Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Mary Jane Seacole

Mary Jane Seacole (1805 – 14 May 1881) was a mixed-race British nurse. Born in Jamaica, she operated boarding houses in Panama and Crimea while simultaneously treating the sick. Seacole was taught herbal remedies and folk medicine by her mother. Always of a nomadic disposition, on hearing of the terrible conditions of the Crimean War and certain that her knowledge of tropical medicine would be of use, she travelled to London and volunteered as a nurse. Although an expert at dealing with cholera, her application to join Florence Nightingale's team was rejected.

She then borrowed money to make the 4,000 mile journey alone. On arrival she distinguished herself, treating the wounded on the battlefield. On many occasions treating wounded soldiers from both sides while under fire whereas Florence Nightingale and her nurses were based in a hospital in Turkey. Following the cessation of hostilities in 1856 she found herself stranded and almost destitute, and was saved from penury by the Commander-in-Chief of the British Forces Lord Rokeby who organized a benefit.

Seacole was lauded in her lifetime, alongside Florence Nightingale, but after her death was forgotten for almost 100 years. Today she is noted not only for her bravery and medical skills but as "a woman who succeeded despite the racial prejudice of influential sections of Victorian society"
Her autobiography, Wonderful Adventures of Mrs. Seacole in Many Lands (1857), a vivid account of her life and experiences, is one of the earliest autobiographies by a black woman.


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