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Doctor Curmudgeon® The Places She Went!


By Diane Batshaw Eisman, M.D. FAAP Doctor Eisman is in Family Practice in Aventura, Florida with her partner, Dr. Eugene Eisman, an internist/cardiologist

“You’re off to Great Places!
Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting,
So… get on your way!”
― Dr. Seuss, Oh, the Places You’ll Go!

Indeed, Mary Seacole was off to great places.

She was born around 1850 in Kingston, Jamaica to Mary Jane Grant, who ran a boarding house. Mrs. Grant was known as a “doctress.” She was renowned for her knowledge of tropical diseases, and was skilled in using herbs, and treating the injured. In those days, Mrs. Grant was unique with her focus on hygiene.

Mrs. Grant’s boarding house also served as a convalescent home for the military. And that was how Mary Seacole’s career began.

Inquisitive and intelligent, she watched her mother and the military physicians at the boarding house.

Mary felt a passion to learn more, and England was acclaimed for its great physicians and medical advances. Mary set her heart on this destination.

In those days, it was not easy for a black woman to travel, but her father had been a Scottish Lieutenant. Relatives of her father allowed Mary to accompany them to England. She stayed in London for a year while her hungry brain absorbed a great deal of European medicine.

This “doctress” became an entrepreneur, and purchased goods from London, Haiti, Cuba and the Bahamas to sell back in Kingston, Jamaica.

At the age of 31 she married Admiral Lord Nelson’s merchant godson and when her husband passed away in 1844, she yearned to travel again, so she went to Panama where there were better economic opportunities.

When she arrived, she found Panama to be in the midst of a severe cholera outbreak. The only person treating the sick was a very inexperienced doctor. Mary plunged in to help the stricken and had moderate success, but she contracted Cholera. When she recovered, she opened a combination restaurant and barber shop.

1852 rolled around and she returned to Jamaica, where she found a yellow fever outbreak, but she could do little to ameliorate the suffering.

And so, she traveled back to England to deal with her shares of gold mining stocks from her investments in the New Granada Gold Mining Company.

This was in the midst of the Crimean war and, of course, Mary Seacole wanted to care for the wounded. She was turned down everywhere and wrote in her memoir, “Was it possible that American prejudices against colour had some root here? Did these ladies shrink from accepting my aid because my blood flowed beneath a somewhat duskier skin than theirs?”

Using her own resources, she managed to get to Sevastopol close to the British headquarters.

She built a hotel there, gathering her own materials, salvaging driftwood, old glass doors, iron sheets, wood and whatever this energetic nurse could find. She used this chance to hire local laborers.

Alert to opportunity, she heard of a famous French chef who was in the Crimea advising on the soldiers’ diets. She sought him out and was taught a great deal about managing a food and beverage business.

Through all these enterprises, even sometimes cooking in her hotel, she continued to treat rich and poor alike.

When spectators began to appear at the battles, Mary was there establishing her own catering service.

Her memoir, Wonderful Adventures of Mrs. Seacole in Many Lands came out in 1857 and it was the first autobiography of a black woman to be published in Britain. The Illustrated London News wrote of her memoir, “If singleness of heart, true charity and Christian works –of trials and sufferings, dangers and peril, encountered boldly by a helpless woman on her errand of mercy in the camp and in the battlefield can excite sympathy or move curiosity, Mary Seacole will have many friends and many readers.”

Nurse, entrepreneur, writer, hotelier, business woman, world traveler—she did many things and went to many places.

“You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself any direction you choose.
You’re on your own.
And you know what you know.
And YOU are the one who’ll decide where to go…”
― Dr. Seuss, Oh, the Places You’ll Go!

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