To the National Union of Teachers

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

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.