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Don't fall for myths about Mary Seacole

Published 06/07/2016

Your article 'Mary Seacole statue unveiled in London' (Online, July 1) repeats the standard propaganda of the Seacole campaign.

The Nightingale Society has no objection to a statue celebrating Mrs Seacole's admirable and independent life, but she was not a pioneer nurse and the heroism is a tad exaggerated. She ran a restaurant, bar, store, catering service for officers, not the supposed "clinic" for soldiers. Three chapters of her memoir go to describing her eminent customers and what she fed them.

Yes, she did go on to the battlefield (all of three times, all after battle and after selling wine and sandwiches to spectators).

St Thomas' Hospital, for more than a century, was the home of the first nursing school in the world, founded by Nightingale.

Nurses trained at it, then established the new profession throughout the world - not least in Belfast.

Nightingale mentored the first trained matron of the Belfast Children's Hospital, Jessie Lennox, and Ella Pirrie of the Workhouse Hospital.

The fine statue of Pirrie at Belfast City Hospital has her holding a sheaf of letters from Nightingale - precisely to demonstrate the connection.

The Nightingale Society proposed several appropriate sites in London for a Seacole statue that would not put out the false message that her work was in any way equivalent to, or even like, Nightingale's.

Mrs Seacole was a kind and generous businesswoman, who had nothing to do with founding nursing. She distributed magazines at the hospital near her shop, where Nightingale's nurses did the nursing.


(Author: Mary Seacole: The Making Of The Myth)

Toronto, Canada

Online Editors

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