Archive for the ‘People’ 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


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

GUTZON BORGLUM (1867-1941) Sculptor of Mount Rushmore

In American Artists, American History, American Presidents, Artists, Biography, Mt. Rushmore, People, Sculpture on August 3, 2010 at 1:11 PM

Gutzon Borglum

John Gutzon de la Mothe Borglum’s father, a Danish Mormon, was a bigamist.  He was married to Borglum’s mother and her sister.  Their life in Idaho and Utah was accommodating, but when they moved to Nebraska, Borglum’s dad decided to restructure his family to fit in better.   He divorced Borglum’s mom but stayed married to his aunt.  It’s hard to know how this influenced the young man, but as an adult he was very independent with an ego as big as a mountain.

When he was sixteen, the family moved to Los Angeles where Borglum started to express himself artistically.  He teacher was Elizabeth Jaynes Putnam, an accomplished painter who was 18 years older than her student.  Their relationship soon turned personal, and they were married in 1889 when Borglum was 22 years old. 

Borglum had great success early on, and his portrait of General John C. Fremont led to his first patron, Fremont’s wife, who introduced him to Leland Stanford and Theodore Roosevelt.

CARVING OUT A CAREER           When the Borglums went to Paris, he studied at the École des Beaux-Arts and the Académie Julian. Both he and his wife mounted successful exhibitions. The biggest artistic influence was his encounter with Auguste Rodin, and he abandoned painting for sculpture.  Since his brother Solon was a sculptor, sibling rivalry also could have been a factor in changing his medium. 

When Borglum and his wife returned to California the state was in a deep financial depression, and artists weren’t able to get commissions.  In 1896 they ventured to London where he had some of his art on display in Windsor Castle for Queen Victoria. 

As Borglum’s career started to out shine his wife’s, the marriage suffered.  He left Europe in 1901 alone to return to the United States.  Onboard the ship bound for America, Borglum met Mary Montgomery, a younger woman returning from Berlin.  She was one of the first two women to ever earn a doctorate in Berlin and had mastered six languages. He respected her intelligence and passion and the balance she brought to his life.  Finally, in 1909, Putnam granted Borglum a divorce and he and Montgomery were married.  The couple moved to Connecticut and settled on a farm they called “Borgland.”   Three years later a son, Lincoln, was born followed by a daughter, Mary Ellis.

Borglum grew increasingly famous as he developed his own style of “American” art. His sculpture Mares of Diomedes was a gold medal winner at the 1904 St. Louis Exposition, and it was the first sculpture by an American artist accepted at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  His greatest notoriety came with a bust of Abraham Lincoln which was originally displayed in Theodore Roosevelt’s White House and is currently exhibited in the rotunda of the Capital building.

PLAYING POLITICS                       Art was not the only contribution Borglum made to American society.  He was outspoken about his political opinions and tried to wield some celebrity influence by campaigning for Roosevelt’s reelection in 1912.  During the Wilson administration Borglum, in a departure from his usual focus, investigated malpractices in aircraft manufacture and reported his findings directly to President Wilson.  Borglum and the president disagreed about how the artist became involved in such an investigation, and their dispute became public. Borglum was adamant that President Wilson specifically appointed him to the task and published letters in the New York Times defending his involvement.  The president, in letters to Borglum and the Secretary of War which the White House also released to the New York Times, tried to distance himself from Borglum appreciating his discoveries but apparently not wanting to be linked too closely to the man. 

MOVING A MOUNTAIN                It was Borglum’s bust of Lincoln that led to his first mountain carving.  He was invited by the Daughters of the Confederacy to carve a bust of Robert E. Lee in Stone Mountain, Georgia.  Upon visiting the site he declared that doing just the head of Lee would be as impressive as a postage stamp on a barn door.  Instead, he created a design of a more appropriate scale that incorporated Lee, Jefferson Davis and Stonewall Jackson on horseback in front of a row of soldiers.  He started carving the piece in 1923 with chisels and jackhammers until he learned the art of using dynamite for detail work from a Belgian engineer.   

Borglum joined the Ku Klux Klan while he was developing this project.  It’s not clear if he did it as an expression of his core beliefs or to patronize the backers. He was known to shun anyone who could not directly help him through money or influence.  Borglum’s artistic temperament clashed with the patrons and he was kicked off the job.  Another artist was hired to complete the monument, and ultimately none of Borglum’s work survived.  He did benefit from the work he did, however, by developing techniques he used on later projects.

BIGGER IS BETTER                       While Borglum was working on Stone Mountain, the state historian from South Dakota tempted him with the idea of creating a sculpture in the mountains of the Black Hills.  The sculptor saw the potential for more national recognition than the Georgia project afforded him, so he agreed to the challenge and uprooted his family, moving them to Keystone, South Dakota.  His original subjects were Washington and Lincoln.  The Louisiana Purchase by Jefferson and the acquisition Panama Canal by Roosevelt expanded the story of the monument to the Manifest Destiny of the United States, and those two profiles were added to the design.  Borglum began carving the mountain in 1927 when he was 60 years old. 

Borglum is responsible for creating the model and picking the site for the carving.  During the sculpting he was often more supervisory than hands-on.  He would climb all over the mountain to find the best angle for the features of each bust, often insisting on the accuracy of details that could not be seen from ground level.  

For long periods of time he turned the reigns over to his assistants, including his son Lincoln, while he traveled to Washington D.C. to get more funding or to Europe to work on other commissioned projects.  Whenever he returned to Mt. Rushmore, he would resume micromanaging the workers. 

BITING THE HAND THAT FED HIM      Again his artistic temperament got him into trouble.  John Boland was chairman of the Mt. Rushmore executive committee and responsible for all the finances on the project. He was both a friend and nemesis to Borglum.  When money became tight for the artist, it was Boland who guaranteed bank loans so he could keep his home.  On occasion, the businessman even kept Borglum afloat with a personal loan. 

But Borglum didn’t like being beholden to anyone.  He fired some of the best workers and frequently butted heads with Boland, always insisting on doing things his way. These clashes led to a rift in their relationship.  Eventually, however, their wives intervened and conspired to effect a successful reconciliation between the two men.

Borglum never got to see the Mt. Rushmore project completed.  He died in 1941 at the age of 74 from complications related to surgery.  His son, Lincoln, took charge, working one additional season, but the monument basically remained the way his father left it.

QUESTION:  What is your favorite kind of art?  Would you rather observe someone else’s art or make it yourself?

©2010 Debbie Foulkes All Rights Reserved


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