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  • Writer's pictureAaliya Ali

Mary Seacole: The nursing hero who’s an inspiration to this day

The NHS and the public have gone through a hell of a lot these last two years. Our whole world got a massive surprise hit with something a lot of us never envisioned would happen - a worldwide pandemic and a worldwide series of lockdowns.

Not only did this change the public’s world, the NHS became the most valued and appreciated service in town. Doctors and nurses came from abroad to support England’s NHS and work on the frontline, putting their lives at risk, sometimes sacrificing them, to save others. People stayed indoors for months - their independence and freedom put on hold. Many people suffered the loss of loved ones as England got to grips with the situation. Suddenly, the world got swept with compassion and a wave of support from the community.

This got me to thinking - what about the old days where doctors and nurses volunteered to look after the wounded. Most people grew up being taught about Florence Nightingale, but what about the forgotten nurses and doctors? One person in particular comes to mind - you may have heard of her, many haven’t. The lady’s name is Mary Seacole.

Mary Seacole started off as a healer and a doctor in Jamaica who, during the Crimean war, put in a request to come to Britain as an army nurse to help and treat the injured soldiers. Her request was denied but Mary did not give up. She decided to fund herself and came to Britain voluntarily where she set up the British Hotel. Mary described the hotel as ‘ a mess-table and comfortable quarters for sick and convalescent officers’. Mary, who briefly met Florence Nightingale during the war, treated wounded soldiers on the battlefield and nursed many back to health using herbal remedies.

Mary was widely recognised and valued by servicemen and was described as displaying ‘compassion, skills and bravery’ while nursing soldiers during the war.

After her death in 1881, aged 75, she was sadly forgotten by Britain but still remembered in her birth town of Jamaica.

During recent years, her grave was rediscovered and her memory reignited by British historians as part of publicising the history of the Black community.

In 1991, Liverpool set up a foundation called the Mary Seacole House which supports ethnic minorities and refugees and provides a holistic approach to people’s mental health and wellbeing.

In 2004, the Mary Seacole Trust was set up in London to tell Mary’s story and support initiatives to encourage diversity and inclusion. Thanks to the trust, Mary’s story is now part of the school curriculum and in 2016, a statue was made to commemorate her achievements at St Thomas Hospital.

Now her story is out there again, her memory can be retold to many generations to come.

To find out more about Mary Seacole and the organisations in her name, check out the Community Bridges podcast, the Mary Seacole House, and the Mary Seacole Trust.

Written by Aaliya Ali and illustrated by Mona Neilson


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