When we think of a woman whose story should be shared and shared again, it is one who is steadfast, knows her worth, doesn’t take any crap, sees obstacles as opportunities, and puts her head down and pushes forward. Mary Seacole embodied all of these attributes.
She was a British-Jamaican nurse, business woman, and writer. She was born to a mixed-race Jamaican mother and a Scottish man in 1805. During this time, she was in a higher class for her lighter skin but still dealt with huge amounts of prejudice, especially outside of Jamaica.
Her mother was a Doctress, skilled in traditional medicine, who also owned a boarding house. Mary grew up helping her mother care for soldiers who stayed at the house.
Wanderlust and an entrepreneurial spirit
When she was 15 she joined some relatives to sail to England for the first time. She stayed for a year and while there she expanded her knowledge of medicine into European practices. At 18, she went back to London, and this time brought Caribbean spices and fruits. She saw an opportunity to make a buck and succeeded. During this time, she learned more about medicine and continued to run a successful import business.
After returning from England in 1825, she traveled around the Caribbean to Cuba, Haiti and Bahamas, furthering her knowledge of local medicine. She returned to Jamaica for a long period to help take care of her Patroness, the woman who helped raise her and educate her. During this time, she helped her mother continue to run the boarding house, attending to sick soldiers.
Battling Disease and Prejudice
In 1936, she married a British merchant. It’s believed they met as she tended to him-- he was an ill man and died in 1844. Shortly after she lost her mother. Naturally, these losses crushed her. Mary continued onward and built the British Hotel in what is now Cruces, Panama. The British Hotel was actually a restaurant and general store and place for the ill. There she had her hands full managing a cholera outbreak.
When she was preparing to return to Jamaica, at a goodbye party a man made a speech to thank Mary for helping treat those who had been sick, but exclaimed that it was a shame her skin wasn’t white as it would make her more acceptable. Mary couldn't ignore this – so she said that her skin color made no difference to all the work she had done and that even if her skin had been darker, ‘I should have been just as happy and just as useful, and as much respected by those whose respect I value.’
Upon returning to Jamaica, she had to quickly learn how to care for people suffering from the latest disease, Yellow Fever.
Undettered and Unafraid: The Crimean War
Around this time, in 1853 Britain entered into the Crimean War. There was a call for nurses in England so Mary went to offer her help and was actually denied by the official delegation. We don’t know why but it’s likely because of various factors: her race, age, and doubt of her knowledge.
Cartoon of Mary Seacole during the Crimean War
This is the same war the Florence Nightingale became the nurse known for founding modern nursing practices today.
Mary, undeterred, went back to Jamaica, contacted her friend John Day and explained the opportunity. They packed up a boat with a ton of supplies and sailed the heck over to Crimea and set up a general store and care house on the front lines. She was beloved by the soldiers for providing them with some comforts and care during the war. Seacole would even ride out to the battlefield to bring provisions to the soldiers.
This woman was so driven to help people that she went and did it on her own accord, establishing a business along the way.
She didn’t worry too much about collecting money from soldiers and so the business aspect didn’t go too well. She returned to England after the war poor. However, the soldiers hailed her and campaigned to help her gain recognition and financial support. The queen rewarded her with a medal of honor and a large endowment. Before she passed in 1881, she wrote a memoir titled “Wonderful Adventures of Mrs. Seacole in Many Lands."
She spent her life adventuring unafraid and giving unabashed.
About the Design:
We wanted to pay homage to the fact that her primary mission where ever she was, was to care for others. She was a legitimate Doctress and nurse. The design is set on deep teal like the sea she loved to sail across. They are illustrations of medicinal plants native to Jamaica and the Caribbean, which Seacole used to treat patients, like the Stinging nettle. She wrote, "So true it is that beside the nettle ever grows the cure for its sting."