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Known by History as 'Mother Seacole' and 'the Black Florence Nightingale', Mary Seacole is one of the great lights of nursing. Despite the social burdens of Victorian society visited upon her for being black, a woman, and a nurse, Mary, by force of character, conviction, and ability was able to leave a signature mark on the practice of healing. During her adventurous life, Mary brought care to cholera and yellow fever ravaged prospectors in Panama and to wounded on the battlefields of the Crimean War while functioning as the first nurse practitioner. While history does not remember her quite as vividly as it does some of the other nursing pioneers, the legacy of Mother Seacole is becoming more widely known and will serve as an inspiration to current and future nurses.
Mary Seacole - Early Life
In 1805, in Kingston, Jamaica, Mary was born to a Jamaican mother and a Scottish officer in the British Army. Though lacking formal advanced training, Mary learned the skills of care and traditional healing from her mother, who operated a boarding house for infirmed soldiers.Additionally, she sought education from Army doctors as well as those at the local hospital.Mary had the open-mindedness and intelligence to combine aspects of the modern medical practices she learned from doctors with remedies from traditional natural healing that she acquired from her mother.
Marrying Edwin Seacole in 1836, Mary and her husband traveled throughout the Caribbean and Central America doing the following:
- Tending the sick
- Learning how to diagnose and treat tropical diseases
- Creating her own herbal remedies (Purple Planet)
Sadly, after returning to Jamaica and opening a store with his wife, Mr. Seacole suffered an early death. The death of Mary's mother followed closely thereafter. In order to provide for herself, Mary returned to Kingston to take over the boarding house where she originally learned her nursing skills.
Seacole's Knowledge of Tropical Diseases
The knowledge which she acquired about tropical diseases was soon put to good use. Despite contracting cholera during the 1850 Jamaican outbreak that claimed over 31,000 lives, Mary was an important figure in diagnosing and treating its victims. Soon after, Mary set off to Cruces, Panama, in the midst of the gold rush boom, to open a boarding house with her brother. While there, it appears that Mary diagnosed the area's first case of cholera, during what would be a massive outbreak. The only medical aid of any sort in Cruces, Mary is viewed as an angel of mercy for her nursing skill. While studying the disease, she concludes that it is contagious and promoted through poor ventilation, improper sanitation, and low quality food; all ideas that are ridiculed at the time. Having success in Cruces, Mary travels from Panama to Cuba to assist during their outbreak. Again proving her nursing ability, Mary becomes known as "the yellow woman from Jamaica with the cholera medicine."
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