mother seacole

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Mary Seacole was born in Jamaica in 1805 to a Jamaican mother and a Scottish father, who was a soldier. Mary’s mother taught her how to care for sick and injured soldiers using herbal medicine and traditional African and Jamaican remedies. In 1854 Mary travelled to Britain and asked to be sent as an army nurse to the Crimean War. The British War Office refused to send Mary to help the soldiers in the Crimea, and she wasn’t chosen to join Florence Nightingale. So Mary borrowed money to make her own way there and set up the British Hotel two miles away from the conflict and nursed injured soldiers there. She was known as ‘Mother Seacole’. After the war she returned to England in ill health in 1857. A benefit festival was organised to raise money for her after the press had brought attention to what she had done. She passed away in 1881.

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May 14th 1881: Mary Seacole dies

On this day in 1881, the nurse Mary Seacole died in London aged 76. Originally from Jamaica, the young Mary was taught her nursing skills by her mother. When war broke out in the Crimea, she applied to give medical assistance to wounded servicemen but was refused, and so gave treatment independently. Her patients admired ‘Mother Seacole’ and helped raised money for her after the war when she was left destitute. Despite her exemplary national service and popularity in Britain, Seacole faced discrimination at home due to her race, and was unable to vote or hold public office. She has thus often been forgotten and placed in the shadow of famous Crimean War nurse Florence Nightingale, however, in 2004 Seacole was voted the greatest black Briton.

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Mary Seacole (1805-1881) was a Jamaican nurse of Scottish and African descent. During the Crimean war, she established a “British Hotel” behind the lines, which served as a place of food, comfort, and refuge for injured and convalescent soldiers. She was very popular among service personnel for her significant contributions to their wellbeing, and was referred to as “Mother Seacole”.

She was sadly forgotten for more than a century after her death, being mentioned by Salman Rushdie as an example of ‘hidden black history’. However, towards the new millennium, interest in her was revived, and she received the Jamaican Order of Merit in 1991. In 2004 she was voted the greatest black Briton in a public poll.