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Archive for the ‘People from England’ Category

MARY SEACOLE (1805 – 1881) Nurse and Businesswoman

In Biography, Crimean War, Entrepreneurs, Feminists, Florence Nightingale, History, Nurses, People, People from England, Trivia, Woman on August 16, 2010 at 10:37 AM

 

Mary Seacole in watercolor at about 45 years old

Mary Seacole believed that when someone wants to minister to the needs of others, she should be able to do so without interference.  So when she was headed to Crimea during the war to help Florence Nightingale nurse sick and wounded soldiers, she was determined not to let racism deter her from her mission. 

A native of Kingston, Jamaica, Mary Ann Grant’s father was a Scotch army officer. Her mother was a local healer who owned a boarding house and treated military officers and their families.  That didn’t seem to be a place for a child, so Seacole lived with an older lady and her grandchildren.  She often hung out with her mom, however, and played doctor with her dolls and the neighborhood pets. 

When her nanny died in her arms, Seacole moved back in with her mother and learned her Creole medicine techniques.  As her life unfolded, it’s evident that Seacole derived her greatest inspiration from that relationship.

Seacole remained single until she was 31 years old when she married Edwin Seacole, a Brit.  They opened a store in Black River, Jamaica, but after eight years of marriage they had to move back to Kingston for Edwin’s health.  He died one month after their return.  To compound Seacole’s grief, her mom died, and she assumed responsibility for the hotel, using work to cope with her loneliness.

Seacole’s stubbornness was one of her best and worst qualities.  In 1843 there was a devastating fire in Kingston which burned down Seacole’s house.  Defending it almost cost her her life because she didn’t leave until it was in flames.  She rebuilt and continued to live alone despite many potential suitors.  A cholera outbreak in 1850 gave her the opportunity to practice the healing skills she had learned.

FOLLOWING IN HER MOTHER’S FOOTSTEPS       Finally needing a change, Seacole went to Cruces, Panama to visit her brother.  Her experience had prepared her well to deal with the cholera epidemic that hit shortly after she arrived.  The only medically trained person who lived in the area was a dentist, so it was left to Seacole to diagnose and treat the afflicted.  She did save many patients, but the number who died was still devastating.  The most difficult death for her to deal with was an infant who died in her arms.  Seacole snuck to the gravesite of the baby before it was buried and conducted her own autopsy in order to learn more about the disease. 

Seacole opened a restaurant where the Americans loved to hang out and drink copious amounts of tea and coffee.  She took her brother’s advice to add a spoonful of salt after the sixth cup to curtail their intake.  After a while she got bored and decided to return to Kingston.

She bought a ticket on an American steamer, but because she was Creole she was told to get off the ship.  This was the first time she personally experienced blatant racism.   In order to keep the peace, the captain gave Seacole her money back, and she agreed to get disembark.  Two days later she traveled home on an English ship.

DETOURS ON THE ROAD TO HER DREAMS           When she was 49 years old Seacole’s restless, adventuresome spirit took her to England, and she landed in London in 1854.  The Crimean War was young, and she wanted to contribute her talents.  She applied to the War Office to be a hospital nurse.  She was rejected and told to apply to the medical department.  That was also a dead end, so she changed her tack.  She craftily found out the address of the Secretary-at-War, went to his house and waited patiently to speak to him.  When he did deign to see her, the Secretary said there were no nursing positions available.  Finally, she applied to the managers of the Crimean Fund to do anything that would get her to the war zone.  Even that didn’t work.  The obvious racial prejudice with which she was treated made her even more determined.

Seacole had one more option.  She and Thomas Day, a relative of her husband, created a partnership, Seacole and Day.  They planned to open a store and hotel in the area near the military camps in Balaclava on the coast of the Crimea, a peninsula at the southern part of modern-day Ukraine.  

FULFILLING HER DESTINY                                         En route from England, Seacole’s ship had a layover in Scutari, Turkey for one night.  She needed a place to sleep and wanted to be of service as well.  Florence Nightingale worked at a hospital there.  Seacole had a letter of introduction from a friend in Kingston to give to Nightingale.  When she was finally ushered in to meet Nightingale, she was not exactly embraced as a colleague.  Nightingale suggested that the only available bed was next to the washerwoman.  Seacole and her roommate got along great and talked for hours.  The bed itself was less accommodating as it turned out to be a flea infested couch, and Seacole was eaten alive during the night. 

In Balaclava, Seacole and Day built the British Hotel which included an apartment for each of the partners, a general store and stables for the animals.  A war zone is a dangerous place even for civilians.  Thieves, led by the night watchman, stole 40 goats and seven sheep during one night, and dozens of horses, mules, pigs and chickens over time.  The rats were huge and one attacked a cook while she was sleeping.  But none of this deterred the proprietress from her purpose: to serve the British army.

“Mother Seacole” was not shy about going to the front lines if necessary to tend to wounded soldiers.  The allied army planned to attack the Russians  at Cathcart’s Hill.  Seacole made sandwiches, packed up food, drink and medical supplies and on horseback led a caravan of two pack mules up the hill to the camp three and a half miles away.  She cared for their physical needs in as many ways as possible.  Since water was in short supply, she had to wash her hands in sherry. When bullets whizzed by overhead, Seacole hugged the ground until she got the “all clear.”  Once when she was protecting herself, she dislocated her thumb, which she never bothered to set.   

Seacole didn’t discriminate when it came to helping the needy.  In addition to British soldiers, she helped French, Sardinians and even some Russians into ambulances so they could get proper medical treatment.  One Russian thanked her by taking off his ring and giving it to her as he was being lifted into the vehicle.

LIFE AFTER WAR                                                             It was both a positive and negative thing when the Crimean War ended in February 1856.  The area was evacuated so fast, that Seacole and Day lost all their business virtually overnight. Russians raided the British Hotel which made Seacole furious.  In a desperate act, she smashed the crates of wine, wasting it instead of letting the enemy enjoy their booty. 

Upon returning to England Seacole and Day were forced to declare bankruptcy, and the war finally took its toll on Seacole’s health.  Several prominent people contributed to funds to help Seacole and her partner become solvent.  She wrote her autobiography describing her adventures and raised enough money to get out of debt.  During the final years of her life she worked in London as a masseuse and confidant to members of the royal family.  Seacole died in 1881 with an estate of over £2,500.

QUESTION:  Have you ever been discriminated against?  How did you handle the situation?

©2010 Debbie Foulkes All Rights Reserved

Sources:

Seacole, Mary.  The Wonderful Adventures of Mrs. Seacole in Many Lands. http://www.gutenberg.org/ catalog/world/readfile?fk_files=588279

http://www.maryseacole.com/maryseacole/pages/aboutmary.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:March_to_Sevastopol_1854.png

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Seacole

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crimean_War

HAROLD BRIDE (1890 – 1956) Wireless Operator on the Titanic

In adventure, American History, Biography, History, People, People from England, Telegraph Operators, Titanic, Trivia on July 19, 2010 at 9:38 PM

Harold Bride at age 16

Harold Bride was one of those kids who knew what he wanted to be when he grew up: a wireless operator.  The youngest of five children, he was shy and soft spoken with an easy sense of humor.  The telegraph was the hottest wireless technology at the time, and Bride was a techno geek in the making.

It was expensive to go to telegraphy school, so he worked in the family business until age 20 to earn the money for tuition.  In 1910 he started classes, and, to the neighbors’ disgust, built an antenna in the yard so he could practice using Morse code.   He finished his training after one year and immediately started a job in London.

In March 1912, Bride received a telegram saying his next posting would be on the Titanic and was sent to Belfast, Ireland for special training. Bride and his boss, Jack Phillips, were placed onboard the ship through the Marconi International Marine Telegraph Company and given junior officer status.  The salary was adequate but the adventure quotient was very high.

Two weeks before reporting for the sea trials, Bride and Mabel Ludlow became engaged.  He had doubts that she was the one, but she nagged him until he acquiesced, giving her something to brag about while he was at sea.   

ADVENTURE AT SEA                        On April 10, 1912 the Titanic set sail. The wireless broke down on April 13, and it took Bride and Phillips seven hours to diagnose and fix the problem.  Ice warnings had been received on April 11 and 12 and delivered to Captain Smith on the bridge. The equipment was repaired in time to receive four additional warnings on the 13th, and Bride delivered the first one to the Captain.  Captain’s orders specified that the passenger’s personal messages were the priority, and the three later warnings were ignored. 

About 7:30 on the night of April 14, Phillips was manning the telegraph and Bride went to bed.  At 11:40 the Titanic struck an iceberg.  Bride slept through the collision but woke up at 11:55, entering the work room in his pajamas to check up on his boss.  As Bride was preparing to relieve Phillips, the Captain entered, informed the men of the crash and told them to prepare a call for assistance to send on his orders as soon as an inspection was finished. 

Ten minutes later the Captain returned and ordered the international call for help be sent.  Phillips tapped out CQD (Come-Quick-Distress), the call used prior to S-O-S.  The gravity of what happened had not impacted the men yet, and Bride saw some humor in the situation.  He suggested Phillips send S-O-S since it was a new call and this might be his only chance to use it.  Phillips laughed and changed his message.  After the Captain left, the men continued to joke around while they waited for a response.

They got replies from several ships, but the Carpathia was in the closest proximity to the now-sinking vessel.  Forgetting he was still in his pajamas, Bride ran to tell the Captain that help was on the way. He saw passengers swarming on the decks trying to figure out what to do.  When he returned, Phillips reminded him to get some clothes on.  He did, and he brought an overcoat to keep Phillips warm. 

The situation got worse fast.  Phillips announced that the wireless signal was getting weaker, and finally the Captain came to say that the engine rooms were taking on water.  Bride went to his bunk and found his life jacket and put on boots and another coat.  While Phillips continued to send messages, Bride secured a lifebelt around him.  Phillips dispatched Bride to the deck for a status update of what was happening.  Bride helped twelve men lift the last collapsible down to be used to escape.

The Captain walked in while Bride was updating his boss.  Captain Smith praised the men for their work and excused them.  It had reached the point of every man for himself.  Phillips kept sending messages for another ten minutes while Bride collected their personal items.  As if things weren’t bad enough, an employee who worked below decks entered the communications room and tried to steal Phillip’s life belt right off him.  Bride attacked the man and made sure he was no longer a threat. 

SURVIVAL MODE                                 The wireless operators knew it was finally time to go.  While the band played “Autumn,” Phillips headed aft, and Bride went on deck and saw people struggling to get the collapsible into the water.   He helped push and ended up in the frigid water under the capsized raft.  After vigorously swimming 150 feet to get away from the suction of the Titanic, someone pulled Bride up onto the bottom of a raft. 

The small surface area of the collapsible was so crowded with survivors that they overlapped on top of each other.  Someone suggested that they should pray, and they recited The Lord’s Prayer together.  Bride’s feet were painfully injured, but there was nothing he could do.  One man died on the raft. 

When the Carpathia arrived about 4:00 am, one by one they vacated the life boat and ascended the ladder to the ship.  It was then that Bride discovered the dead man was Phillips. 

Bride had just enough strength to climb onboard, but he couldn’t walk. One foot was crushed and the other was frostbitten.  He was taken immediately to the hospital ward, but a few hours later he was pressed into service again and wheeled into the wireless room of the Carpathia to transmit the names of survivors and personal messages.  He ignored all incoming media requests for information and even a communiqué from the president in favor of transmitting the passengers’ notices. He was so caught up in his work that he didn’t realize when they arrived in New York until Guglielmo Marconi came aboard and released him from his duties. 

LIFE AFTER NEAR DEATH            Bride was still wheelchair bound when he testified in an American inquiry into what happened on that fateful night.  He was accused of withholding information on the Carpathia for personal gain, and he had to squelch a rumor that he was taking baseball scores. Bride insisted that he was following the captain’s orders in only dispatching the relevant messages. 

Returning to England was not the relief that it could have been. Bride had to relive his Titanic nightmare for a British inquiry and deal with his fiancé.  He stalled any wedding plans until after the investigation. On September 25, 1912 he met Lucy Downie which gave him the courage to call off the wedding to Ludlow. 

Downie worked in London as a teacher.  This time it was love at first sight for Bride, and he took a job as a telegraphist in the city so they could be together.  They married in April 1920 and had a daughter one year later. 

During World War I Bride served on another ship, and then in 1922 the Brides moved to Scotland in search of a completely different life.  They had two children, and Bride worked as a salesman.  He was a confirmed geek, though, and operated his own radio as a hobby until he died in 1956.

QUESTION:  What is your biggest fear?   How do you help yourself when you feel afraid?

© 2010 Debbie Foulkes All Rights Reserved

Sources:

http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?_r=2&res=9E07E0DF153CE633A2575AC1A9629C946396D6CF

http://www.titanic-lore.info/Wireless-shack.htm

http://www.titanic-lore.info/wireless-harold-bride.htm

http://www.titanicinquiry.org/USInq/AmInq10Bride01.php

http://acronyms.thefreedictionary.com/CQD

VIOLET GIBSON (1876 – 1956) Shot Mussolini

In Assassinations, Biography, Dictators, History, Italian History, Mental health, Mussolini, People, People from England, Trivia, Uncategorized, Victorian Women, women on May 17, 2010 at 9:26 PM

Violet Gibson

When Violet Gibson shot Benito Mussolini, everyone except her thought it was a crazy thing to do.  The ensuing debate was to determine whether she was certifiably crazy or not.  Death and illness were themes of her life and perhaps fertilized the psychological soil where a religious seed had been planted.   

Born the seventh of eight children as the Victorian era was starting to wind down, Gibson had an enviable life.  Her father was Lord Ashbourne, the lord chancellor of Ireland, a protestant. Her father’s title bestowed on her the title of Honorable. The Gibsons split their time between London and Dublin, participating fully in the parties, concerts and galas of the elite.  At age 18 the Honorable Violet Gibson was a debutante in the court of Queen Victoria.   

Being sick consumed a lot of her youth and as a result she was quite frail.  She had scarlet fever when she was five, peritonitis at 14, pleurisy at 16 and rubella at 20.  She displayed a violent temper early on.    

Lady Ashbourne, Gibson’s mother, became a Christian Scientist with the expectation that Mary Baker Eddy’s religion would bring her into stronger health.  Gibson tried it out, but in her early 20s, switched to Theosophy founded by Helena Blavatsky.  She was attracted to its mission to build a universal brotherhood without discrimination of any kind. Then at 26 years old, Gibson followed her brother Willie’s lead and converted to Catholicism.  Their father expressed great disappointment at this decision, and it became a wedge in their relationship.    

Gibson started receiving a private income from her father at age 21, which allowed her to be independent.  In 1905 there were several deaths in the family, and her father’s term as the lord chancellor was up.  Gibson dealt with so much loss by moving to Chelsea, an artsy section of London.  She explored a bawdier side of life and became engaged to an artist at age 32.  One year later he died suddenly and Gibson had another death to grieve.   

Six times within the next year Gibson became ill with the “fever.”  The only diagnosis the doctors could offer was influenza or a nervous disorder called “hysteria.”    

In 1913, Gibson’s father died, and she tried to cope by fleeing to Paris where she worked for pacifist organizations.  Later that year she contracted Paget’s disease, a type of cancer, and had a left mastectomy which left a nine-inch scar across her chest.  She worked hard as a peace activist until she fell sick again and went back to England.  At age 40 she had surgery for appendicitis and peritonitis.  Unfortunately, the surgery was not successful and she suffered from chronic abdominal pain for the rest of her life.   

While she was recovering, Gibson became a disciple of Jesuit scholar John O’Fallon Pope. This is when she started grappling with the notion of killing and martyrdom, perhaps inspired by experiencing so much death.  In her notebook she had a quote from Pope:  “The degree of holiness depends on the degree of mortification.  Mortification means putting to death.”   

In 1922, Gibson had to deal yet again with a death in the family: her brother Victor who was her favorite sibling.  This was more than she could bear.  One month later, at age 46, Gibson had a nervous breakdown.  She was pronounced insane and committed to a mental institution.   

Two years later, Gibson was released and went to Rome accompanied by a nurse, Mary McGrath.  They took up residence in a convent in a working class neighborhood with a high crime rate.  Her crisis of conscience was growing as she became more and more convinced that killing was the sacrifice that God was asking of her.  Somehow she got possession of a gun.   

On February 27, 1925 Gibson went to her room, read the Bible and then shot herself in the chest.  The bullet missed her heart, went through her ribcage and lodged in her shoulder. She told McGrath that she wanted to die for God.  Had she been successful, she wouldn’t have had to endure the grief of the death of her mother in March 1926, one month before the Mussolini assassination attempt.      

On Wednesday, April 7, 1926 Gibson left the convent after breakfast. In her right pocket she had a Lebel revolver wrapped in a black veil, and in her left pocket she carried a rock in case she had to break a windshield to get to Mussolini.  She also clutched the address of the Fascist Party headquarters written on a scrap of envelope.  She had read in the newspaper that Mussolini would be there in the afternoon.    

Mussolini appeared as if on cue, walking through the Palazzo del Littorio, soaking in the praise of the crowd as they shouted, “Viva Il Duce!”  He stopped about a foot from where Gibson was standing.  Just before the gun went off, Mussolini leaned his head back to acknowledge the crowd’s adoration, and the bullet grazed his nose.  Gibson shot again, but the gun misfired.  There was blood pouring down Mussolini’s face, and he staggered backwards but managed to stay standing.    

Mussolini maintained his composure and consoled the crowd saying, “Don’t be afraid. This is a mere trifle.”   Gibson was immediately captured and beaten by the crowd, and the police got control of the situation and took her off just before she succumbed to vigilante justice.    

In prison, when Gibson was undergoing interrogation, she admitted that she shot Mussolini to glorify God.  She said God’s message to her was clear, and that he had sent an angel to keep her arm steady as she took aim.    

Gibson’s family, wary of the impact that her actions could have on their reputation and afraid for her future, sent letters of apology to the Italian government and congratulated Mussolini on his escape from death.    

The fate of Violet Gibson was not clear.  Her punishment hinged on whether she would stand trial as a political criminal or be declared insane.  A violent reaction to a note given to her by another inmate that read “Viva Mussolini” did not help convince the authorities of her stability. In contrast, her conversations were rational and her correspondence was lucid and thoughtful.   

Gibson had to endure a grueling regime of tests.  In addition to a full medical exam, she was subjected to 20 days of psychiatric exams. She hoped to gain her release by convincing the doctors that she was mad.  Four months after the assassination attempt, a 61 page report declared Gibson as a “chronic paranoia” and recommended she be committed to a lunatic asylum.   

To complete Gibson’s profile, the investigating magistrate wanted to create a psychosexual portrait.  She was considered abnormal because she never expressed an inclination to start a family. It was a common belief that a woman’s mental state could be affected by repressed sexuality. A complete gynecological examination was ordered.  No abnormalities were found, but her independence, violent anger and self mutilation were enough evidence to declare her insane and not to try Gibson as a political criminal.   

Gibson was released to the custody of her sister to return to England.  She was committed to St. Andrews Hospital, a renowned mental institution.  Her behavior was generally manageable, but each year when April rolled around she exhibited her violent tendencies.  On April 2, 1930, she was found with a noose around her neck made of scrapes of cloth she had been collecting.  A nurse found her and loosened the rope.  Gibson was unconscious but still alive.   

In January 1951, Gibson suffered from a high fever.  She was down to 84 pounds.  She managed to hang on for a few more years, and finally, on May 2, 1956, Violet Gibson died.  No one attended her burial.   

QUESTION:  Do you know anyone who has been killed by another person?  How did that affect your life?   

                                  ©2010 Debbie Foulkes All Rights Reserved   

 Sources:   

 Saunders, Frances Stonor, The Woman Who Shot Mussolini. New York: Metropolitan Books, 2010.