Helen Rappaport

Oct 13, 2023

In Search of Mary Seacole

The Making of a Black Cultural Icon

Pegasus Books 2022

Raised in Jamaica, Mary Seacole first came to England in the 1850s after working in Panama. She wanted to volunteer as a nurse and aide during the Crimean War. When her services were rejected, she financed her own expedition to Balaclava, where her reputation for her nursing—and for her compassion—became almost legendary. 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.

More recently, her profile has been revived and her reputation lionized, with a statue of her standing outside St Thomas's Hospital in London and her portrait—rediscovered by the author—now on display in the National Portrait Gallery. In Search of Mary Seacole is the fruit of almost twenty years of research and reveals the truth about Seacole's personal life, her "rivalry" with Florence Nightingale, and other misconceptions.

Vivid and moving, In Search of Mary Seacole: The Making of a Black Cultural Icon (Pegasus Books, 2022) shows that reality is often more remarkable and more dramatic than the legend.

Katrina Anderson is a doctoral candidate at the University of Delaware.

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Katrina Anderson

Katrina Anderson is a doctoral candidate at the University of Delaware.

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