Supporters of English war nurse Florence Nightingale are furious after learning Jamaican-born Mary Seacole will have an 8-foot-tall statue placed at London’s St. Thomas’ Hospital later this month. Several historians claimed Seacole’s accomplishments were exaggerated for political reasons.
The Daily Mail reports Seacole’s $730,000 statue is the first of its kind in honor of the nurse, who learned about herbal medicine in the Caribbean. Seacole established a “British Hotel” during the Crimean War. The boarding house and medical center provided soldiers with food and beverages. It was here that the nurse tended to the wounded on the battlefield, saving countless wounded men.
Her story is now taught in schools, and she is praised for improving race relations and advancing nursing. Seacole is touted as the greatest Black Briton in the country and her newfound recognition has the Florence Nightingale Society up in arms.
“The hype that has been built up surrounding this otherwise worthy woman is a disgrace to the serious study of history,” William Curtis of the Crimean War Research Society told the Mail.
Mark Bostridge, a Nightingale biographer, dismissed Seacole’s heroism. He told The Times her story retelling is a “campaign of misinformation.” He complained about the statue being taller than Nightingale’s figure in Pall Mall. Then he wrote off Seacole’s accomplishments because he claimed they “took place post-battle, after selling wine and sandwiches to spectators.”
History professor Lynn McDonald told the Daily Mail Seacole had no association with any hospital and so she should not have a statue at St. Thomas. By comparison, Nightingale, an Italian woman born into a life of privilege and wealth, got nursing experience in Germany before working in Paris. During the Crimean war, Nightingale helped out at the British military hospital, participating in amputations and dressing wounds. She later founded a nursing school at St. Thomas.
As of now, plans for Seacole’s bronze statue are still underway. She will be seen carrying a medical bag with medals draped over her chest as she marches to the battlefield. London SE 1 reports the statue, created by sculptor Martin Jennings, will be unveiled June 30.
“The unveiling will be a truly memorable event, and after 12 years of campaigning, we look forward to finally granting Mary Seacole the acknowledgement she deserves for her selfless support of British soldiers,” Labour Party member Clive Soley, who campaigned for the memorial, told the website. “The statue will be a fantastic new landmark on the South Bank providing much-needed recognition of the contribution black and ethnic minorities have made throughout British history and a celebration of the UK’s diversity.”