Mary Seacole was born in Kingston, Jamaica in 1805 to a Scottish father and Jamaican mother who practised traditional Jamaican medicine in her boarding house, caring for wounded soldiers and their wives. Mary learnt her trade from her mother and opened a hotel in Panama where she saved her first Cholera patient. She also suffered and recovered from Cholera and gained extensive knowledge about the disease; she was widely praised for her treatment of the disease and in 1853 travelled back to Jamaica to assist with a Yellow Fever epidemic.
Mary travelled to London, where she learnt about the Crimean war and how the nursing system there had collapsed. She made numerous attempts to be sent to help but was turned down by everyone, including one of Florence Nightingale’s assistants. She asked herself “that American prejudices against colour had taken root here? Did these ladies shrink from accepting my aid because my blood flowed beneath a somewhat duskier skin than theirs?”
However, her urge to help was so great that she raised the money and along with a friend, opened a general store and hotel near to a British camp in Crimea. So at the age of 50, armed with medicines and supplies, Mary Seacole went to the battle zone and treated the troops and soon became known as ‘Mother Seacole’.
After the war, she was left with an unsellable general store, and she returned to London bankrupt. A fundraiser was held by some of the commanders that she had worked with, but the recognition of her incredible work was short-lived, soon fading into forgotten history.
So next time you go to refer to a caregiver as Florence Nightingale…consider changing it to Mary Seacole.