On this day in 1881 the nurse Mary Seacole died in London aged 76. Originally from Jamaica, the young Mary was taught her nursing skills by her mother. When war broke out in the Crimea, she applied to give medical assistance to wounded servicemen but was refused, and so gave treatment independently. Her patients admired ‘Mother Seacole’ and helped raised money for her after the war when she was left destitute. Despite her exemplary national service and popularity in Britain, Seacole faced discrimination at home due to her race and was unable to vote or hold public office.
She has often been forgotten and placed in the shadow of famous Crimean War nurse Florence Nightingale, a phenomenon which some critics consider a ‘whitewashing’ of British history. Seacole should be the household name that Nightingale is – they each were heroines of the Crimean War who put themselves in danger to help their country. However it should be noted that in 2004 Seacole was voted the greatest Black Briton, so she certainly is beginning to receive the attention a woman like her deserves.