The Legacy of Mary Seacole

by Mia Morris

Mary Seacole is held in much pride as she brought more than her skills in nursing to those who admired her. She was a humanitarian and more importantly took care of people in a holistic way. 'She was not about just sticking a plaster on and sending them on their way,' says Sister Monica, a community worker whose previous roles included working as a Roman Catholic chaplainry with responsibility for the Caribbean at Westminster; hence a pivotal person with the Friends of Mary Seacole.

See also "Mary Seacole: Quotes"

It was no surprise to learn that Mary Grant Seacole topped the Every Generation campaign to find 100 Great Black Britains. Patrick Vernon has been overwhelmed with positive responses from various sectors and has since attended meetings with regard to developing more information for the campaign for recognition within the community.

Seacole was born in 1805 in Jamaica and made her mark on British public life when she went to the Crimea (by her own efforts) to bring comfort to the wounded and dying soldiers, after her offers to help were rejected by the Government. She was awarded a Crimean medal, and in 1857 published her autobiography, The Wonderful Adventures of Mary Seacole in Many Lands. Seacole died in 1881, and is buried in St Mary's Catholic Cemetery, Kensal Green.

Many black women came from the Caribbean post Windrush to serve as nurses. The appeal of the UK was that they were given job status, the opportunity to share their holistic beliefs, and lodgings all in one fell swoop. Not surprisingly, the NHS is the third largest employer of people from ethnic backgrounds in the world.

Royal College of Nurses President, Sylvia Denton OBE, FRCN said: "As a black Jamaican woman in the 19th century Mary Seacole stood up against the discrimination and prejudices she encountered. Against all odds Mary had an unshakeable belief in the power of nursing to make a difference."

Mary Seacole's efforts would not have been brought to the fore without the help of 'The Friends of Mary Seacole' an organization that worked together to ensure that Seacole's life was commemorated with an annual wreath laying ceremony which started in 1981.

On Monday 24th November 2003 a campaign for a permanent memorial of Mary Seacole in London was launched. A public garden in memory of Mary Seacole is planned for the area close to where she is buried.

This year, 2005 will be the 200th anniversary of her birth and so the campaign to erect a statue gathers momentum. The question though is should it be erected on the vacant plinth in Trafalgar Square or in an area more acquainted with the people Mary represented. For more details and updates about the campaign go to: or

In 1994 the Department of Health announced and launched the Mary Seacole Nursing Leadership Award. The Award was intended 'to support a BME nurse studying in preparation for a leading position in nursing which would also benefit the health of Black and Ethnic communities'.

It was acknowledged in various policy documents and by staff in the NHS that 'people from the black and ethnic minorities are significantly under-represented in senior positions, as in other areas of the NHS workforce'. The Award was intended to kick start a process that would start to redress the above situation as well as benefiting the individual to whom it was awarded.

Ten Awards have been made to 6 nurses, 3 health visitors, and 1 midwife. Subjects covered range across a wide area of care including Forensic Mental Health, Sickle Cell and Thalassaemia, Paediatric Home Care, School Children's Health, Sexual Health, Stroke Care, Care of the Elderly, Midwifery Care, Women's Mental Health and Medicine Management for BME patients in the community.

There is clear evidence to show that the 10 winners of the Mary Seacole Leadership awards have benefited enormously. They represent a cadre of nurses who have shown how policy applied to practice can benefit patients. These individuals epitomise a successful knowledge and skills framework. Their success also shows what can be achieved from investing in BME nurses.

The Department of Health is continuing to support the Mary Seacole name and heritage and has agreed a further £125,000 to be awarded to 20 BME nurses working directly with patients at the frontline in the NHS. The new awards were announced by the minister, Dr. Stephen Ladyman, last November. As with the Leadership Awards, the new awards will be administered by the Royal College of Nurses in collaboration with the Royal College of Midwives, the Community Practitioners an d Health Visitors Association and UNISON

"Mary Seacole epitomized the spirit of caring and matched this with a real purpose even though she encountered 'red tape' and resistance to her plans. Rising above the obviously difficult she forged ahead against the odds of the time and made her mark for history. Her strength was that she did not understand the word no. Today her achievements remain an inspiration nearly 200 years later".
Nola Ishmael, OBE


Among the many outstanding Jamaican women whose name lives on in the island's history, few rank above Mary Jane Seacole.

She is revered in Jamaica for her skill as a 'doctress' and nurse to the many ordinary men and women on the island during the outbreak of cholera in the 1850's and is remembered for taking her own medicines to help those stricken with the disease in Panama and Cuba.

She was a strong and caring woman who unselfishly funded her nursing services from the proceeds of her boarding house and general store in Jamaica without regard for her own personal profit.

Her legacy lives on in Jamaica from the Mary Seacole Hall at the Mona Campus of the University of the West Indies to the hundreds of Jamaican nurses who followed her footsteps and are now playing a key role in this country's National Health Service.

The High Commission has over the years supported the work of the Mary Seacole Memorial Association and is represented on the steering committee seeking to have a permanent monument to Mary Seacole established in London

Sculpture of Mary Seacole by Fowokan aka George Kelly

Fowokan is a member of the society of Portraits

Additional info:
Mary Grant Seacole was a Jamaican-born nurse who fulfilled her ambition to nurse soldiers in the Crimean war, despite being denied the opportunity of enlisting with Florence Nightingale. Born in 1805 of Jamaican/Scottish parentage, she successfully raised funds to pay for her passage to the Crimea where she set up the British Hotel, which provided soldiers with accommodation, food and nursing care. When the war suddenly ended in 1856 she found herself in financial difficulties. This was resolved when her supporters in England established and contributed to a fund championed by the Times newspaper. As a result she returned to London, published a best selling autobiography in 1857 and spent her remaining days travelling back and forth between England and Jamaica. Mary Seacole died in London in 1881 and is buried in St Mary's Catholic cemetery, Kensal Green. A public garden in memory of Mary Seacole is planned in Scrubs Lane, close to where she is buried. See further on for links to more information about Mary Seacole.
Source: Mary Seacole resource centre

The National Portrait Gallery Trafalgar Square London now has a recently discovered painting in Room 32 now on permanent display.

See also "Mary Seacole: Quotes"


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