Are you teaching the right things about Mary Seacole to your children?
10 things to be sure to teach:
1. Mary was not a nurse as pupils would understand the term
She learned about holistic medicine from her mother who was a ‘doctress’ who understood the healing properties of plants. She also gained experience of military life, as her father was an army officer.
2. She travelled a lot within and beyond her native Kingston Jamaica
Mary travelled a lot, buying and selling goods she could trade in the markets in Jamaica.
3. She married an Englishman
Together they ran a general store and later she up a hotel on her own When running several hotels, she was often called upon to help deal with the sick and knew the importance of keeping up the patients’ fluids and keeping the sickroom clean and well-ventilated
4. She would have known some of the British officers and men involved
When Mary heard news of the outbreak of the Crimean War, she would have known some of the British officers and men involved from her father’s day, so she wanted to help. She also felt that she had the nursing background that made her a valuable asset
5. She was interviewed but not accepted
When she answered Florence’s call for nurses she came to England to join her team of nurses, she was interviewed but not accepted. As one recent biographer writes:‘To the organisers, Mary was ‘no lady’: she was a large black woman wearing parrot coloured clothes with a loud laugh and a defiant air. Certainly, she was used to being her own boss’.
6.She found the money herself to make the journey to the Crimea
Mary was a mature, opinionated, woman who was confident and determined enough to deal with this set back. She found the money herself to make the journey to the Crimea in Russia where set up the ‘British Hotel’ which was a sort of clinic cum restaurant and takeaway.
7. She was ready to dash to the battlefield
Unlike Florence, Mary would be ready to dash to the battlefield carrying dressings, food and drink (including sherry as an antiseptic).
8. Her approach to nursing was quite different to Florence Nightingale’s
Her approach to nursing was quite different to Florence Nightingale’s. Mary would cheer the patients up with a hug and the odd swig of wine! while Florence was worshipped for the incredibly efficient way she ran the wards.
9. After the war she was left bankrupt
When the war was over, many soldiers left without settling their debts, so Mary was left bankrupt. So popular was she that a fund was set up to help her and a massive party was held over four nights for the launch of her book Wonderful Adventures of Mary Seacole in Many Lands.
10. Awareness of Mary’s career has improved in past 30 years
When Mary died in 1881, her celebrity died with her. But over the last 30 years or so, people’s awareness of Mary’s career has improved and she now proudly boasts her own statue outside StThomas’ hospital in London. Within the BAME community and far beyond, Mary has become a role model for nurses and others who recognise her holistic approach, the warmth of her her compassion and her good humour.