In the annual RCN History of Nursing Forum lecture, Helen Rappaport explores the making of Mary Seacole as a cultural icon, delving into her contributions to nursing and medicine alongside her holistic practice.
Having been raised in Jamaica and worked in Panama, Mary Seacole came to England in the 1850s and volunteered to help out during the Crimean War. When her services were turned down, she financed her own expedition to Balaclava, where she earned her reputation as a nurse and for her compassion. Popularly known as ‘Mother Seacole’, she was the most famous Black celebrity of her generation – an extraordinary achievement in Victorian Britain. She regularly mixed with illustrious royal and military patrons and they, along with grateful war veterans, helped her recover financially when she faced bankruptcy. However, after her death in 1881, she was largely forgotten for many years.
More recently, her profile has been revived and her reputation lionised, with a statue of her standing outside St Thomas’s Hospital in London and her portrait – rediscovered by the author – is now on display in the National Portrait Gallery. Rappaport reveals the truth about Seacole’s personal life and her ‘rivalry’ with Florence Nightingale. Often the reality proves to be even more remarkable and dramatic than the legend.
In Search of Mary Seacole by Helen Rappaport is out in paperback on 17 February with Simon & Schuster.
This event is open to all and you can attend virtually or in-person at the Royal College of Nursing, 20 Cavendish Square, London W1G 0RN.
Doors open at 6pm and the talk starts at 6.30pm. Please book your free ticket here: https://www.rcn.org.uk/news-and-events/events/lib-history-of-nursing-lecture-290323