I was intrigued to read that while Florence Nightingale and 38 nurses left London on Oct. 21, 1854 for the Crimean War, one nurse did not.
Mary Seacole, a creole woman of mixed-race from Jamaica. And I had never heard of her.
Seacole was taught herbal remedies and folk medicine by her mother, who kept a boarding house in Kingston, Jamaica for disabled European soldiers and sailors. Drawing on her experience with tropical diseases such as Yellow Fever, Seacole traveled to London to volunteer as a nurse.
She applied to the War Office and asked to be sent to the Crimea but was refused, mainly because of prejudice against women's involvement in medicine at the time. (Nursing was still usually done by prostitutes and other women of desperate means.)
The British Government changed its mind but she was not included in the party of 38 nurses chosen by Nightingale, probably due to her darker skin color.
So Seacole borrowed the money to make the 4,000-mile journey by herself.
Seacole was impoverished after the war ended and she returned to London. A benefit concert was held in her honor:
She gave her aid to all in need
To hungry, sick and cold
Open hand and heart, ready to give
Kind words, and acts, and gold
And now the good soul is "in a hole"
What soldier in all the land
To set her on her feet again
Won't give a helping hand?
Dec. 6, 1856
Sadly, Nightingale didn't have kind things to say about Seacole. Did she have just reasons, or was "The Lady with the Lamp" guilty of the petty prejudices of the times?