Useful Women is a short play based on exceptional women born in the 19th Century. Staged as a women’s talk show, students will learn about these real and influential women, including two black characters – Mary Seacole, an important Jamaican nurse and Sara Forbes Bonetta, born a Nigerian princess but brought to England (under Queen Victoria’s patronage) when her parents were killed in war. The title is a pun on the well-known English women’s talk show ‘Loose Women’ which is similar to the American show, ‘The View.’ With a cast of 6 females, Useful Women is suitable for older elementary, middle, and high school students, especially those studying 19th century England.
About the Playwright:
Rebecca Lyon is a UK based playwright with a BA (Hons) in History and English from Oxford University and an MA in Shakespeare and Literary Influence from the University of Bristol. Her short plays and monologues have been performed at several London venues and her poetry has been published in print and online. As both a mum and an educator she’s keen to create fun, educational plays that will inspire and empower young people.
Excerpt from the play:
SARA FORBES BONETTA
(The stage is a chat show TV set with QUEEN VICTORIA seated in the middle, MARY SEACOLE and FLORENCE NIGHTINGALE seated to her right and ADA LOVELACE and SARA FORBES BONETTA seated to her left.)
Good afternoon and welcome to Useful Women, the no.1 TV chat show, where Victorian women tell us about their wonderfully useful contributions to society! (Clapping sound effect)
Joining us today from the world of medicine are heroines of the Crimean War, Mary Seacole and Florence Nightingale. (They wave)
Next, we have with us the maths whizz and computing pioneer Ada Lovelace. (She waves) And also, here to tell us her remarkable story, we have Sara Forbes Bonetta. (She nods and waves.) A pleasure to have you all with us. Let’s start with our medical pioneers, Mary and Florence. Mary, how did you get started in medicine?
MARY SEACOLE: I’d always been fascinated with how the body works and how we could heal it when it was hurt. My mother was a respected doctor in Jamaica who taught me what she knew about treating the ill. She also ran a boarding house for injured soldiers, and I learned a lot from the army doctors.
QUEEN VICTORIA: Interesting. What did you do before the Crimean War?
MARY SEACOLE: Before that, and when I was old enough, I travelled a lot. I loved to travel. From my home in Jamaica, I travelled to the islands of England, Haiti, the Bahamas, and Cuba and learned more about medicine and business. Then I returned home. There was a terrible outbreak of cholera and so I used my knowledge to care for those who were ill.
QUEEN VICTORIA: Wait, Cholera is very infectious. That was very brave of you.
MARY SEACOLE: Thank you. I knew I had a talent for medicine and that I must use it to help others.
QUEEN VICTORIA: What did you do next?
MARY SEACOLE: I travelled to Panama to help my brother in his business, and I also cared for people suffering from Yellow Fever.
QUEEN VICTORIA: Another nasty disease.
MARY SEACOLE: Yes, and when I returned to Jamaica and heard about the war in Crimea, I knew I had to help.
QUEEN VICTORIA: I’ve read that you wanted to get on Florence’s scheme to take a team of nurses to the Crimea, but that you were rejected. Is that right?
MARY SEACOLE: Yes. It was the War Office that rejected me not Florence herself – but I would not let that stop me.
FLORENCE: We met at my hospital in Scutari when you were on your way to the battle front. I was very impressed with you!
MARY SEACOLE: And you were very kind and helpful.
FLORENCE: We came from different backgrounds but worked towards the same goal – better health care for the soldiers who needed it.
QUEEN VICTORIA: Wonderful. What happened then?
MARY SEACOLE: At my boarding house I cared for wounded soldiers, and I treated patients on the battlefield itself. The soldiers were so grateful, they called me ‘Mother Seacole’ which made me so happy as I had no children of my own.
QUEEN VICTORIA: Congratulations Mary. Florence, what was your role in the Crimean War?
FLORENCE: I set up a hospital at Scutari, which was far enough away from the battlefield to provide longer term care for soldiers. When I got there, the situation was awful. Unsanitary conditions and a lack of basic hygiene were causing more people to die of preventable illnesses than of wounds on the battlefield itself!
QUEEN VICTORIA: That’s terrible! What did you do?
FLORENCE: I got organized!