See that lady in the chair up there? Long story short: she’s more awesome than you, she’s more awesome than me, she’s more awesome than fried bacon Nutella, and she is more awesome than Florence Nightingale.
That lady is Mary Seacole, and this is a
Mary Seacole Appreciation Post
When the Crimean War broke out, Mary Seacole signed up as a nurse. Unfortunately, she was the daughter of a Scotsman and a Jamaican free woman in the Victorian British Empire, which meant she was treated with the kind of respect we reserve for shoplifters and murderers.
Well, actually, we still allow murderers and shoplifters to vote, so scratch that and let’s just say fuck Westminster and everyone in it in the 19th century. Except John Stuart Mill, John Stuart Mill was alright, but only because of Harriet Taylor.
Mary Seacole wants to go help out soldiers fighting for the government, the government gives her a big fat middle finger. What does Mary Seacole do? She says “fuck that noise” and goes to the Crimean Peninsula by her goddamn self. When she gets to the war, she goes to see Florence Nightingale: “Hey, Florence, I want to make people stop dying.” Nightingale says, “no, you’re not white enough and you’ll probably run a brothel or something” and sends her off. So what does Mary Seacole do? She builds a hotel.
And I don’t mean, “she buys a shack someone left behind,” no, she builds a hotel, out of wood and iron scraps, on a motherfreaken battlefield, with the help of a few locals who aren’t dead yet. Take a couple of seconds to realize just how much of a badass you have to be to pull that off.
So, she’s got a hotel for British soldiers, all is fine and dandy, right? She’s safely away from the front-line serving tea to officers in her lovely little inn, right? Wrong! Every morning she makes like a gallon of food, loads it on donkeys and goes TOWARDS the explosions, because a bit of murderous artillery isn’t gonna stop her being awesome. She spends basically the ENTIRE war getting shot at, bringing food to soldiers and dealing with bullet-wounds. And because she’s NOT a nurse or a British doctor, she understands that it’s a really good idea to wash her hands when dealing with sick people, and that keeping wounds clean is the no. 1 way of not putting ten tons of infection in them. Hell, while she’s out on the battlefield anyway, she even heals the ENEMY soldiers because a little bit of war isn’t a good enough reason to make her stop being the badassest lady for twelve million miles around.
Over where Nightingale is messing around, basically if you weren’t infected when you got in, you were GONNA be once you’d been there a while. Soldiers are croaking left and right and all around because they’re stuffed wall to wall and no-one knows how to spell the word “hygiene” yet. Not Nightingale’s fault, really, so much as all the stupid male doctors who didn’t understand how to listen to really smart Hungarians. You got shot in the Crimean, you wanted to go see Seacole. Cholera, yellow fever, dysentery? Seacole’s got your back. Hungry? Seacole makes, like, the BEST rice-pudding.
I want you to understand that when the Crimean War breaks out, Seacole is 48 years old. This at a time when people had a serious tendency to die before they were 30. It’s basically the equivalent of a 70-year old going to Afghanistan to help topple the Taliban!
And then, after the war is over, not only is she one of the last people to go home, she’s also dirt poor because she spent all her money buying food and medicine for the soldiers and when the war was over she had to sell it to the freaken Russians just to get the creditors off her back. Poor and outliving like 80% of the general population ALREADY, she goes home to live another 25 years, as if she had yet to prove how much tougher she was than absolutely everybody else alive on the planet.
She’s impoverished, old and living in a society that mostly hates her for reflecting slightly less sunlight than they do, so what does she spend her time doing? Raising funds for charity. Like, obviously! Then, in 1857, the Indian Rebellion breaks out and people start dying again. At this point Seacole has spent over 3 years in war and poverty, basically having a footrace with Death, but the first damn thing she does is try and go to India to help people out. It takes the freaken Secretary of War to get her to stay home.
In 1881, Seacole dies at 76, and for the next 100 years, all anyone can talk about is how awesome Florence Nightingale was. It’s not until now in the 21st freaken century that anyone is particularly bothering to remember the single most awesome Scottish-Jamaican super-nurse ever, or include her in textbooks and history-classes. My point is this: let’s remember her on Tumblr.
"I have witnessed her devotion and her courage … and I trust that England will never forget one who has nursed her sick, who sought out her wounded to aid and succour them and who performed the last offices for some of her illustrious dead."—William Howard Russel, one of the first modern war-correspondents.