Carrie M. Best/A Digital Archive


By Carrie Best
From That Lonesome Road
The life and works of Florence Nightingale heroine of the Crimean War, has been immortalized in song and story and rightly so. Few indeed are those who have read about Mary Seacole the Black Jamaican Nurse called the "Yellow Doctress." who served alongside the Lady of the Lamp amid the disease and death in the front lines of battle.

Co-architect with Florence Nightingale of the modern plan of nursing her biographer in writing of her claimed that her skills exceeded that of any nurse of her times and comparable to that of the doctors with whom she served. She was born in Kingston, Jamaica, daughter of a Scottish Army officer and a Black Woman who operated a boarding house for Army officers.

Her yearning for medical knowledge led her to seek and to receive knowledge from army and hospital doctors of her time. During the outbreak of cholera she dispensed a secret remedy that cured cholera and dysentery.

She offered her services at the beginning of the War in 1854 and was informed by the war office that the battlefield was no place for a woman.

With $4000 capital Mary Seacole left England for Turkey and the battlefield where she met Florence Nightingale.

She started a combination hospital store dispensary, giving wholesome food for the sick - those who could or could not pay. As well, she attended to the wounded in the front lines braving death to share her knowledge of the dreaded cholera gained in the West Indies.

Mary Seacole was the first woman to enter Sebastopol from the English lines and the first to carry refreshments into the fallen city.

She remained in the Crimea enduring the hardships long after Florence Nightingale had been ordered home because of illness.

In 1857, ill and penniless she returned to England where many prominent people who had seen her devotion and sacrifices on the battlefield raised a public subscription in appreciation of her service. She returned to her native Jamaica where she died in 1881.

There were many other heroic Black women of history whose lives would have been an inspiration to Black and indeed all women had their stories been made available. The list of these relatively unknown women is a long one and includes such notables as Rosa B. Bowser, Lena J. Jackson, Mrs. Warren Logan, Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune, all distinguished educators by character and example as well as by profession.

Similarly there are numerous others of the 20th century to whom the Black race will be forever grateful for carrying on the traditions established by Sojourner Truth, Harriett Tubman, Mary Seacole and others.

© 1977 Clarion Publishing