Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Mary Seacole Strikes Back - The Truth about Mary Seacole

It is so important that we tell our own stories.

The UK government recently proposed plans to remove Mary Seacole and Olaudah Equiano from the national curriculum.

An event I attended on Saturday, held by London Black History Walks, examined the controversy.

The national curriculum only briefly mentioned Mary Seacole, as a Victorian woman who could be studied. The Daily Mail recently claimed that Mary Seacole's story was a myth.  See below for more details. 

The following information was supplied by Professor Elizabeth Anionwu at this event.

Life of Mary Seacole

Mary Seacole was a 19th century Jamaican businesswoman who worked as a doctoress. She saved many lives during outbreaks of cholera and yellow fever in Jamaica and Panama.

Seacole treated Lord Nelson and the future King William IV, both of whom highly praised and recommended her.

When she learned that Florence Nightingale was recruiting nurses to serve the wounded soldiers in the Crimean War, Seacole travelled to London, paying her own way. She approached Nightingale for help with finding accommodation in London.

Nightingale later wrote of Seacole as a “bad woman” who ran a “bad house”. The truth was that Mary Seacole raised the funds, went to the Crimea and treated the soldiers there. Her experience of tropical medicine greatly benefited them.

Nightingale has been remembered as the “Lady with the Lamp”, but the truth is that it was Mary Seacole who went to the battlefield to treat and comfort the soldiers. Nightingalle's hospital was across the sea, in Scutari.

Mary Seacole was well loved in her lifetime, frequently appearing in the newspapers. She was later forgotten, but the current generation have revived her memory and voted her the Greatest Black Briton on Patrick Vernon's 100 Great Black Britons site.

The Daily Mail Controversy

The Daily Mail claimed that
  • Mary Seacole did not consider herself to be Black;
  • she did not earn the medals she wore, but stole them; and
  • she did not receive formal nursing training [in fact, the first formal nursing training was established in 1860, after the Crimean War].   
Read her autobiography to find out the truth.  Click here for an article about Mary Seacole by ProfessorAnionwu on the Operation Black Vote website.  

Professor Anionwu is helping to raise funds for the erection of a statue of Mary Seacole. 

Although we have a great deal of information and documentation about Mary Seacole, a national newspaper was able to publish these distortions. It is so important that we tell our own stories.  

The National Curriculum

Information about Mary Seacole and Olaudah Equiano is now a mandatory part of the national curriculum. However, other things have been removed from the national curriculum.

Please come to my next Griot Workshop to learn more about telling our own stories.

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