Mary Seacole (1805 – 1881) BIOGRAPHY

Mary Seacole, 1869

Seacole was a pioneering nurse and heroine of the Crimean War, who as a woman of mixed race overcame a double prejudice.
 

Mary Jane Grant was born in Kingston, Jamaica in 1805. Her father
was a Scottish soldier, and her mother a Jamaican. Mary learned her
nursing skills from her mother, who kept a boarding house for invalid
soldiers. 

Although technically ‘free’, being of mixed race, Mary and her
family had few civil rights – they could not vote, hold public office
or enter the professions. In 1836, Mary married Edwin Seacole but the
marriage was short-lived as he died in 1844.

Seacole was an inveterate traveller, and before her marriage
visited other parts of the Caribbean, including Cuba, Haiti and the
Bahamas, as well as Central America and Britain.
 

On these trips she
complemented her knowledge of traditional medicine with European medical
ideas. In 1854, Seacole travelled to England again, and approached the
War Office, asking to be sent as an army nurse to the Crimea where there
was known to be poor medical facilities for wounded soldiers. She was
refused. 

Undaunted Seacole funded her own trip to the Crimea where she
established the British Hotel near Balaclava to provide ‘a mess-table
and comfortable quarters for sick and convalescent officers’. 

She also
visited the battlefield, sometimes under fire, to nurse the wounded, and
became known as ‘Mother Seacole’. Her reputation rivalled that of
Florence Nightingale.

After the war she returned to England destitute and in ill health.
The press highlighted her plight and in July 1857 a benefit festival
was organised to raise money for her, attracting thousands of people.
Later that year, Seacole published her memoirs, ‘

The Wonderful
Adventures of Mrs Seacole in Many Lands’.

Seacole died on 14 May 1881.

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