“Did these ladies shrink from accepting my aid because my blood flowed beneath a somewhat duskier skin than theirs? Tears streamed down my foolish cheeks, as I stood in the fast thinning streets; tears of grief that any should doubt my motives – that Heaven should deny me the opportunity that I sought”.
– Mary Seacole
Only known photograph of Mary Seacole (1805-1881), taken c.1873 by Maull & Company in London by an unknown photographer
Mary Seacole was a biracial woman born in 1805 to a Jamaican mother and Scottish father. Her father James Grant was an army officer. Her mother was a doctress. Doctresses have a great deal of knowledge of tropical diseases and apply practitioner skill in treating injuries and ailments such as cholera, dysentery and yellow fever along with other minor ailments.
Mary grew up watching her mother work and desired to be like her. Before long, Mary was within her own right a skillful nurse and doctress. She applied this knowledge to patients at home and in the countries she visited as well as acquired new skills from local healers where she travelled.
When Mary heard about the war in Crimea she travelled to London and applied to be part of the frontline nurses since the most prevalent diseases were cholera, diarrhœa, and dysentery – all tropical diseases she treated. Unfortunately, everywhere she applied, she was looked down upon and rejected just based on the colour of her skin. Determined, she decided to fund her own trip to Crimea.
Ms. Seacole decided she would set up 2 miles behind the frontlines. The building she built was modest, made out of wood, iron and scraps she found and named it the British Hotel. The hotel was well stocked and despite moderate theft she was able to sell her goods at a hefty price to high ranking officers and in turn not charge foot soldiers for treatments. Mary was loved and revered by the soldiers. They called her Mother Seacole. Her hotel was an abode for these soldiers. They would come in and for a fraction of a moment they forgot their troubles of war and misery. They were able to be themselves. After the war, Mary went back to London destitute.
In an era where you were defined based on your skin colour and sex, Mary Seacole overlooked racism and propelled forward. She was a proud biracial woman that loved both sides of her heritage. She never wanted to be classified or pigeonholed. She pushed through barriers because she never saw obstacles. As Mary said in her book “The Wonderful Adventures of Mrs. Seacole in Many Lands”, that she came from strong stock but internally, she had her own way of dealing with the torment of racism. She projected a positive outlook on life and showing her indomitable spirit by adopting the soldiers as her children. When they got injured she treated them – comforted them like a mother and nursed them back to health. She showered them with love, care and devotion. She rode on the battlefield with her horse and tended to the wounded. And when she couldn’t bring them back from the brink of death, she grieved like they were her own personal loss. Mary Seacole truly was an angel.
Because of Mary Seacole and Florence Nightingale we have modern nursing (Nightingale) complemented with compassion and care (Seacole). We salute and praise all nurses. You truly go above and beyond.