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Statue campaigner 'lost sleep' over criticism of Mary Seacole

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The woman behind the erection of the Mary Seacole Statue at Guy’s and St Thomas’s in London has admitted that throughout the campaign to raise money she was often upset by the backlash on social media about the Jamaican Scottish nurse.

Speaking at the Royal College of Nursing’s annual congress, Professor Dame Elizabeth Anionwu CBE told the audience that she often struggled when she read the comments on Twitter about Mary Seacole.

“I worried I was being paranoid, but I thought it was sabotage”

Elizabeth Anionwu

“I found I just couldn’t sleep one night after I read some tweets about Mary,” said Dame Elizabeth, while giving the Mary Seacole annual lecture on Sunday evening.

“I worried I was being paranoid, but I thought it was sabotage. I phoned a friend in the morning and she told me it probably was not and to call her if I ever felt like that again,” she said.

“My daughter always told me not to read the comments. I think this taught me to be resilient throughout the campaign and talk to people for support,” she added.

Speaking to Wendy Irwin, the RCN’s diversity and equalities co-ordinator, Dame Elizabeth said this was a leadership lesson for all nurses.

She said she was upset by detractors who tried to put down the contribution of Mary Seacole by claiming she was not a nurse, not really black and that the erection of the statue in that spot was an insult to Florence Nightingale’s memory.

Royal College of Nursing

Statue campaigner ‘lost sleep’ over criticism of Mary Seacole

Elizabeth Anionwu and Wendy Irwin

“It is a shame as her contribution was acknowledged and respected in her time,” said Dame Elizabeth, pointing to the words of Sir William Howard Russell, a war correspondent for The Times, who wrote in 1857 that he hoped England would not forget Mary Seacole.

The statue was erected last June, after a 12-year campaign to raise £750,000, which Dame Elizabeth admitted was longer than originally planned.

“Originally, the trustees and I thought it would take five years and it would cost half a million pounds, and we started when no one really knew anything about Mary and as the recession hit and we were asking for money,” she said.

Asked by Ms Irwin how she had kept going despite criticism of the black heroine, Dame Elizabeth said: “We all just kept in mind what we were doing it for.”

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