An exhibition at the Florence Nightingale museum in London is commemorating the 200th anniversary of the birth of Mary Seacole. The nurse, of Jamaican and Scottish descent, became famous for helping British troops in the Crimean War.
From the BBC’s Historic Figures page:
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 shortlived, as Edwin died in 1844.
Mary Seacole was an inveterate traveller, and before her marriage visted other Caribbean islands, 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. She was later to recount the story of her travels in The Wonderful Adventures of Mrs Seacole in Many Lands, published in 1857.
In 1854 Seacole travelled to England again, and approached the war office to ask to be sent as an army nurse to the Crimea. Because of her ethnicity she was refused interviews with the war office and Elizabeth Herbert, the wife of the secretary of state for war who was recruiting nurses. 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’. On the battlefield she nursed the wounded and was known as ‘Mother Seacole’.
After the war she returned to England destitute and in ill health. The press highlighted her plight and money was raised through a grand military festival held over four nights at the Royal Surrey Gardens. The festival attracted thousands of people and was supported by lords, military commanders and almost a thousand artistes. She was awarded the Crimean Medal, the French Legion of Honour and a Turkish medal.
You can learn more about Mary Seacole by going to the Mary Seacole Centre For Nursing Practice page at Thames Valley University.
BBC’s picture gallery marking the bicentenary of the birth of Mary Seacole…
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