Mary Jane Seacole
Among the many Jamaican women whose names still live in the island's history, few
stand above that of Mary Jane Seacole.
Mary Seacole was born in Kingston, Jamaica in 1805, during the time of slavery Her father was an army officer in Scotland and her mother, a free black woman who operated a lodging house.
From as early as twelve years old, Mary could be seen attending to the sick soldiers and their families, who often came to her mother's house from Up-Park Camp and Newcastle in the hills of St. Andrew.
She never received any training in nursing, but felt she had to help in giving care in whatever way she could, whether at home or abroad.
During slavery, the Government did not provide for free medical care or public cleansing. There were no public hospitals, garbage was not collected and the streets were not swept. In addition, most public places had no toilets or piped water.
Under such unhealthy conditions, it was easy for diseases to spread; in 1850, when Jamaica and other West Indian countries experienced the first outbreak of Cholera, it was Mary Seacole who prepared a medicine to cure those who were suffering from the disease.
In an effort to reach many persons with the antidote, she went to Panama and Cuba to nurse the cholera victims there While in Cuba, she contracted the disease but was soon cured by taking her own medicine.
Because of her courage and voluntary services, Miss Seacole was given a letter of recommendation to Florence Nightingale, founder of the British Red Cross Society and a famous nurse in England. She made good use of this opportunity and received two medals from the British Government for the medical assistance she offered during the Crimean War, which followed shortly.
After the War, Miss Seacole was faced with both health and financial difficulties which almost ruined her life. But she was a strong woman and managed to survive amidst the struggles. She eventually left England for her home in Jamaica where she continued to offer her kind deeds until her death in 1881.
Miss Seacole's contribution has marked the pages of our country's history. She has left behind a legacy
- one of great value and one which should never be forgotten
Today, she is remembered through the Mary Seacole
Hall, a residence at the University of the West
Indies,which was named in her honour A sculptured
bust of her can also be found at the Institute of
Jamaica. Some people refer to her as the Florence
Nightingale of Jamaica.
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10 Reprinted from “ A fi wi Heritage “ JIS October 1996 A Fl WI HERITAGE