A pioneering nurse and heroine of the Crimean War

Learn about Mary Seacole and her exceptional contribution to health care, as part of Black History Month…

Mary Seacole (1805 – 1881)

Mary Seacole (born Mary Grant) was a Jamaican nurse born on 23 November 1805 to a Scottish soldier and a Jamaican owner of a boarding house for officers and their families. Mary became well known in Victorian times for her nursing efforts during the Crimean War. Learning her nursing skills from her mother, Mary soon gained her own reputation as a ‘skillful nurse and doctress’.

Mary remained in Kingston, Jamaica but spent a lot of time nursing in Panama, where a cholera epidemic was raging. Having cured her first patient in 1851, Mary gained extensive knowledge of the pathology of the infection.

At the start of the Crimean War in 1853, Mary went to London by her own efforts to offer her services despite her applications being refused by the War Office, the army medical department, the secretary of war and Florence Nightingale’s nursing team.

Mary managed to build a British hotel on the main British supply road on the way to the siege of Sevastopol in the summer of 1855, alongside a relative. She began selling food, drink and clothes to British officers and treating medical problems including making visits to injured troops on the front line.

By the end of the war Mary and her relative went bankrupt and Mary returned to England a financially ruined woman. Two Crimean commanders organised a benefit festival at the Royal Surrey Gardens in Kennington to raise money for Mary. There were over 1,000 performers, and her name was shouted by a thousand voices.

Mary died on 14 May 1881 in Paddington, London and is still currently honoured for all her hard work, the latest being a statue created by sculptor Martin Jennings which stands opposite the Houses of Parliament in the grounds of St Thomas’ Hospital.

Recognised by the NHS, a Leadership programme honoured in Mary Seacole’s name is available to first time leaders in healthcare.

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