Seacole causes waves of discontent

11th January 2013 at 00:00

The decision to stop teaching Mary Seacole in the national curriculum is welcome for the good reason that the material taught was wildly erroneous. For example, the "best answer" at history GCSE as to the differences between Seacole and Florence Nightingale, and "who was more important?" was this: Seacole was black and from Jamaica (she was three-quarters white). Nightingale was white and from England (true, but so what?). Seacole often tended wounded from both sides actually on the battlefield (on three occasions, post-battle, and only once did she help anyone on the other side); Seacole's main "battlefield" activity was selling food and wine to the spectators.

The "best answer" ends with the two women being "equally important for improving medical care and treatment of injured soldiers and in establishing the concept of modern nursing and its effectiveness". But Seacole had nothing to do with the founding of modern nursing, and never claimed to. Nor did she improve the care of injured soldiers. As well as those three instances of first aid, she gave out tea and lemonade to soldiers awaiting transport to general hospitals - kind acts certainly, but short of heroism.

Lynn McDonald, Professor emeritus, University of Guelph, and editor of Collected Works of Florence Nightingale.

Subscribe to get access to the content on this page.

If you are already a Tes/ Tes Scotland subscriber please log in with your username or email address to get full access to our back issues, CPD library and membership plus page.

Not a subscriber? Find out more about our subscription offers.
Subscribe now
Existing subscriber?
Enter subscription number


The guide by your side – ensuring you are always up to date with the latest in education.

Get Tes magazine online and delivered to your door. Stay up to date with the latest research, teacher innovation and insight, plus classroom tips and techniques with a Tes magazine subscription.
With a Tes magazine subscription you get exclusive access to our CPD library. Including our New Teachers’ special for NQTS, Ed Tech, How to Get a Job, Trip Planner, Ed Biz Special and all Tes back issues.

Subscribe now