The Seacole bandwagon, fuelled by political correctness and a commendable desire to find multicultural role models, shows no sign of halting, and has recently found a new focus in its campaign to erect a statue to Seacole at St Thomas' Hospital in London. I must confess, though, that my heart did sink on learning that BBC TV's single contribution to the Nightingale centenary in 2010 is likely to be a drama about the relationship between Nightingale and Seacole. There is no historical drama - the so-called rivalry between the two women is fictitious - and therefore that admirable screenwriter Deborah Moggach will have to invent one.
Historians and biographers should continue to draw attention to Nightingale's pioneering statistical methods in healthcare, to her influence on hospital design and to her understanding of the pressing need to educate ordinary people in fundamental health care and disease prevention, which she hoped would make hospitals redundant - by the year 2000 - except for the most severe and surgical cases. Nightingale's great work of spiritual philosophy, Suggestions for Thought, was published in full for the first time only last year. Studying it will help us to view Nightingale less as a latter-day Joan of Arc hearing voices and more as a radical theologian within the Victorian Broad Church movement, preoccupied with one of the great conundrums of her age, how to make religion compatible with science. As 2008 also marked the 60th anniversary of the National Health Service, it was surprising that no one noted what may be Florence Nightingale's single most lasting achievement: the introduction of trained nurses into workhouses, replacing pauper care, and her ringing enunciation in her "ABC of Workhouse Reform" of the principle of free healthcare provision.
The redesign of the Florence Nightingale Museum, which closes in the autumn to be refurbished in time for the centenary year, will help to focus the debate about a Florence Nightingale for the 21st century. Opened in 1989, in the shadow of St Thomas', and exhibiting the Nightingale memorabilia guarded faithfully for many years by the Nightingale nursing school attached to the hospital, the museum will undergo a major refit based on designs by a firm of Amsterdam architects, Kossman De Jong. The new setting will be theatrical, utilising lighting and sound, including interactive "iVoices", to dramatic effect, and allowing, where possible, Nightingale to speak for herself in her own words. An important layer of the exhibitions will concentrate on historical context, permitting the visitor to understand, for instance, the complex process behind the establishment of professional nursing in Britain, demonstrating what Nightingale, the profession's most significant iconic figure, owed to other, now obscure movements, like the Protestant sisterhoods, in instituting a reformed programme of nurse training.
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