I never learned that Florence Nightingale was a researcher, a statistician, a pioneer of nursing science until the feminist movement made Women’s History a subject of study. Till then she was just The Lady With the Lamp, a gentle soul who beamed compassion.
It was much later I learned of Mary Seacole, a mixed-race nurse from Jamaica who practiced all over the world and volunteered to aid British soldiers in the Crimean War.
How sad and ironic that Nightingale, a woman of such unconventional courage, did not recognize a sister in Seacole. Less surprising that her story was forgotten for a century until scholars began to look at Black History.
Diane Abbott, Labour Member of Parliament takes issue with Conservative proposal to erase nurse Mary Seacole from the British school curriculum.
The decision to drop Mary Seacole from the school curriculum has met with a passionate outcry. There has been a petition, articles in the newspapers and a letter to the Times newspaper signed by a long list of notables led by the American civil rights leader Jesse Jackson. It may be that the Government will yet back off from the decision. But the decision reflects a wider pattern of events.
It is sad to think that this Government is unwilling to accept the important role that people of colour have played in the history of Britain. Furthermore, they seem blind to how much shared history Britain has with former colonies like Jamaica. And it does not seem to have occurred to them how offensive many people (and not just Britons of Jamaican origin) would find the decision.
So let us hope the British Government does not drop Mary Seacole from the educational curriculum. As a Times journalist said in the 1850s, “Let England not forget one who nursed her sick, who sought out her wounded to aid and succour them, and who performed the last offices for some of her illustrious dead.”
The Jamaica Gleaner says of Mary Seacole-
She was a national heroine on her return to Britain and a crowd of 80,000 attended a four day fundraising benefit in her honour in 1857.
Her inclusion on the National Curriculum came as a result of a tireless campaigning to recognize someone who had become a forgotten figure in modern times.
Her proposed removal can only be attributed to a recent backlash against Mary Seacole as a symbol of ‘political correctness’ by Right-wing media and commentators.
She has her defenders in Britain as well.
Mary Seacole, like Florence Nightingale, was a pioneer in the field of nursing, a woman of great physical courage who saved lives on the battlefield. She is remembered today, and efforts to censor her contribution will not succeed.
Wikipedia has a long and detailed history of her life of world travel and care of the sick, through war and epidemics.