Battlefield Nursing

Mary (Grant) Seacole was born in Kingston Jamaica. Her mother practiced traditional Caribbean and African medicine. Mary learned a lot of her healing skills from her mother. Mary was especially proficient in treating cholera, a disease that affected many British soldiers who were stationed in the Caribbean. In addition to her nursing skills, Mary learned about hotel management from her mother. Both her nursing skills and her hotel management would become vital to her future.

On a trip to Britain, Mary learned about the dire situation with the lack of nursing during the Crimean War. She applied to serve as a nurse but was denied. She and a distant relative decided to create a general store and hotel near the British encampment in the Crimea region. The hotel quickly became a hospital for British soldiers.

She would often go to the front line to treat soldiers. As the war wound down, she had goods she could not sell and went bankrupt. Two of the Crimean commanders organized a benefit for her that was immensely successful, with over 80,000 in attendance. She was beloved by all those she treated.

She was awarded a Crimean medal for her service but was virtually forgotten after that. We remember Florence Nightingale for her service during the Crimean War, but not Mary Seacole. In fact, Florence Nightingale’s efforts were located hundreds of miles from the front line, while Mary was at the scene of the fighting.

Hidden heroes are often not recognized because of their biology or their lack of credentials to achieve as they did. Mary faced racial prejudice and officials did not accept her lack of credentials for nursing. In fact, schools for nursing did not exist until after the Crimean War. Mary has finally achieved recognition for her work due in large part to biographers exploring the societal advances of people of color. Mary is thought of today as the first nurse practitioner.

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“To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

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