Mary Seacole vs. Florence Nightingale

Received wisdom dictates that those two great Crimean heroines, Florence Nightingale and Mary Seacole, were rivals. It’s not true. Their skills were complementary, and if only Miss Nightingale had been able to bring herself to relax a little and acknowledge Mary’s strengths, they might have worked together to dynamic effect. Combining Florence’s forensic approach to nursing, her clinical stringency and analytical brilliance, with Mary’s hands-on, holistic philosophy, would have produced an irresistible medical force in the theatre of war. Even, quite possibly, at home.

It could never have happened, though, Florence was too defensive, too suspicious of Mary’s intuitive, impulsive nature. Mary was compassionate, warm-hearted and demonstrative, as aware of the need to make her patients feel better as she was of the need for careful hygiene and pathology. Florence was cerebral and reserved. She considered Mary to be a loose cannon, a bad influence, certainly indelicate, and probably immoral.

It’s a shame they couldn’t get on with one another. But they were never rivals. Both worked wonders in the Crimea, and each is a lasting inspiration.


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