During 2012-2013, the Nightingale Society has sent a number of letters to persons concerned with the proposed erection of a Mary Seacole statue at St Thomas’ Hospital. The letters are signed by 8-14 members of the Nightingale society, and are to:
More recent letters on the “progress” of the Seacole statue, and problems around its funding, can be found here.
Letters (in chronological order)
To Sir Hugh Taylor, chair, Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust
Dear Sir Hugh
I appreciate your giving Wendy Mathews and myself time for a meeting in April this year. Since then, as you know, the Lambeth Planning Committee approved the placing of that massive Seacole statue at St Thomas’. Since then also a group has been formed, The Nightingale Society, to promote understanding of Nightingale’s work and reputation, and to contradict misinformation circulated about them.
You stated at our meeting that the board intended no disrespect to Nightingale with its promotion of Seacole. You seemed to be under the misimpression that the Seacole Memorial Appeal Campaign was as high minded. You mentioned specifically that Lord Soley never spoke against Nightingale, nor are we aware that he has. Other members of the campaign, however, have and do, notably the vice-chair, Professor emeritus Elizabeth Anionwu, the major spokesperson in the Nursing Standard and in the various films and electronic material supporting the campaign.
Prominent in the Seacole campaign is the nursing union Unison, which in 1999 voted to “ditch” Nightingale as the model of nursing. Its spokesperson gave as reasons the fact that Nightingale was “white, middle class and Protestant.” Unison’s president and its head of nursing were named respectively Patron and Ambassador for the campaign.
The BBC “Knowledge” film on Seacole, in which Anionwu is the presenter, makes disparaging remarks about Nightingale and compares her unfavourably with Seacole. For example, Seacole is said to have won 4 medals for bravery, while Nightingale won none, when in fact Queen Victoria gave Nightingale a medal, which she never wore, and Seacole won no medals, although she wore three or four after the war in London–it was not then a criminal offence to wear military medals not your own, although it would be now.
Anionwu’s many articles and interviews in the Nursing Standard also make unfavourable comparisons, such as that Seacole got on well with her “medical colleagues,” while Nightingale did not (Anionwu 2010 18), although Nightingale worked for decades after the war with doctors she first knew there, and there is no evidence that any doctor recognized Seacole as a “medical colleague,” although several acknowledged her kindness, and liked her food at the British Hotel.
In the meeting Mrs Mathews and I had with you, you thought that the hospital website could acknowledge Nightingale’s importance and relevance for the hospital. When? How can we help?
I repeat my offer to give your board a briefing on Nightingale and Seacole, when I am next in London, and several well-informed people are available now who could give you a briefing.
To Hon Andrew Lansley, Secretary of State for Health
Dear Mr Lansley
We are writing with concern about the decision made by the Guy’s-St Thomas’ NHS Trust board of directors to approve the use of a “prestigious” site at St Thomas’ for the placement of a statue honouring Mary Seacole. We do not at all oppose the honouring of Mrs Seacole with a statue, but its placement at St Thomas’, Nightingale’s hospital.
The decision was made with flagrant disregard of due process. The then chair of the board was Patricia Moberly, a government appointee (by a previous government). Experts were not consulted, nor were the governors or staff consulted or even informed. The Nightingale Fellowship, whose members were trained at St Thomas’ when it was the home of the Nightingale School, was similarly excluded.
- 23 November 2005, a note from the chair, Patricia Moberly, for the directors meeting, reports the approach by the Seacole Statue Appeal and agreement “that we should explore without commitment the possibility of a position on the St Thomas’ site,” the board to be informed “as the discussions progress.”
- 25 April 2007, at a board meeting, the director of Capital, Estates and Facilities (hardly an expert on the history of nursing) asked for and received approval for the celebration of the nursing work of both Seacole and Nightingale, although there was still to be exploration as to the “viability” of the development.
- 23 January 2008, at a board meeting the decision was announced as a fait accompli: “commitment to support a Mary Seacole statue at St Thomas'”.
The current hospital board has added to the violation of due process by issuing blatantly false information used in support of the earlier board’s decision (see below).
The placement of the statue at St Thomas’ was approved by the Lambeth Planning Committee at a meeting 12 April 2012, however at this meeting no consideration was given to the merits of honouring Seacole there, any connection she might have had with the hospital (none); only purely technical matters were allowed, and there were no technical objections. Some of us sent letters of objection to the planning officer, but these were dismissed, reasonably enough, as not pertinent to the committee’s terms of reference.
We have appealed to the current chair of the board of directors, Sir Hugh Taylor, but he simply ignores letters objecting to a decision made by his predecessor and an earlier board. Two of us had a meeting with him early in April 2012, but he seemed quite unfamiliar with our objections, even to the misinformation campaign–he preferred simply to go along with the earlier decision.
In addition to St Thomas’ being the home base for Nightingale’s work on nursing, she substantially influenced the design of the 19th century hospital, when it was a pioneer of the pavilion, safer, mode of hospital construction. (Three of the pavilions still stand: the others were destroyed in World War II and the new hospital is of the current high-right design).
Placement of the statue opposite the Houses of Parliament compounds the insult to Nightingale, who got two royal commissions established, greatly contributed to their work, wrote a brief for a major Parliamentary committee on workhouse infirmaries, and influenced Cabinet ministers and MPs on numerous matters of public health. As concerns about hospital safety and good patient care continue to be salient matters of public policy, it would be well to have her gaze at the Houses of Parliament unimpeded by a replacement, who did none of those things.
We note that Seacole herself had no grudge against Nightingale and made no claim to have pioneered nursing. We note that alternative sites have been suggested and are available for a Seacole statue, that do not disregard Nightingale’s great work and its home base.
We urge that you direct the Guy’s-St Thomas’ board of directors to withdraw the offer of a site for the Seacole statue at St Thomas’, withdraw the false statements it made to justify that offer, and issue a corrected statement to explain why the site is inappropriate for the purpose of honouring Seacole.
To Rt Hon David Cameron, Prime Minister
Dear Prime Minister
Florence Nightingale’s work was in so many respects for the whole nation and indeed for the better health of the world, without regard to party (she was a lifelong Liberal supporter, but of course worked with ministers of both parties). Perhaps the fact that you have a daughter with her name reflects an appreciation of her vision and work.
We forward you a copy of a letter sent to your secretary for health regarding the decision of the Guy’s-St Thomas’ NHS Trust board to give a “prestigious” site at St Thomas’ for a gigantic statue to honour another person, Mary Seacole, a statue of sufficient size to be seen from Parliament. As explained in the copied letter, we have no objection to honouring Seacole, but rather to her designation as the “Pioneer Nurse,” when she never claimed to be a nurse at all, at St Thomas’ Hospital, home of Nightingale’s truly pioneering nursing work.
The international dimensions of the insult need also to be considered. Contributions to the Nightingale Fund, which paid for the Nightingale School, came from around the world, and Nightingale repaid that obligation by sending out trained nurses to the world–beginning with Australia, Canada, America and Europe. Japanese nurses, notably, still visit St Thomas’ Hospital to pay tribute to the source of their own profession. Yet the plan is for another person to be the visible “Pioneer Nurse” at St Thomas’ and to correct the misinformation it has circulated.
This becomes a matter of government responsibility given that the decision was made, in flagrant disregard of due process and any considerations of due diligence, by an NHS board of government appointment. We urge that the present board be directed to withdraw the offer of a site for the Seacole statue.
To HRH Princess Alexandra, in her role as patron of the Florence Nightingale Museum
Your Royal Highness
We write with concern about the projected placement of a statue to honour Mary Seacole as the “Pioneer Nurse” at St Thomas’ Hospital. Press reports state that you have been designated the person to unveil this statue. Yet you are a patron of the Florence Nightingale Museum and of the Florence Nightingale Foundation.
We wish to make it clear that we do not oppose honouring Seacole for her own life and work, but rather the appropriating to her the work of Florence Nightingale, who was not only Britain’s “pioneer nurse” but the major founder of nursing throughout the world, work based at St Thomas’ Hospital. The hospital design itself was influenced by Nightingale–the three pavilions not destroyed in World War II plus the governors’ court and chapel. The hospital originally built on the site was of the then innovative, safe “pavilion” design, and architects came from America and Europe to see it.
The fact that St Thomas’ faces Parliament only adds to the offence, for Seacole had nothing to do with political change for health care, while Nightingale throughout her life wrote briefs for Parliament and lobbied Cabinet members and MPs on key needed reforms.
The board of the Guy’s-St Thomas’ NHS Trust made its decision in favour of a statue on the basis of massive misinformation provided to it by the Seacole Memorial Appeal Campaign, misinformation which it then further circulated. For further information see www.maryseacole.info
We understand the desire of many people to celebrate a black heroine and make her a role model, but we do not believe that the end justifies the means, that the work and reputation of anyone else should be denigrated in the process, or that false “information” should be used to justify the claims made for the honoree.
To Martin Jennings, designated sculptor of the Seacole statue
Dear Mr Jennings
We are writing with concern about the placement of a Mary Seacole statue, of your design, at St Thomas’ Hospital, with the designation of Seacole as “Pioneer Nurse.”
We note the fine statue of Sir John Betjeman at St Pancras Station, your work, with the claim that he “saved this glorious station,” which he no doubt did. The situation for Seacole, however, is quite different. We do not disagree with honouring her, and a statue by you would be a fine tribute, but she was not a pioneer nurse, nor ever claimed to be a nurse at all. Rather she was a businesswoman. She ran a boarding house for years in Kingston, Jamaica, and the “British Hotel” in the Panama, in fact a restaurant and store for men en route to the California gold rush, and for a year the British Hotel in the Crimean War, again a restaurant, store and takeaway service for officers, not a hotel. It did not provide nursing care or accommodation for soldiers.
Seacole called herself a “doctress,” meaning a herbalist, although what was in her remedies is not known in any detail. She did act with kindness and compassion to ordinary soldiers, in voluntary work, pro-bono, but this hardly saved “thousands” of lives as is now claimed.
Nor did Seacole win the medals claimed for her by the Seacole campaign, which you state she was “proud” to wear. She did not mention them in her Wonderful Adventures of Mrs Seacole in Many Lands, and the picture of her on the cover shows no medals–evidently she wore them in London later. It was not then a criminal offence to wear military medals not your own, although it would be now.
We wonder what information you were given when you prepared your design and wrote up your description.
To HM The Queen
H.M. the Queen
London SW1A 1AA
September 10, 2012
We write with concern about the projected placement of a statue to honour Mary Seacole as the “Pioneer Nurse” at St Thomas’ Hospital. Press reports state that your office will ask Princess Alexandra to unveil this statue, or you might be asked to unveil it yourself–as you opened a Seacole Building at Brunel University in 2006.
We wish to make clear that we do not oppose honouring Seacole for her own life and work, but rather the appropriating to her of the work of Florence Nightingale, who was not only Britain’s “pioneer nurse” but the major founder of nursing throughout the world, work based at St Thomas’ Hospital. The hospital’s design itself was influenced by Nightingale, and can be seen in the three pavilions that were not destroyed in World War II. The hospital originally built on the site was of the then innovative, safe “pavilion” design, and architects came from America and Europe to see it.
The fact that St Thomas’ faces Parliament only adds to the offence, for Seacole had nothing to do with political change for health care, while Nightingale throughout her life wrote briefs for Parliament and lobbied Cabinet members and MPs on needed reforms.
The board of the Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Trust made its decision in favour of a statue on the basis of massive misinformation provided to it by the Seacole Memorial Appeal Campaign, misinformation which it then further circulated. For further information see www.maryseacole.info. Part of our concern is the possibility of significant embarrassment to your office in the light of how this misinformation is now being unraveled and revealed, as not only being inaccurate but, in too many instances, deliberately misleading.
We understand the desire of many people to celebrate a black heroine, but we do not believe that the work and reputation of another person, especially one so closely associated with your ancestor Queen Victoria, should be denigrated in the process, or that false “information” should be used to justify the claims made for the honoree.
For information on Seacole see: www.maryseacole.info;
for Nightingale: www.sociology.uoguelph.ca/fnightingale/.
A reply by your staff would be appreciated: to
To Rt Hon Jeremy Hunt, Secretary of State for Health
Rt Hon Jeremy Hunt, PC, MP
Secretary of State for Health
Richmond House, 79 Whitehall
London SW1A 2NS
September 10, 2012
Dear Mr Hunt
On 2 August we wrote your predecessor (letter attached) with our concerns about the proposed placement of a Mary Seacole statue at St Thomas’ Hospital, with the designation “Pioneer Nurse,” approval for which was given by the board of the Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust. The minister had an email sent to us in reply declining to take any action, but referring us to the current chair of the Trust, Sir Ron Kerr. We will indeed write once more to the Trust in the hope of a serious response to our concerns, one we never received from the last chair.
We wish, however, to gain your views about the criteria set for Trusts in their decision making. We understand the independence of the Trust as a Foundation Trust. However, this concerns decision making prior to its becoming a Foundation Trust, and indeed under a different government and regime. As more transparent analysis of the rationale for discussion comes to hand, we believe that this has the potential for very significant public embarrassment, and therefore are seeking your good offices in addressing the errors made.
We ask you, at the very least, to inform the current board of the Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust that the purveying of false information and decision making behind closed doors, based on misinformation, are unacceptable.
For information on Seacole see: www.maryseacole.info/
for Nightingale: www.uoguelph.ca/~cwfn
A reply would be appreciated: email@example.com
[attached: letter to Andrew Lansley, Mr Hunt’s predecessor as Health Secretary]
To the National Union of Teachers (NUT), July 2013
We are writing with concern about the NUT’s support for the Mary Seacole Statue Campaign, and teaching on her in the National Curriculum. We do not oppose honouring Seacole in either way, but the associated misinformation campaign. A status of Seacole is a worthy honour, and the sculptor chosen a fine one. However it should not be labeled “Pioneer Nurse,” portray her with medals, which she did not win, nor ever claim to have, and should not be placed at St Thomas’ Hospital, for more than a century the site of Nightingale’s School, the pioneering nursing school that improved nursing throughout the world.
Has the NUT supported the ongoing inclusion of Nightingale in the National Curriculum? We ask you to, if you have not. She not only was the major founder of the modern profession of nursing, but she was a great public health reformer, which Seacole never was, and never claimed to be. In 1864 Nightingale called for quality care for all, regardless of ability to pay, and argued for the replacement of the harsh Poor Law, which sent people to workhouses, in favour of humane agencies that would provide care for the aged, the sick and infirm. No child should ever be in a workhouse, she said–surely you would agree.
Yet Seacole is included as a nurse, pioneer and health care advocate, with medals no less. She was a decent and generous person, a businesswoman who ran a restaurant/bar/store/takeaway service for officers–a legitimate business–but not a hospital or clinic for soldiers, as she is now said to have done, and which she never claimed. For an exposé of common errors in portraying her see www.maryseacole.info/
Seacole was honoured post-war for her kindness, and officers raised a fund to support her in her old age. The recent campaign, however, changes all that to her being honoured for heroism, and she is given credit for all the work Nightingale did to bring in better standards of cleanliness and nutrition to the war hospitals and improve the lives of ordinary soldiers.
Has the NUT supported the ongoing inclusion of Nightingale in the National Curriculum? We ask you to do so. This is not either/or with Seacole. The two were different people and each should be honoured for her merits. For Nightingale, inclusion also means highlighting a woman adept at statistics and public policy, a needed model (there aren’t many) for girls at school.