Well hello there Mary Seacole!

For a couple of months now, a box at St Thomas' Hospital has featured on our London's Power Women running tour.

 

"A box is a power woman? Are you absolutely nuts?"

 

The box has been protecting the statue of a very important lady, which was unveiled on Thursday.

 

I was absolutely delighted to visit the beautiful statue of Mary Seacole on my lunchtime run yesterday (rather than standing in front of a big old box).

 

 

 

Enough about the box, more about Mary Seacole?

 

Ok...

 

Who was Mary Seacole?

 

Mary Seacole was a Jamaican-born nurse in the 19th century. When the Crimean War broke out she came over to London to offer her services in Florence Nightingale's troop.

 

With her application rejected (some say it was ethnicity, others say she didn't fill in the form correctly), Seacole refused to let that be the end of it.

 

She packed her bags and went to war anyway to set up a British Hotel. The statue is of her marching to war on her own.

 

Most Soldiers in the Crimean War weren't dying on the battlefields - they were dying of infection to wounds weeks and months later. Poor hygiene, lack of equipment for food, and insufficient medical staff to give basic treatment to wounds were leading to extensive unnecessary death.

 

So a place where soldiers could go, recuperate, be fed, and have their wounds looked after was a lifeline for so many at that time.

 

Of course, Florence Nightingale was also there giving groundbreaking nursing care to the troops too. But it looks there were more people to help than those that were helping.

 

When Seacole came back from war, she was completely destitute. But she was so popular with the soldiers that they threw a benefit festival for her, to which thousands attended.

 

Why all the anger?

 

I was really disappointed when I began researching Mary Seacole - near the very top of Google was article upon article of attacks on Mary Seacole.

 

They say: She's trying to replace Florence Nightingale as the Founder of Nursing

 

The statue is at St Thomas' Hospital - where Mary Seacole never visited, and the place where Florence Nightingale founded the first secular nursing school.

 

Mary Seacole's statue is bigger than Florence Nightingale's.

 

Why honour Mary Seacole over Florence Nightingale? Seacole hadn't had nursing training. She was just into herbal remedies.

 

I say: Pipe down! There's room enough for both of them. Nobody was asking us to choose between these two heroines...until the guardians of Florence Nightingale made it such a contest.

 

Florence Nightingale was incredible. She founded modern day nursing, was a fervent social reformer and had a great impact on saving lives in the Crimean War. This article is not a slight on her at all. But there's already a statue of Florence Nightingale.

 

International Nursing Day is celebrated on Florence Nightingale's birthday (12th May) and guess what award is the highest honours a nurse can achieve? The Florence Nightingale Award.

 

There is no doubting Florence Nightingale's achievement and status as the founder of modern day nursing.

 

It's going to take more than a statue of another lady who did something good to do that. Mary Seacole cannot boast all the nursing achievements of Florence Nightingale. But Mary Seacole saved many lives and that deserves celebrating in its own right.

 

They say: Mary Seacole didn't identify herself as black. How can she be a black heroine? Her prominence is a huge myth born of political correctness.

 

I say: Would you have identified yourself as black if you were light-skinned and born in Jamaica when slavery was still legal?

 

No, I thought not. Mary Seacole did not refer to herself as black but that doesn't stop her from being a huge role model for people everywhere.

 

Take a moment to look at the JustGiving page for the Mary Seacole Appeal. There's an 11-year old girl donating because she couldn't believe her hero didn't have a statue.

 

When over 20% of healthcare professionals are black, mixed race, Asian or from another minority ethnic group, isn't it important to have a prominent black icon. I quote from the JustGiving page:

 

"Proud to be healthcare worker in the company of a great person and humbled by such a role model"

 

"We need more black and ethnic minority statue figures in the community to change the cultural paradigm of modern Britain. Happy to help."

 

"Here's the the first statue in the UK of a named black woman!"

 

"The Mary Seacole Statue appeal is so important for us now and future generations. We are nearly there, I am honoured to play a part."

 

"In memory of my great-aunt, a nurse, who told me about Mary Seacole back in the 80s. Honoured to support the Appeal."

 

At the moment, if feels like every time I turn on the news there's more bad things happening in London. So when a statue is unveiled for a woman who risked her life to save others and who still inspires so many people today, let's just celebrate it. Full stop.

 

Find out about many more of London's unsung heroines on our London's Power Women guided running tour. Book at a time that suits you. Power walking is welcomed. Email hello@secretlondonruns.com to check availability. 

 

 

 

 

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