Lost Portrait of Mary Seacole - Circa 1869

The disappointment seemed a cruel one. I was so conscious of the unselfishness of the motives which induced me to leave England – so certain of the service I could render among the sick soldiery, and yet I found it so difficult to convince others of these facts. Doubts and suspicions arose in my heart for the first and last time, thank Heaven. Was it possible that American prejudices against colour had some root here? 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. Then I stood still, and looking upward through and through the dark clouds that shadowed London, prayed aloud for help.

- An excerpt from Mary Seacole's Autobiography entitled, The Wonderful Adventures of Mrs. Seacole in Many Lands(1857).

Mother Seacole

Mary Seacole is the black Florence Nightingale and is equally accomplished. However, Mary has not been remembered throughout history because of the colour of her skin. She encountered difficulty in nursing due to prejudice; therefore her services were often not needed. Mary had to overcome a lot of obstacles in order to care for her patients. Today there is an award given in honour of Mary to nurses who help black, minority, and ethnic groups. Mary Seacole was a self trained nurse who opened the door for ethnic minorities in nursing and is recognized today as one of the greatest contributors to nursing history.

Her History as a Nurse

Mary Jane Grant was born in Jamaica in 1805 to a Scottish army officer and a free black woman. Mary’s mother ran a boarding house in Kingston called Blundell Hall and treated the ill; she used herbal medicines and was a traditional healer (Ellis, 2009, p. 304). Mary learned patient care and nursing skills from her mother (p. 304). She was able to observe her mother’s work along with military doctors and was started helping her mother at the age of twelve (Seaton, 2002). Mary followed her mother’s footsteps and became a healer or doctress (Seaton, 2002).

Mary married Edwin Horatio Seacole on November 10, 1836 (Lewis). Their marriage was short as he passed away in 1844 (Ellis, 2009, p. 304). Mary continued to run Blundell Hall; in 1850 a cholera epidemic occurred and Mary effectively dealt with the disease (p. 304). She travelled to Panama, visiting her brother, where she met and conquered the disease once more (p. 304). While treating people with this disease, she performed her one and only autopsy to discover how the disease attacks the body (Seaton, 2002). Once returning home to Jamaica, Mary cared for people due to a yellow feveroutbreak (Seaton, 2002).

The Crimean War

Mary later travelled to London to aid the British Army; however, her application was rejected although Mary was more than qualified and had many letters of recommendation (Seaton, 2002). Mary then tried to join Florence Nightingale, who had little experience with cholera, but was once again turned down (Seaton, 2002). Determined, Mary went to the Crimea at her own cost and decided to open The British Hotel, a boarding house, two miles from the battlefront to treat the soldiers (Simkin). She was then able to care for the sick and wounded soldiers, even on the battlefield, while Florence Nightingale was much farther away (Seaton, 2002; Simkin).

Following the war, Mary returned to England and died in Paddington, London from a stroke on May 14, 1881 (Lewis).

F_Mary_Seacole.jpg Her Contribution to Nursing
In 2004, Mary Seacole was chosen as the greatest black Briton because of her irrepressible determination and her great contribution to nursing (BBC News, 2004). Over 200 years ago, Mary Seacole “stood up against the discrimination and prejudices she encountered” (as cited in Davis, 2004, p. 12) opening the door for ethnic minorities in nursing. Although Mary’s offer to nurse soldiers in Crimea was turned down, she was persistent and made a difference in the lives of countless soldiers (Davis, 2004). Throughout the war, Mary was on the battlefield providing unbiased care to soldiers regardless of whether they were friend or foe (Nottingham University Hospitals, 2009). Mary Seacole did not succumb to discrimination; she treated all people equally with compassion. The same cannot be said for how she was treated (NUH, 2009).

It is truly amazing that such a strong and courageous woman was able to put aside wrongs done against her and
see through racism in order to make a difference without much appreciation or recognition. The Mary Seacole Centre for Nursing Practice was established in 1998 with its main goal being “to enable the integration of a multi-ethnic philosophy into the process of nursing and midwifery recruitment, education, practice, management and research” (Mary Seacole Centre for Nursing Practice, 2008, para. 4). The Mary Seacole Development and Leadership Awardwas also established in memory of Mary in order to honor nurses who show the same leadership and determination as Mary (Department of Health UK, 2009).

How She is Remembered Today
Mary Seacole was an important contributor to the nursing profession; many things help to perpetuate her memory. Various hospitals and wards have been named after Mary to commemorate her (Mary Seacole Center, 2008). She is also remembered through The Mary Seacole Center for Nursing Practice and The Mary Seacole Reseach Center (Mary Seacole Center, 2008). A statue commemorating Mary is set to be erected by 2011 which will face Big Ben in London (BBC News, 2009) and a blue plaque has been placed at her last place of residence in London, England to honor her memory (English Heritage, 2007).

A Bronze Bust of Mary Seacole Created by Fowokan
On July 26, 1995 The Royal College of Nursing launched a new publication called A Short History of Mary Seacole: A Resource for Nurses and Students (Mary Seacole Center, 2008). This provides a resource to nurses and student to familiarize themselves with the contributions Mary Seacole has made.

Tragically, Mary was forgotten for nearly a century despite her efforts and achievements, which were as equally remarkable as those of the famous Florence Nightingale (Seaton, 2002). Some have suggested that her disappearance from history was due to prejudices held against her, but her determination, valor and contribution to the nursing profession were too noteworthy to keep her in the shadows (Seaton, 2002). In Mary’s autobiography, The Wonderful Adventures of Mrs. Seacole in Many Lands (1857), she explains that she desired to nurse soldiers in the Crimea because she had the qualifications to serve soldiers in need. Her noble motivation is what fuelled her determination despite her rejection from the British army (Seaton, 2002). Today, Mary has been immortalized through organizations dedicated to her memory, statues, commemorative ceremonies, plaques and paintings. Mary Seacole was a self trained nurse who opened the door for ethnic minorities in nursing and is recognized today as one of the greatest contributors to nursing history.

For Further Information on Mary Seacole:



    BBC News. (2004). Nurse named greatest black Briton. Retrieved from: BBC News, http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/2/hi/uk_news/3475445.stm

    BBC News. (2009). Seacole sculpture design revealed. Retrieved from: BBC News, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/england/london/8106416.stm

    Davis, C. (2004). Living her dream. Nursing Standard (18)32. Retrieved from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15132028

    Department of Health UK. (2009). Mary seacole development and leadership awards 2009. Retrieved from: http://www.dh.gov.uk/en/Aboutus/Chiefprofessionalofficers/Chiefnursingofficer/DH_074244

    Ellis, H. (2009). Mary Seacole: self taught nurse and heroine of the Crimean War. The Journal of Perioperative Practice, 19(9), 304-305

    English Heritage. (2007). Blue plaque for Mary Seacole, heroine of the Crimean war. Retrieved from: http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/server/show/ConWebDoc.12638

    Lewis, J. J. (n.d.). Mary Seacole: British Black Nurse. Retrieved December 3, 2009 from:

    Mary Seacole Centre for Nursing Practice. (2008). History of the centre. Retrieved from: http://www.maryseacole.com/maryseacole/pages/nursingcentre.html

    Nottingham University Hospitals. (2009). Press Release: Nottingham stroke ward to be renamed after Crimean war nurse as part of black history month. Retrieved from: http://www.nuh.nhs.uk/newsdesk/pressreleases/2009/10_October/071009.htm

    Seacole, M. (1857). The Wonderful Adventures of Mrs. Seacole in Many Lands. London, ENG: Thomas Harrild. Retrieved from: http://digital.library.upenn.edu/women/seacole/adventures/adventures.html#VIII

    Seaton, H. J. (2002). Another Florence Nightingale? The Rediscovery of Mary Seacole. Retrieved December 3, 2009 from: http://www.victorianweb.org/history/crimea/seacole.html

    Simkin, J. (n.d.). Mary Seacole. Spartacus Educational. Retrieved from: http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/REseacole.htm**