Rt Hon David Cameron, PC, MP
January 1, 2016
Dear Mr Cameron
The Nightingale Society has written the Chancellor of the Exchequer with concerns about the grant of £240,000 announced for the erection of a Mary Seacole statue at St Thomas’ Hospital, home of the Nightingale School for more than a century. We have received no reply.
We do not object at all to Seacole’s life being celebrated, but rather the poor choice of place and misrepresentation of her as a pioneer nurse. She was an enterprising and kind businesswoman, who ran a much appreciated club for officers. Champagne, fine wines and catering for their dinner parties should not be confused with nursing care and improved nutrition for ordinary soldiers, Florence Nightingale’s work.
The Nightingale School of Nursing, founded in 1860, was the first professional training school in the world. From it nursing pioneers went out to take the standards of the new profession to other parts of the U.K. and around the world. The bicentenary of Nightingale’s birth will be celebrated in 2020.
The statue should not face the Houses of Parliament, for it was Nightingale, not Seacole, who wrote briefs for committees, and pressed MPs and Cabinet ministers for reforms in nursing, hospitals and health care.
Your government’s grant is to make up the shortfall from faulty planning and budgeting. The grant should be made conditional on the statue being located in an appropriate place. One proposal is Forum Magnum Square, by County Hall.
Be aware that Mrs Seacole’s portrayal as a “black Briton” will likely be challenged in coming years. She was three quarters white and proud of her Scots heritage; she had a white husband, white business partner and white clientele. She called herself a “yellow doctress,” not a “black nurse.” She employed blacks: two cooks, her porter and maid.
The Memorial Garden proposed to honour nurses who died on duty is a fine idea. However, it should not be associated with Seacole, who went onto the battlefield three times during the war (she missed the first three battles as she was busy in London on her gold investments). Those forays were all post-battle, as noted by the Times correspondent, himself out there to write up his stories.
The statue if erected at St Thomas’ risks becoming the site for making “History Hoax” awards. Do your ministers want to lead the list?
[16 members of the Nightingale Society]
Lynn McDonald, “Florence Nightingale: Statistics to Save Lives” now published by the International Journal of Statistics and Probability. Online version available here.
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