Friday, December 17, 2010

In History: Mary Seacole (guest post)

This is the 56th post in a weekly feature here at Spare Candy, called "In History." Some posts might be little more than a photo, others full on features. If you have any suggestions for a person or event that should be featured, or would like to submit a guest post or cross post, e-mail me at rosiered23 (at) sparecandy (dot) com.

Today's guest post comes courtesy of Barbara Jolie, who writes on the topics of online classes. She welcomes your comments at her email:

Mary Seacole, formerly known as Mary Jane Grant, was born in 1805 in the city of Kingston, nestled on the Southern coast of Jamaica. She set up a successful nursing station in Crimea during the Crimean War to tend to wounded soldiers, and did so on her own dime because she was simply convinced that she had the skills necessary to help. She became known as "Mother Seacole," and her nursing work had her reputation rivaling that of Florence Nightingale, another lauded nursing figure.

Seacole's father was a Scottish soldier, and her mother a free black Jamaican. It was from her mother that Seacole learned much of her nursing knowledge, as her mother kept a boarding house for invalid soldiers in Jamaica. Seacole married in 1836, but the marriage was not to last her husband died just eight years later in 1844. After his death, Seacole travelled to various countries before focusing all of her attention to the plight of the Jamaican soldiers serving in the Crimean War. She knew that there were poor medical rations for those soldiers and felt a need to help them, especially since so many were falling fatally ill to cholera and other diseases and wounds.

In 1854, Seacole travelled to England and requested that the War Office send her to Crimea as an army nurse so that she could help tend to the soldiers. However, despite having a vast amount of nursing knowledge and skill as well as letters of recommendation from doctors in Jamaica and Panama, Seacole's request was repeatedly denied, most likely due to racial discrimination. Yet, Seacole was undeterred by this ban from the War Office. Rather than travelling with the army, Seacole gathered a large sum of her own money to finance her own travel to Crimea, where she set up the British Hotel. This was to be a resting place for sick and wounded soldiers to relax and recover. However, Seacole did not just stick to nursing soldiers in the hospital she had erected she often brazenly trekked into active battlefields to tend to soldiers there as well, earning their affection and trust, as well as the moniker "Mother Seacole." Her deeds were recounted in the Times newspaper as well as Punch magazine.

After the war ended, Seacole was left stranded in Crimea before her supporters, most of them soldiers she had tended to, rallied together to fund her trip back to England. She continued to see patients and work with those who needed her help in London, including tending to the Royal Family, with whom she had become close. Seacole died on May 14, 1881, approximately 24 years after publishing her memoirs, The Wonderful Adventures of Mrs. Seacole in Many Lands.

Today, her story is commonly taught in schools alongside that of Florence Nightingale. A statue of Seacole is also expected to be unveiled near London icon Big Ben sometime in early 2011, a marker to celebrate Seacole's bravery and contributions to nursing during times of war.

More links to Seacole's story:

Photo caption: The only known photograph of Mary Seacole, taken for a carte de visite by Maull & Company in London (c. 1873)

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