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Silenced in history: A historical study of Mary Seacole

Bonnie McKay Harmer, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


This study sought to uncover the factors that contributed to the historical disappearance of Mary Seacole from the literature from 1900 through to the 1980s. By the late 1990s she was celebrated as a nursing pioneer and the first nurse practitioner. Seacole, a Creole woman from Jamaica with outstanding clinical skills, was refused the opportunity to join the nurses who Nightingale recruited for the Crimean War campaign. Undaunted by the rejection, Seacole paid for her own voyage and established a boarding house and clinic near the front lines. Her courage and positive patient outcomes were recognized by the military officers. After the war, she returned to London, bankrupt, but as a celebrated heroine. Her 1857 autobiographical narrative, Wonderful Adventures of Mrs. Seacole in Many Lands, was a best seller and helped to restore her financial status. A discourse analysis of this book was completed to reveal hidden meanings in the narrative. These changes were often subtle and included alterations in the sequencing, structure and style of her narration. Next, historical comparative research methodology was used to construct a case that placed the discourse analysis findings within the historical context of Victorian England. Mary Seacole's historical case was compared to Florence Nightingale's. The similarities and differences were identified. The analysis suggests that multiple factors impacted Seacole's place in history, but her inability to compete with the privileges associated with Nightingale's upper-class status was the greatest barrier. Other key factors were Seacole's race, her embodiment of the feminist ideal, and the emergent values of the nursing profession. ^

Subject Area

Biography|History, Black|Health Sciences, Nursing

Recommended Citation

Harmer, Bonnie McKay, "Silenced in history: A historical study of Mary Seacole" (2010). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3398099.