Mary Seacole

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**1. Early Life and Background:**

– Mary Jane Seacole was born in Kingston, Jamaica in 1805.
– Her mother, known as The Doctress, was a healer who used traditional Caribbean and African herbal medicines.
– Seacole acquired nursing skills at Blundell Hall, combining West African remedies with military doctors’ practices.
– Seacole boasted of never losing a mother or her child due to her practices.
– Seacole married Edwin Horatio Hamilton Seacole in 1836, who was rumored to be Lord Nelson’s illegitimate son.

**2. Involvement in the Caribbean and Central America:**

– Seacole cared for her patroness and worked at the British Army hospital in Up-Park Camp.
– She traveled to the Bahamas, Cuba, and Haiti.
– Seacole treated cholera victims in Cruces, Panama during an epidemic.
– Seacole opened the British Hotel in Panama, catering to travelers along the Las Cruces trail.
– She encountered racial discrimination while booking passage on an American ship in Jamaica.

**3. Crimean War Involvement:**

– Seacole went to the Crimean War in 1855, setting up the British Hotel for officers.
– She provided catering services and assisted at the battlefield, never calling herself a nurse.
– Seacole used her herbal healing skills to care for sick soldiers and was fondly remembered in Cuba.
– Despite missing the first three major battles due to attending to gold investments, she volunteered as a nurse in the war.
– Seacole was widely known for her kindness and care, serving officers and spectators at the battlefield.

**4. Legacy and Recognition:**

– Seacole’s autobiography was the first written by a black woman in Britain.
– She was largely forgotten for almost a century after her death.
– Seacole was posthumously awarded the Jamaican Order of Merit in 1990 and voted the greatest black Briton in 2004.
– A statue of Seacole at St Thomas Hospital in London generated controversy.
– She is remembered as a pioneer nurse, honored for her bravery, and recognized for her contributions in war.

**5. Relationship with Florence Nightingale and Establishment of the British Hotel:**

– Seacole attempted to join Nightingale’s nursing detachment but was refused, questioning if racism played a role.
– She decided to travel independently to Crimea and open the British Hotel near Balaclava.
– The hotel was built from salvaged materials and stocked with provisions, serving officers and visitors.
– Despite some controversies, Seacole’s establishment prospered, with Soyer praising her offerings and hospitality.
– Nightingale acknowledged Seacole’s contributions but had reservations about her nurses associating with Seacole.

Mary Seacole (Wikipedia)

Mary Jane Seacole (née Grant; 23 November 1805 – 14 May 1881) was a British nurse and businesswoman.

Mary Seacole
A portrait of Seacole
Seacole, c. 1850
Mary Jane Grant

(1805-11-23)23 November 1805
Died14 May 1881(1881-05-14) (aged 75)
Paddington, London, England
Other namesMother Seacole
  • Hotelier
  • boarding house keeper
  • author
  • world traveller
  • nurse
Known forAssistance to sick and wounded military personnel during Crimean War
Edwin Seacole
(m. 1836; died 1844)
HonoursOrder of Merit (Jamaica; posthumous, 1990)

Seacole was born to a Creole mother who ran a boarding house and had herbalist skills as a "doctress". In 1990, Seacole was (posthumously) awarded the Jamaican Order of Merit. In 2004, she was voted the greatest black Briton in a survey conducted in 2003 by the black heritage website Every Generation .

Seacole went to the Crimean War in 1855 with the plan of setting up the "British Hotel", as "a mess-table and comfortable quarters for sick and convalescent officers." However, chef Alexi Soyer told her that officers did not need overnight accommodation, so she made it instead a restaurant/bar/catering service. It proved to be very popular and she and her business partner, a relative of her late husband, did well on it until the end of the war. Her memoir, Adventures of Mrs Seacole in Many Lands, 1857, includes three chapters of the food she served and the encounters she had with officers, some of them high ranking, and including the commander of the Turkish forces.

Mrs Seacole missed the first three major battles of the war, as she was busy in London attending to her gold investments—she had arrived from Panama where she had provided services for prospectors going overland to the California Gold Rush. She gave assistance at the battlefield on three later battles, going out to attend to the fallen after serving wine and sandwiches to spectators.

She is often described as "nursing" on the battlefield, but she never called herself a "nurse", reserving that term for Florence Nightingale and her nurses. In her memoir, Mrs Seacole described several attempts she made to join that team; however, she did not start her informal inquiries until after both Nightingale and her initial team, and a later one, had left. When Seacole left, it was with the plan of joining her business partner and starting their business. She travelled with two black employees, her maid Mary, and a porter, Mac.

She was largely forgotten for almost a century after her death. Her autobiography, Wonderful Adventures of Mrs. Seacole in Many Lands (1857), was the first autobiography written by a black woman in Britain. The erection of a statue of her at St Thomas' Hospital, London, on 30 June 2016, describing her as a "pioneer", generated some controversy and opposition, especially among those concerned with Florence Nightingale's legacy.

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