History’s Forgotten She-heroes

Nicole Bolla ‘20, Opinion Editor

Many historical women like Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, Mary Curie, and Jane Austen are recognized for their bravery in breaking the social norms of their time. As March is National Women’s History month, these great figures are celebrated even more so, but this month of remembrance is not just about the outstanding female figures that made it into the history books. Many ladies of the past are often forgotten about and swept under the rug. In honor of these courageous souls, let us take a look at three amazing women that history has seemingly forgotten.

Florence Nightingale is often credited with being the first nurse, but few know of her colleague, the equally talented, Mary Seacole. Seacole was born as Mary Jane Grant in Jamaica, 1805. Her mother was Jamaican, but her father was a Scottish soldier. She learned many things about hotel and inn management from her mother who, at the time, owned a boarding house. In 1836, at 31 years old, she married Edwin Seacole. As a young woman, she loved to travel, and she continued to do so after her husband’s untimely demise in 1844.

In 1854, she went to the war office in England to ask if she could go to Crimea and help nurse British soldiers. She was denied. Not taking no for an answer, Seacole funded her own trip and set up the British Hotel near Baklava to help nurse injured soldiers back to health. She went above and beyond to help the soldiers, often visiting the battlefield while under fire to get to the injured troops. She was so well liked in fact, that the soldiers referred to her affectionately as ‘Mother Seacole’, and in one instance a soldier even dove on top of her to protect her from gunfire.

 In 1856, after the war’s end, she returned back to England sickly and poor. A newspaper published a story and a grateful British army opened ‘The Seacole Fund’ to help her. The fund was successful and in 1857, she published her memoirs entitled, “The Wonderful Adventure of Mrs. Seacole in Many Lands.” She lived in comfort until her death in 1881 at 76 years old, upon which she died from a stroke. 

Every American citizen undoubtedly knows of the revolutionary war, specifically Paul Revere and his midnight ride in which he rode through many towns and warned the settlers of the incoming British invasion. What many do not know, however, is that Revere was not the only one to take a midnight ride; Sybil Ludington was his superior when it came to warning the settlers, but the history books often leave her out due to her sex and young age. Ludington was the daughter of a militia officer who worked closely with George Washington. When news of the impending British takeover reached the Ludington household on April 26, 1777, 16-year-old Sybil was tasked with gathering all the local militia men and telling them to ride back to her house.

In the dead of night, she rode nearly 40 miles over unfamiliar terrain to alert the militia men, which completely dwarfs Revere’s measly 12.5 miles. In 1784, she married a lawyer named Edward Ogden and had one child. She continued to live in Unadilla, New York,  until her death in 1839, at the age of 77- a quiet end to an extraordinary life.

Continuing the trend of pre-dating celebrated historical figures, Claudette Colvin was born to an African American family in Montgomery, Alabama in 1939. Sixteen years later in 1955, after being released from school early, 15-year-old Colvin and three of her friends got onto a bus and sat in the back row with two girls on the right and two on the left. When an able-bodied young white woman got onto the bus, the driver demanded that the girls move for her. All three of Colvin’s friends moved reluctantly, but Colvin did not.

In accordance with the segregation laws, the white woman could not sit down unless the row was completely clear of African Americans. The driver continued to drive until they came to an intersection with a squad car, at which point, two police officers boarded the bus to ask Colvin why she would not move. In an interview with BBC, Colvin answered this question profoundly when she said that, “It felt as though Harriet Tubman’s hands were pushing me down on one shoulder and Sojourner Truth’s hands were pushing me down on the other shoulder. I felt inspired by these women because my teacher taught us about them in so much detail.” 

When the policeman saw that she was not going to move, they arrested her. She had a slew of charges and was then put on probation.Those who followed the Civil Rights Movement were outraged, and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. came to Montgomery himself to fight her arrest. They seriously considered making her the face of the Civil Rights Movement, but she was deemed to be too ‘young’ and too ‘dark’ to lead the protests. Later that year, Colvin became pregnant with her first son and that was the end of it. Nine months later, Rosa Parks performed her historic act of defiance, and although Colvin got to be one of four plaintiffs filed in a lawsuit against bus segregation in 1956, she is largely forgotten. Later in her life, Colvin moved to New York and had her second son and still resides there to this day. Truly, she was an icon to not only African Americans, but also to young women in her situation.

These women have proved themselves to be extraordinary, but are generally buried beneath the sands of time, because of factors they could not control, like age, skin color, or sex. However, these women are just a few of the heroic names that are lost in the ever-growing history book. There may be a hundred other names of a hundred other women who did amazing things that are lost to time, and that is what Women’s History Month is about. It is about remembering the accomplishments of inspirational female leaders of the past and inspiring more in the present. So, the next time you see a woman doctor or politician, just think about how many years of influence and innovation it took to get them there. 


Photo courtesy of biography.com

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