Mary Seacole (1805-1881)

From The Guardian of 27.10.14:

“Those of us who think Florence Nightingale’s work, in promoting public health, founding nursing and reforming hospitals, was and remains important do not oppose a statue for Mary Seacole (White History Month is here already, 21 October).

Such a statue, however, should not be at St Thomas’ (Nightingale’s hospital) nor label her “pioneer nurse”, which she never claimed to be (Comment, 8 June 2012). She never worked a day at a hospital, in any country. Nor should a Seacole statue face the Houses of Parliament, when it was Nightingale who wrote briefs and lobbied politicians to improve healthcare, especially in the workhouses. Seacole was a businesswoman who sold champagne and fine meals to officers, and catered their dinner parties. Yes, she was kind and generous, to ordinary soldiers as well as officers. These are good qualities, but not the sort that saves lives or pioneers health care.

On 21 October 1854 Nightingale and her team left for the Crimean war. Mrs Seacole was in London, not applying to become a nurse but attending to her gold-mining stocks. She says so in her book.

Professor Lynn McDonald

Editor, Collected Works of Florence Nightingale

From The Guardian of 21.6.16:

“…I am disappointed but not surprised, for we have been here before. In 2012, as education secretary, Michael Gove tried to remove Seacole from the national curriculum but was headed off by a national campaign, with more than 40,000 people signing a petition in just two weeks and a letter in the Times signed by more than 100 politicians and celebrities including Zadie Smith, Doreen Lawrence, Diane Abbott and the Rev Jesse Jackson.

But it is puzzling. In 2004, reacting to Seacole’s selection as the greatest black Briton, (Mark) Bostridge wrote in the Guardian: “There is no doubt that in terms of practical nursing expertise, Seacole far outdistanced Nightingale’s experience. Her work included preparing medicines, diagnosis and minor surgery, and she describes carrying out her ‘first and last’ postmortem, on a baby, to learn more about cholera.” And yet his voice is loud in the latest chorus of criticism.

The detractors wrote to the Times. Would they had been born when in 1857 Sir Howard Russell, celebrated war correspondent for the Times, said: “I trust that England will not forget one who nursed the sick, who sought out her wounded to aid and succour them, and who performed the last offices for some of her illustrious dead.”

To me, what’s happening seems clear, for this campaign of denigration is not happening in isolation. I see it as part of a wider tradition by an elite, particularly in academia and parts of the media, to suppress and hide the black contribution to Britain. That tendency was the reason I ran the 100 Great Black Britons initiative more than 13 years ago to highlight the contribution our pioneers have made to Britain over the last thousand years.

We have made progress. The Seacole statue will be part of that, but always there is pushback, always there is the attempt to question and belittle achievement.

But we’ll rise above it. On 30 June, when the statue is unveiled, we will celebrate the determination of all of those, led by Lord Soley of Hammersmith, chair and Professor Elizabeth N Anionwu, vice chair of the Mary Seacole memorial statue appeal, who have campaigned – against a headwind – to bring us this far. It seems fitting that Mary’s monument should itself be the result of fortitude.

Patrick Vernon”

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