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Black History Month: Mary Seacole

I am not ashamed to confess that I love to be of service to those in need of a woman's help. And wherever the need arises, on whatever distant shore, I ask no greater or higher privilege than to minister to it”.

In 1805 Mary Grant, later to become Seacole, was born to a Scottish soldier in the British Army and a free Jamaican Woman - a healer known as the “Doctress” - she used traditional African and Caribbean herbal remedies to treat slaves. 

Mary married Edwin Horatio Seacole in 1836. She was able to learn her nursing skills from her mother and from watching military doctors treat the wounded. Mary developed a vast knowledge of tropical diseases including cholera and yellow fever. 

In 1853 she applied to London to offer her services as a nurse but was refused. Undeterred Mary paid her own way to the Crimea and set up a British Hotel - providing a mess table and quarters for sick and convalescent officers. 

Mary was very popular - so much so that in 1856 in London, the newspapers highlighted her plight (she was bankrupt) and raised money to enable her to live. 

Mary Seacole was known as one of the outstanding nurses to tend the wounded during the Crimean War. 

Mary Seacole’s pioneering work saved lives and people of all black backgrounds can draw inspiration from the fact that her achievements have finally been recognised. 

In 1991 she was posthumously awarded the Jamaican Order of Merit and in 2004 was voted the greatest black Briton. 

Mary died in Paddington, London, in 1881. On June 30, 2016 a statue, created by sculptor Martin Jennings, was erected. It stands opposite the Houses of Parliament in the grounds of St Thomas Hospital and is believed to be the UK’s first statue in honour of a named black woman. 

By Theresa Faray 

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