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She was born in Alderley, Cheshire the third child of Edward Stanley, later to be the Bishop of Norwich, and sister of Arthur Penrhyn Stanley, Dean of Westminster and Owen Stanley, the naval explorer. She was also was a close friend of Sidney Herbert, and his wife. She was an ardent Puseyite.
Mary Stanley shared Florence Nightingale's interest in nursing, but, unlike Florence Nightingale, was an ardent advocate of the Kaiserswerth plan with its emphasis on the instruction of nurses 'in the art of administering religious comfort to patients. . .'. She was seven years older than Florence Nightingale, but 'a strange, emotional creature' and an odd blend of religious fervour and jealousy . . .' Intensely devoted to Florence Nightingale, Mary Stanley had assisted her in recruiting the first group of nurses to go to Constantinople. After causing a family rift by converting to Catholicism, she was stirred by the success of the Nightingale experiment and encouraged by Cardinal Manning to lead a second party of predominately Catholic nurses.
On her return from the Crimea she continued with her philanthropic work, establishing savings clubs, an industrial laundry and creating employment for soldiers' wives in the production of army uniforms. In 1861, during the "cotton famine" in Lancashire caused by the American Civil War, she assisted Elizabeth Gaskell to distribute aid to the unemployed cotton workers.
She died in 1879 at the age of 66.
- "Bishop Stanley". Norwich Heart. Retrieved 13 February 2011.