International Womens day #Breakingthe bias

In the lead up to International Womens Day – #breakingthebias on 8th March, the Millfields Trust, Plymouth are excited to showcase inspirational women who we feel have made an impact in our lives. We have an amazing mix of famous women and our very own tenants and board directors to highlight over the coming weeks. Providing us with an inspirational start, we wanted to highlight Nurse Mary Seacole. She was a beautiful, strong, fearless, inspiring woman of whom we named our very own Business Space in the Millfields, “Mary Seacole Road”.

Nurse Mary Seacole was a mixed-race woman living in the 19th century, she broke social rules and prejudices to travel the world, run businesses and help those in need. She is best known for setting up a safe area on the front line and looking after the wounded in the Crimean War.

The Crimean War broke out in October 1853 and by the next year, Mary had arrived in London to offer her skills as a nurse. Despite all her glowing references from senior officials, Mary was told that all the nursing positions had been filled and that she would not be chosen even if a vacancy came up. Mary was determined to help the soldiers, so she paid her own way to the Crimea with her friend Thomas Day. They opened the British Hotel; a hotel and store – two miles from where the soldiers were stationed in Balaklava, Crimea.

Mary first travelled to England in 1821 when she was just 16-years-old! In the 1800s, it was considered unusual for a woman to travel alone. However, Mary was very independent and ended up writing a book about all her solo travels called Wonderful Adventures of Mrs Seacole in Many Lands. This became the first-ever autobiography published by a free black woman in the British empire.

Despite being so well-loved, Mary was somewhat forgotten about in history after her death in 1881. It was only in 1980 that her story was rediscovered by historians. You may have seen a statue of Mary Seacole outside St Thomas’ Hospital, London and this is believed to be the first in the UK to honour a black woman. 

Mary Seacole is famous for quoting ‘It was from my own powers, and not at all from necessity, that I remained an unprotected female.’

This International Womens Day, we will honour Mary Seacole by being mindful of all the good she achieved by her exceptional will and determination.


International Womens day #Breakingthe bias, Millfields Trust
Detail from a Victorian carte de visite photograph of Mary Seacole, 1860. Photograph: Amoret Tanner /Alamy