She transformed British nursing into a more inclusive profession.
Best known for her work as a nurse caring for wounded British soldiers in the Crimean War, Mary’s leadership and activism helped to pave the way for more diversity in UK nursing – stats show that people from ethnic minorities currently make up 20% of the UK’s nursing profession.
We’ve created a blog including five interesting facts about Mary Seacole, and her drive to always help the sick and wounded:
This was a time when many black people in the Caribbean were enslaved. Mary’s mother, Mrs Grant was black and a healer who used traditional Caribbean and African herbal medicines, and her father was a white Scottish army officer called James Grant. Mary and her mother were both born ‘free people’.
She first travelled to the UK in 1821, when she was only 16 years old – in the 1800s it was considered odd for a woman to travel abroad alone! Mary was extremely independent and wrote a book about her solo travels, which was called ‘Wonderful Adventures of Mrs Seacole in Many Lands’ - it was the first-ever autobiography published by a free Black woman in the British Empire.
The Crimean War began in 1853 and the following year, Mary had arrived in London to offer her nursing skills to help the wounded. Unfortunately, she was refused. But this didn’t deter her and instead Mary paid her own way to the Crimea and opened the British Hotel with her friend Thomas Day. The British Hotel was a hotel and store, situated two miles away from where the fighting took place.
She cared for British, Sardinian, and French soldiers – all allies, but she also treated Russian soldiers too, even though they were deemed ‘the enemy’. Mary would also visit the battlefront on her horse, carrying sandwiches and medicines for those in need.
Despite all her hard work and bravery, Mary was sadly forgotten about in history after her death in 1881 (when she was 75 years old). Thankfully, historians rediscovered her story in the 80s. A statue of Mary Seacole is now located outside St Thomas’ Hospital, London. It is believed to be the first in the UK to honour a Black woman.
You can find out more about Mary Seacole’s inspirational story on the Mary Seacole Trust website.
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