Mary Seacole

I have witnessed her devotion and courage... and I trust that England will never forget one who has nursed her sick, who sought out her wounded to aid and succor them and who performed the last offices for some of her illustrious dead.
—William Howard Russell, special correspondent to the Times, 1856

To be recorded by official institutions, an individual or event must at some stage be deemed to be of particular value to society. The notion of "greatness" is a highly subjective one, governed by considerations of race, class and gender, and by a person's or event's place within our affections.
—Susan Okokon, 1998

Born in Kingston, Jamaica, a quarter-century before the abolition of slavery to a free black woman and a Scottish army officer, Mary Seacole (née Grant) went on to become famous for her outstanding humanitarian work in the Crimean War. Seacole grew up in an environment where healing was an integral part of the household. Her mother, who was a healer and herbalist, also ran a boarding house where she nursed British soldiers stationed on the island.

She married Edward Seacole, who was ailing and died soon afterwards. However, before his untimely departure, they were able to travel around the Caribbean and to Central America where she augmented her nursing skills, gained first-hand knowledge on the treatment of tropical diseases and prepared her own herbal remedies. This training prepared and qualified her eminently for her mission in the Crimean War.

She returned to Jamaica where, upon her mother's death, she took over the boarding house. Becoming aware of the Crimean War and that there was a shortage of British nurses, she decided that she could use her skills to tend to the sick and wounded soldiers. She journeyed to England where she offered her services to the War Office and other military agencies, but was steadfastly rejected. | Continued
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Black Londoners, Susan Okokon. Alan Sutton Publishing, Ltd., 1998.
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Daughters of Africa: An International Anthology of Words and Writings by Women of African Descent: From the Ancient Egyptian to the Present, Margaret Busby (ed.), Ballantine Books, 1992.
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Wonderful Adventures of Mrs. Seacole in Many Lands, Mary Seacole, Oxford University Press, 1988.
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