Scotching Three Myths About Mary Seacole

Scotching Three Myths About Mary Seacole

British Journal of Healthcare Assistants
Volume 7, Issue 10, (October 2013)
pages 508-511

Elizabeth Anionwu, Emeritus Professor of Nursing
University of West London

Mary Seacole has received unprecedented media coverage due to the phenomenal success of the Operation Black Vote petition to keep her included in the national curriculum. In a period of a month, more than 35 000 people signed it since it went online on 3 January 2013. The nationwide and international response has been remarkable. So too the overwhelming display of respect for Mary Seacole, as demonstrated in the comments of thousands who signed the petition.

A leaked draft of the proposed new history curriculum was featured in MailOnline on 29 December 2012 (Petre, 2012). The report stated that ‘pupils will again have to study these traditional historic figures’ and examples included Oliver Cromwell, Lord Nelson and Winston Churchill. In contrast, Mary Seacole and other ‘social reformers’ such as Elizabeth Fry, Olaudah Equiano (ca 1745-1797) and Florence Nightingale would be excluded. This was followed on 31 December 2012 with an article in MailOnline headed: ‘The black Florence Nightingale and the making of a PC myth: one historian explains how Mary Seacole’s story never stood up’ (Walters G, 2012).

The petition led to extensive analysis in newspapers, online media and radio and in February, the Government made it clear Seacole would not after all be dropped from the national curriculum (Rawlinson, 2013). Mary Seacole generated a debate: on the one hand, there was acknowledgement of her achievements, while on the other hand doubts were raised as to whether she merited this acclaim and admiration. It was argued by some that myths created about Seacole need to be corrected; three examples are explored here…

…Myth 2: Mary Seacole should not be considered as a ‘black historical figure’

Seacole was, for example, voted the Greatest Black Briton in 2004 (Taylor, 2004). Some suggest that accolades of this nature are dubious, as Seacole was ‘three-quarters white’ and, it is claimed, more at ease with her white and Scottish roots than her black Jamaican heritage. Evidence to back this up uses selected extracts from her 1857 autobiography, Wonderful Adventures Of Mrs Seacole In Many Lands, including that her skin colour is ‘only a little brown’ and disparaging remarks she made about her black cooks…

Read the entire article here.

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