Imagine that in your lifetime you could travel from tropical Jamaica and Panama to London at the height of the British Empire. You could see Crimea (now Ukraine) as a primary center for trade to the East, fought over by Russia and the powerful Ottoman Empire. Imagine yourself nursing men back to health during the greatest cholera outbreak Panama has ever seen or selling goods to gold prospectors on their way to the glittering promise of gold in California. Imagine offering words of comfort to war heroes dying on the battlefield or serving your own cooking to the shaken soldiers who survived. And then imagine, at the end of it all, writing a best-selling book, endorsed by the King of England himself. This was the life of Mary Seacole, and these were just a few of her adventures.
Mary Seacole, a woman of mixed race born in Jamaica at the beginning of the nineteenth century, is a rarely talked about and exciting figure to introduce during Black History Month. With her captivating story and dynamic sense of exploration, she is a true inspiration. Her story encourages young people to follow their wanderlust and diversify their talents.
Seacole is a role model for today’s students in another way as well. As a funny quirk, she never admitted to her age. She wrote instead in her book, Wonderful Adventures of Mrs. Seacole in Many Lands, “As a female, and a widow, I may be well excused giving the precise date of this important event. But I do not mind confessing that the century and myself were both young together, and that we have grown side-by-side into age and consequence.”
For students of today who are themselves “young together” with a new century, Mary Seacole serves as an example of what can happen, and change, in a lifetime and how far a person, despite limitations, can journey. To read more of Mary’s story, check out our article, “Mary Seacole: Adventurer in Jamaica, Panama, and the Crimean War.”
To find more resources to celebrate Black History Month, explore our online collection:
By Rebecca Bice, National Geographic Education