Women of African Descent and Their Global Quest for Financial Security and Respectability

Friday, January 5, 2018: 3:30 PM
Maryland Suite C (Marriott Wardman Park)
Katrina Anderson, University of Delaware
In the late eighteenth century, black women began traveling more extensively for work, pleasure, and reform activities. This paper focuses on two such women, Mary Seacole, a free woman of mixed race ancestry from Jamaica, and Nancy Prince, a free African American woman from the United States. Each woman left their country of origin and traveled seeking financial security. Nancy Prince began her international travels in 1824 when she relocated to Russia for nine years with her husband until her return to the United States in 1833. From 1840 through 1842, Prince traveled between the United States and Jamaica doing missionary work among the newly emancipated slaves. Mary Seacole journeys to South America in 1851 and then goes to Crimea in 1855 to aid the English military in the Crimean War. Mary Seacole and Nancy Prince became international entrepreneurs who established businesses in the Caribbean, South America and Europe. Many historians have hesitated to engage in an analysis of foreign black travel during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries leaving literary scholars like Mary Suzanne Schreiber, Mary Louise Pratt, Cheryl Fish, Jennifer Steadman, and Farah Jasmine Griffin to fill this void. Though an analysis of published primary sources including travel diaries and online databases, this paper argues Prince and Seacole used their labor and entrepreneurship to challenge misconceptions about the supposed inferiority of people of African descent and provide a critique on race relations in various countries. Both women observed how racism impacted people of African descent throughout the world. Mary Seacole and Nancy Prince created a new definition of working African American womanhood whereby economic activities combined with humanitarian efforts to gain the respectability denied to them as women of African descent by mainstream society.
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