Mary Seacole

On Nursing Day we profiled the life of Florence Nightingale, the founder of the modern nursing profession. Today we are going to profile another nurse who was also very active alongside Nightingale in the 1850s. Mary Jane Seacole was a Jamaican nurse known for her nursing work throughout the 1800s.

She was born in 1805 in Jamaica to a Scottish soldier and a free black Jamaican woman. In 1850 she moved to Panama where she became famous for treating victims of a cholera outbreak. Even though she treated wealthy cholera patients, she treated the poor for free.

She developed a good reputation in treating patients using tropical medicines. After she heard British soldiers weren’t being cared for properly during the Crimean War of 1853-56, she travelled to Crimea in the Black Sea region. There she tended to soldiers, sometimes under heavy fire. She was widely known among the British as ‘Mother Seacole’.

In a newspaper article written in 1855, distinguished Irish reporter,William Howard Russell, described Seacole as a "warm and successful physician, who doctors and cures all manner of men with extraordinary success. She is always in attendance near the battle-field to aid the wounded and has earned many a poor fellow's blessing."

After the war she returned to Great Britain in poor health. Her work with Florence Nightingale was almost forgotten until her bravery and medical skills were recorded in her autobiography, The Wonderful Adventures of Mrs. Seacole in Many Lands. The book is a vivid account of her experiences and is one of the earliest autobiographies of a mixed-race woman.

Mary Jane Seacole is just one of the pioneering women who helped modernize the nursing profession and expanded the role of women in the workforce.

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