What we know as history takes a winning and popular side reflecting mass psychology because a winner writes it, and it is our human nature to win. Perhaps that is why the glare of Florence Nightingale eclipses the brilliance of Mary Seacole. Written in 1857, Wonderful Adventures of Mary Seacole in Many Lands is a vivid autobiographical touchy-feely account of one remarkable Mary Seacole who resisted herself being invisible and manifested her existence with a story to tell.
Seacole was a healer and entrepreneur born of a Scottish father and a Jamaican mother. Her medicinal knowledge and business acumen distinguished her from her contemporary peers. They often showed discrediting and unappreciative regard to such achievements and her person, not least because of their bias. Seacole identified herself as a British with pride and patriotism, especially when confronting Americans whom she observed to be egregiously racists with unruly behaviors. She took pride in feminine propriety and cultural sophistication, which made her look audaciously flamboyant to those who determined to ignore her virtue, one of whom was Florence Nightingale.
In the wake of the Crimean War, Seacole was imbued with the flames of patriotism and humanity to volunteer for Nightingale’s nurse corps. However, Nightingale and her nurses kept refusing her aspiration, calling her intention dubious because they suspected her setting up the famous Seacole’s Hotel at the battlefield by providing sensual comfort to soldiers with her women employees. Her noble courage and abundant charity were unreciprocated in non-institutionalized racist 19th-century zeitgeist that paved the way to systematic 20th-century scientific racism. It perceived non-white women as no more than sexual subjects of imprudence and passion. Being dark, Seacole was not seen for the flame of Nightingale’s candles.
Had it not been for Nightingale, would Seacole have been regarded as the angel of the Crimean War? Or was it because of Nightingale that Seacole became known? I think that would be harsh undue judgment for both great women. It would be a typical social dynamic of praising one to the detriment of the other. Yet, I believe Seacole deserves recognition for what she did and who she was worth noting. To me, Seacole embodies Queen Elizabeth I’s Tilbury Address that though she might have a woman’s body, she had a king’s stomach and heart. That says it.