Sunday, February 3rd, 2013

Black History: Nightingale wasn’t the only pioneer out there

Quick! If I say, “Crimea . . . Bosporus . . . lantern . . . nurse,” who do you think of? Most of the western world would answer, “Florence Nightingale,” the pioneer nursing reformer.

Several years ago, Talitha and I turned our backs on Westminster Abbey and the Tower of Big Ben and hiked across the Westminster Bridge toward St. Thomas’ Hospital, looking for the Florence Nightingale Museum, which we finally found hidden away on a side street. St. Thomas’ was where Miss Nightingale worked for change when she returned to London from Turkey at the end of the Crimean War. (I’ve reviewed the museum at my travel blog, Tell Me When to Pack.)

As always, the last stop and climax for Talitha was the gift shop. As always, she persuaded me to buy something for her–”Just one thing? Please?”

mary seacole

Mary Seacole, by Albert Charles Challen
National Portrait Gallery, London

The one thing was a book on whose cover was the picture of a black woman: Wonderful Adventures of Mrs. Seacole in Many Lands, her autobiography (available in several paperback editions and free for Kindle).

I’d never heard of Mary Seacole, who traveled from her Jamaica home to London to volunteer as a nurse for the Crimea. She was rejected, and so went to the Crimea at her own expense to labor for the war wounded and ill.

It seems common to think of Seacole and Nightingale as rivals, but as one writer says:

The manner of their service was drastically different. Even before she went to the Crimea, Nightingale knew that surmounting the bureaucratic problems of the army’s medical services and establishing a female nursing group which authorities and medical men
alike could respect was going to be more
important than any individual patient care she might do. Nightingale gained her reputation by the organization of nursing services during the Crimean War. . . .

Mrs. Seacole’s strength seemed to be more in hands-on activities such as direct patient care. She was an entrepreneur who was able to use her skills as a merchant to finance her medical and nursing practice. It is probably true that Mrs. Seacole had more practical experience, especially with tropical diseases. However, both administrative and hands-on care are necessary for the effective delivery of health care. Both women made a great contribution to the history of nursing in their own way and, hopefully, there is room for both of them. . . .

Mary Grant Seacole rose about the barriers of racial prejudice and demonstrated determinism, compassion, and caring and is a fitting role model for both blacks and non-blacks. There is much to admire in both of these women who had different roles in nursing but the same goal. Although forgotten for many years, Mrs. Seacole has been rediscovered.

Today, Florence Nightingale is a widely viewed as a heroine, as she should be. Mary Seacole was forgotten for a long time, but that is changing. One example: The design is complete for a monument to be erected on the St. Thomas’ Hospital grounds.

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  1. [...] I hope you’ll go to NoelPiper.com to find out a Black History discovery I made at the Florence Nightingale [...]

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