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.