THE pioneer nurse or the PIONEER nurse seems to be a controversial topic for people of late, when it comes to Mary Seacole; the statue or the curriculum. There have even been suggestions that honouring the values that Mary Seacole showed would give competition to or in some way erase the work of Florence Nightingale. Surely there would be no competition at all; both Seacole and Nightingale made sacrifices, tough decisions and lived through battles. Overcoming a lot of difficulty to improve the situation for soldiers and those deserving of health care. Their aims and actions united them! Who are we to try and separate them, create rivalry and take focus away from their achievements? Do we not work in this industry because we also believe in striving for justice?
Mary Seacole was born to a Scottish father and Jamaican mother. She grew up around the disabled and sick as her mother ran a boarding house which housed injured European soldiers. Given that she was born of mixed ethnicity, Mary had few civil rights – she would not have been able to vote or enter a profession. This naturally could have placed a lot of restrictions on Mary’s life however, through her strong will and her resourcefulness, she became – although not so well recognised – a heroin for soldiers of all nations within the Crimean War.
A large part of Mary’s education was within her mother’s approach to caring and the herbal remedies that she would aid her residence with. This is something Mary herself would practice in her later travels around Panama, Haiti and Cuba. She gained crucial experience throughout her excursions as she came across many people suffering from cholera, yellow fever and various other tropical diseases. Mary seemed to acknowledge that illness or disability did not discriminate and so in her attempts to assist, she did not discriminate either.
On hearing of the Crimean War, Mary requested that she be allowed to travel out to the conflict but was refused by the British War Office. Not deterred by this decision, Mary decided to borrow the money to make her journey. She formed a business plan that would mean she was able to repay her debt whilst tending to the injured and sick; she set up a ‘British Hotel’ similar to the one her mother had run when she was a child and rented rooms to injured soldiers, selling food and equipment to the troops. Mary spent much of her own money on supplies, caring for the wounded soldiers on both sides of the war. She was also known to have frequented the battlefield, even under fire to treat the wounded. The environment she created for the soldiers, along with the constant care she strived for, led to her being given the name of Mother Seacole by the troops.
By the end of the war Mary herself was sick and destitute but in her memoirs published in 1857, she does not seem to dwell on this, only focusing on her belief that what she did was right. She faced hardship and at times she witnessed what seemed like unjust conditions but Mary triumphed against the odds and deserves the right to be remembered as a pioneer. It may seem sycophantic at times but the dedication that Mary Seacole showed to not only her own beliefs, but to the care of others that served their nations, should always be honoured.
Today we see controversy in the news all the time, we may even have become immune to its potential repercussions. At some point or other, unknowingly we will witness the first steps of a future pioneer and fail to credit them for their vision. Recent opposition to the Mary Seacole statue would indicate we live in a society that has strayed from accepting honourable intention and is now focused on scepticism and one-upmanship. Now is a key time to fight for intentions to be noted, to act out of kindness and be selfless without worrying what ‘angle’ we may be accused of working. Despite the uncertainties and imminent reforms within our industry, we must for the sake of the victims push on with our service. Like Mary Seacole on the battlefield, we should remain focused despite protest or refusals, because the genuine reasons we entered this industry remain; everyone deserves to be cared for and the reason we share a voice is so those that cannot speak out can look to those who can to do it for them. With this in mind, the Mary Seacole statue to be unveiled on 30th June 2016 is a well-deserved memorial to a remarkable lady. It also has the chance to become a milestone marker for personal injury lawyers who refuse to stop caring about major trauma victims. Long may Mary Seacole overlook the gardens of St. Thomas and long may our industry stand to ensure compensation is fairly distributed and rehabilitation is justly rewarded.
Written by Grace McGeoch
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