Magazine article The New Yorker

Two Nurses

Magazine article The New Yorker

Two Nurses

Article excerpt

Florence Nightingale strongly disapproved of Mary Jane Seacole, but that did not stop either of them. The former invented the profession of nursing and became famous for her work on the battlefields of the Crimean War. The latter grew up in Jamaica, knew native remedies learned from her Jamaican mother, had light skin because of her Scottish father, married a man named Edwin Horatio Hamilton Seacole (said to be the godson, or possibly the illegitimate son, of Admiral Nelson), supported herself by selling jams, pickles, and spices after her husband's death, travelled widely, and offered to nurse soldiers in the Crimean War with Nightingale. Turned down, Mary Seacole went to the Crimea anyway. She paid her own expenses, tended the wounded on both sides, constructed a hotel-clinic from scrap, and handed out wine and hot tea to the soldiers. They loved her. Nightingale wished she would go elsewhere.

These days, if you're from Jamaica, and you're a nurse, you know of Mary Seacole. "In our modern global society, she is someone we as Caribbean women model ourselves on," said Minna Hamilton LaFortune, the president of the Society for the Advancement of the Caribbean Diaspora, the other night. The event was a tribute to Mary Seacole, part of a celebration of Women's History Month, at St. Francis College, in Brooklyn. LaFortune, the mistress of ceremonies, wore a bright-red blazer, black slacks, and a hemispherical gold lapel pin.

Bullet points of the evening:

[middle dot] Mary Seacole was also an author. Her autobiography, "Wonderful Adventures of Mrs. Seacole in Many Lands," became a best-seller in 1857.

[middle dot] Claudette Powell, R.N., M.A., the president of the Jamaica Nurses Group of New York and the vice-president of the Caribbean-American Nurses Association, served as moderator: "This evening, we also want to recognize the noble profession of nursing."

[middle dot] A prayer led by the Reverend Gloria Wells, of the Joy Church Deeper Life Christian Fellowship Ministries, asked that the evening's presentations "give a good educational feeling."

[middle dot] Mary Seacole spent her life helping others to be healthy, and, in light of that, Donareen Denny, R.N., a nurse educator at SUNY Downstate Medical Center, made a short speech about the higher risk of stroke among black women. Time is critical, she said. …

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