MARY SEACOLE

 

Home Victory for campaign to keep Black heroes in lessons Threatened with the chop: Hero Mary Seacole Plans by the British government to axe two Black heroes from school history lessons have been halted by campaigners. It took nearly 36,000 names on a petition and letters to the UK’s Secretary of State for education, Michael Gove, from politicians, trade unions, writers and activists to force a change of heart. Now the great exploits of both Mary Seacole, a nurse during the Crimean War, and slavery abolitionist Olaudah Equiano will continue to be taught in the classroom

Thanks to nearly 36,000 signatories and letters to the UK’s Secretary of State for education from politicians, trade unions, writers and activist, a government move to axe two key Black figures in British history from school lessons has been thwarted. The great exploits of both Mary Seacole, a nurse during the Crimean War, and slavery abolitionist Olaudah Equiano will continue to be taught in the classroom. In December 2012 a leaked department of education document suggested that Equiano and Seacole be scrapped from the national curriculum. Campaign leader Simon Woolley, director of Operation Black Vote, said: “This is a great day for education, but also a great day for the Black community and many others who demanded greater racial justice within our education system. There are too many people to thank personally but, The Times, The Guardian, The Independent, and Change.org all threw their considerable weight behind this campaign.” Responding to the campaign, Secretary of State Michael Gove wrote personally to OBV and campaigners stating: “We are lucky to be heirs to a very rich mix of exceptional thinkers, bold reformers and courageous political activists. I agree that is important that our children learn about the difference that these figures have made, and it is right that we do more, not less to make subjects relevant to the lives of our children

Seacole was a pioneering nurse and heroine of the Crimean War, who as a woman of mixed race overcame a double prejudice. Mary Jane Grant was born in Kingston, Jamaica in 1805. Her father was a Scottish soldier, and her mother a Jamaican. Mary learned her nursing skills from her mother, who kept a boarding house for invalid soldiers. Although technically ‘free’, being of mixed race, Mary and her family had few civil rights – they could not vote, hold public office or enter the professions. In 1836, Mary married Edwin Seacole but the marriage was short-lived as he died in 1844. Seacole was an traveller, and before her marriage visited other parts of the Caribbean, including Cuba, Haiti and the Bahamas, as well as Central America and Britain. On these trips she complemented her knowledge of traditional medicine with European medical ideas. In 1854, Seacole travelled to England again, and approached the War Office, asking to be sent as an army nurse to the Crimea where there was known to be poor medical facilities for wounded soldiers.

She was refused. Undaunted Seacole funded her own trip to the Crimea where she established the British Hotel near Balaclava to provide ‘a mess-table and comfortable quarters for sick and convalescent officers’. She also visited the battlefield, sometimes under fire, to nurse the wounded, and became known as ‘Mother Seacole’. Her reputation rivalled that of Florence Nightingale. After the war she returned to England destitute and in ill health. The press highlighted her plight and in July 1857 a benefit festival was organised to raise money for her, attracting thousands of people. Later that year, Seacole published her memoirs, ‘The Wonderful Adventures of Mrs Seacole in Many Lands’.