In 1855, Mary Seacole was nursing wounded British soldiers on the battlefields of the Crimean War. Despite being turned away by the military establishment, she traveled to Crimea and set up her hospital near the front lines.
For her work during the war, Seacole was awarded a medal by Queen Victoria. This is just one chapter in the remarkable life of Mary Seacole – a nurse and heroine whose story needs to be more widely known.
Mary Seacole was born in Kingston, Jamaica, in 1805. Her father was of Scottish descent and her mother was Jamaican. When she was just four years old, her mother died, leaving Mary to be raised by her father and stepmother.
As a young woman, Seacole showed an early interest in nursing and medicine. She traveled to England in 1853 to offer her services as a nurse to the British Army. When she applied to the War Department in London to join Florence Nightingale as a nurse, she was turned away on the grounds that ‘no more nurses were needed’, although Mary was under no illusion that she was being rejected because of her colour.
In 1854, the Crimean War broke out between Russia and Britain. Hundreds of British soldiers were sent to fight in the conflict, and many were injured or killed.
When Seacole heard about the war, she traveled to Crimea to help care for the wounded soldiers. She set up a hotel/hospital near the front lines, where she treated both British and Russian soldiers. The money she made from food and alcohol she sold in the British Hotel was used to buy medicine and supplies for the hospital.
For her work during the war, Seacole was awarded a medal by Queen Victoria.
After the war, Seacole returned to England with no money.
Seacole’s legacy is that of a courageous and determined woman who overcame obstacles to become a hero in her own time. Her story has inspired many young people today to pursue careers in medicine.
Facts about Mary Seacole
Mary Seacole was born in 1805.
She had a Jamaican mother and a Scottish father.
Seacole’s parents owned a boarding house.
Seacole traveled to Crimea to help wounded soldiers during the Crimean War.
She was awarded a medal for her work on the battlefield.
The people who had lent her money to keep the British Hotel running pursued her for her debts and in November 1856 she ended up in the bankruptcy courts.
Her autobiography, The Wonderful Adventures of Mrs. Seacole in Many Lands, was the first autobiography by a black woman to be published in Britain. It is still in print today.
Seacole died in 1881 and was buried at Kensal Green Cemetery in London, England.
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Link will appear as Hanson, Marilee. "Mary Seacole" https://englishhistory.net/victorian/famous-people/mary-seacole/, February 2, 2022