seacole had the heart and the passion for nursing and she was a blessing to many of those whom she treated. We think that this phenomenal woman should be recognized for what she has done.

She is a role model for all of us.  She was proud of her heritage.  She defied racism and bigotry and she embarked on her calling to help others, not allowing rejection or any other obstacles to get in her way.  If you have a goal in life, make it happen.  Don’t dream.  Act.  Florence Nightingale was not the only light.  Like Mary Seacole, you can be light too wherever you are.

I must say that I don’t appreciate your friend’s kind wishes with respect to my complexion. If it had been as dark as a nigger’s, I should have been just as happy and useful, and as much respected by those whose respect I value: and as to his offer of bleaching me, I should, even if it were practicable, decline it without any thanks.

I have a few shades of deeper brown upon my skin which shows me related to those poor mortals you once held enslaved, and whose bodies America still owns. Having this bond, and knowing what slavery is, having seen with my eyes and heard with my ears proof positive enough of its horrors, is it surprising that I should be somewhat impatient of the airs of superiority which many Americans have endeavoured to assume over me.

I have always noticed what actors children are……….whatever disease was most prevalent in Kingston, be sure my poor doll soon contracted it…….before long it was very natural that I should seek to extend my practice, and so I found other patients in the cats and dogs around me.

Doubts and suspicions rose in my heart for the first and last time, thank Heaven. Was it possible that American prejudices against colour had some root here? Did these ladies shrink from accepting my aid because my blood flowed beneath a somewhat duskier skin than theirs?

 

Mary Secole

 

Sources:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Seacole; http://www.biographyonline.net/humanitarian/quotes/mary-seacole.html

Education of Women and Girls

Just recently I read that Sir Thomas More placed great importance on the education of women.  Here’s an exerpt from his biography on Wikipedia:

More took a serious interest in the education of women, an attitude that was highly unusual at the time. Believing women to be just as capable of academic accomplishment as men, More insisted upon giving his daughters the same classical education given to his son.  The academic star of the family was More’s eldest daughter Margaret, who attracted much admiration for her erudition, especially her fluency in Greek and Latin.  More recounted a moment of such admiration in a letter to Margaret in September 1522, when the Bishop of Exeter was shown a letter written by Margaret to More:

When he saw from the signature that it was the letter of a lady, his surprise led him to read it more eagerly… he said he would never have believed it to be your work unless I had assured him of the fact, and he began to praise it in the highest terms… for its pure Latinity, its correctness, its erudition, and its expressions of tender affection. He took out at once from his pocket a portague [A Portuguese gold coin]… to send to you as a pledge and token of his good will towards you.

 

The success More enjoyed in educating his daughters set an example for other noble families. Even Erasmus became much more favourable towards the idea once he witnessed the accomplishments of More’s daughters.

It is wonderful to hear or read about men who don’t have a problem with women being educated.  As a woman I cannot imagine not enjoying the benefits of a good education.  Growing up, I was exposed to great works of literature.  I developed the love for reading and writing since I was a child.  I remember the big red Oxford dictionaries I always consulted whenever I came across a new word.  My parents took pride in sending my sisters and me to good schools so that we could get quality education.

I was touched by Michelle Obama’s story of how hard her father worked so that she and her brother could get a good education.  Michelle attended  Whitney Young High School, Chicago’s first magnet high school, where she was a classmate of Jesse Jackson’s daughter Santita.  She was on the honor roll for four years, took advanced placement classes, a member of the National Honor Society and served as student council treasurer.  She graduated in 1981 as the salutatorian of her class.  Michelle attended Princeton University and Harvard Law School.  Michelle stated in an address to students at a public school in Chile that she and her husband, Barak owe their successes to good education.  She believes that education prepared her for the world.  “Growing up there was never any question in my parents’ mind that we would go to college. … And they always told us that even if we weren’t rich, we were just as smart and just as capable as anyone else. … They thought us that if we dreamed big enough and if we worked hard enough anything was possible.”

What are the benefits of educating women and girls?  Higher rates of high school and university education among women, particularly in developing countries, have helped them make inroads to professional careers and better-paying salaries and wages. Education increases a woman’s (and her partner and the family’s) level of health and health awareness. Furthering women’s levels of education and advanced training also tends to lead to later ages of initiation of sexual activity and first intercourse, later age at first marriage, and later age at first childbirth, as well as an increased likelihood to remain single, have no children, or have no formal marriage and alternatively, have increasing levels of long-term partnerships. It can lead to higher rates of barrier and chemical contraceptive use (and a lower level of sexually transmitted infections among women and their partners and children), and can increase the level of resources available to women who divorce or are in a situation of domestic violence. It has been shown, in addition, to increase women’s communication with their partners and their employers, and to improve rates of civic participation such as voting or the holding of office.   Improving girls’ educational levels has been demonstrated to have clear impacts on the health and economic future of young women, which in turn improves the prospects of their entire community.

When you educate a girl in Africa, everything changes. She’ll be three times less likely to get HIV/AIDS, earn 25 percent more income and have a smaller, healthier family – CAMFED USA

Unfortunately, barriers to education for girls remain.  In some African countries, such as Burkina Faso, girls are unlikely to attend school for such basic reasons as a lack of private latrine facilities for girls.

I have also heard the saying that education is the greatest weapon to fight poverty.  According to Aid For Africa, “when a girl in Africa gets the chance to go to school and stay in school, the cycle of poverty is broken and things change.”  There is nothing more heartbreaking than a girl who wants to become a nurse or a teacher but she can’t because for many poor girls in Africa culture and tradition often keeps them at home while their brothers go to school.

Education can take a woman a long way and open many doors of opportunity.  It gives her a sense of accomplishment and value.  She is not limited.  She can dream big and reach big goals.  Education improves gender equality and empowers girls and women.  Education could mean something as simple as wanting to learn how to write your name.

“ Education is a lifetime inheritance. It is a lifetime insurance.
Education is the key to success, a bus to a brighter future for
all our people. Without education, there is little that a person
can do—actually there is nothing a person can do without an
education. A person is never too old for knowledge; as my people,
the Xhosa, always say, ‘Imfundo ayigugelwa’ (Every day is an
education; you learn something new). We must be knowledge
seekers and we must strive for a better life through education.”
ZUKISWA, AGE 16 (Ubuntu Education Fund) Kwa Magxaki Township, Port Elizabeth, South Africa

For those of us who have access to education, let us be thankful and pass down the importance of learning to our children, especially our daughters.  Let’s remember the women who fought to have the right to education and to vote and all the rights that were once denied to women.  Let us think of the mothers and fathers whose parents could not afford to send them to school or university but they in turn worked hard to provide their children with quality education.  Let us think of the women and girls who live in countries where their education is not valued.  Let us do what we can to help our own children succeed in life or prepare them for the world through education.  And let us see what we can do to help organizations like CAMFED, Aid for Africa, Global Fund for Children to help women and girl to have the quality of life they should have through education.

Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.
Nelson Mandela

“You educate a man; you educate a man. You educate a woman; you educate a generation.”
― Brigham Young

“Segregation shaped me; education liberated me.”
― Maya Angelou

“There is no tool for development more effective than the education of girls and women.”Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan

“Give a girl an education and introduce her properly into the world, and ten to one but she has the means of settling well, without further expense to anybody. ”
― Jane Austen

“Education is our passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to the people who prepare for it today.”
― Malcolm X

“Educate a boy, and you educate an individual. Educate a girl, and you educate a community.
African proverb via Greg Mortensen”
― Greg MortensonThree Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace … One School at a Time

“Knowledge will bring you the opportunity to make a difference.”
― Claire Fagin

“I learned to dream through reading, learned to create dreams through writing, and learned to develop dreamers through teaching. I shall always be a dreamer.”
― Sharon M. Draper

“Education is the movement from darkness to light.”
― Allan Bloom

“Learning is important. It is a way to make a life better for yourself and your family.”
― Rosie ThomasIris And Ruby

Sources:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Morehttp://www.foxnews.com/world/2011/03/21/michelle-obama-education-prepared-world/http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Female_educationhttp://us.camfed.org/site/PageServer?pagename=home_index;  http://www.aidforafrica.org/girls/http://web.worldbank.org/WBSITE/EXTERNAL/TOPICS/EXTEDUCATION/0,,contentMDK:20298916~menuPK:617572~pagePK:148956~piPK:216618~theSitePK:282386,00.htmlhttp://www.globalfundforchildren.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/GFC_AnnualReport_2002-03.pdf