RNs now celebrate Mary Seacole Day as part of National Nurses Week-and as the day we honor the social justice aspect of the work of nurses. Mary Seacole remains an important inspiration for the national nurses movement being built by CNA/NNOC (California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee), which focuses on improving patient care and safety in hospitals and on bringing this country the guaranteed, single-payer health care that our patients deserve.
Mary Seacole’s vision of caring equally for patients regardless of their ethnicity, nationality, or social class established the ideals social justice nursing, and her belief that bureaucracy should not interfere with patient care is as relevant today as it was during her lifetime. Moreover, her career laid an important foundation for nursing practice theory, and many procedures she helped develop continue today.
Mother Mary, as she was sometimes known, lived an extraordinary life that touched many patients. She was born in 1805 in Jamaica of mixed-race descent, and overcame both racism and sexism in a career dedicated to advocating and caring for patients in dire circumstances. Her own mother was a Creole healer, who passed her skills on to Mary. After spending many years establishing hospitals in the Americas and dealing with a cholera epidemic in Jamaica, she was blocked from joining the nursing efforts of Florence Nightingale in the Crimean War, due to racial discrimination. As Mother Mary wrote:
Doubts and suspicion rose in my heart for the first and last time, thank Heaven. Was it possible that American prejudices against colour had some root here? Did these ladies (at Florence Nightingale’s hospital) shrink from accepting my aid because my blood flowed beneath a somewhat duskier skin than theirs?
But nurses are nothing if not resourceful, and, rather than give up, Mother Mary travelled on her own to the war, and practiced nursing under incredible conditions-in the heat of battle, on the battlefields, rather than miles away, where the British hospitals were. She founded her own nursing corps and her own hospital to deal with the needs of her patients.
Although Mother Seacole was forgotten for many years, this kind of heroism could not be repressed forever, and she was recently voted the Greatest Black Briton. in addition, the headquarters of the Jamaican Nurses Association is named after her. Today, May 14, on Mother Seacole Day, part of Nurses Week, RNs across the world celebrate her values and her achievements.
Happy Mary Seacole Day!