Anna Alexander vs. Edith Cavell

The Saintly Sixteen continues with a matchup between two inspiring women, Anna Alexander and Edith Cavell. To get to this round, Anna got by Peter Claver while Edith surprised John Wesley.

Yesterday, Maria Skobtsova advanced to the Elate Eight by trouncing Quiteria by what is likely a record margin, 91% to 9%. We're too lazy to look back at all the previous matchups to figure out if this is an actual record margin, but knock yourself out and let us know. She'll face the winner of Martin de Porres vs. Dymphna.

"Hey, wait," you're thinking to yourself, "What happened to this week's episode of Monday Madness?" Don't worry, you're not losing a step. Due to some technical difficulties based on being in exotic locales like outside-of-Cleveland, there was a glitch in the production process. Look for a better-late-than-never edition later today.

Anna Alexander

Anna Alexander“The Bar is Open!” is not a phrase uttered by Deaconess Anna Alexander, but it could be. Stories tells us that when the diocese would not build her a new church, she took over an abandoned whiskey bar and converted the bar to an altar to God. Come one, come all to the Bar of Christ! Maybe church membership would not be in decline if we decided to implement such creative practices in getting the job done as Deaconess Anna.

But Deaconess Alexander’s zeal for her fellow brothers and sisters in Christ did not just begin or end at the Altar of God, she walked the talk right out into her community and kept walking by foot to spread the word of God to African American Georgians between the towns of Brunswick and Darian. That’s what I call a real ChristWalk (™)! The children she touched along the way went on to become teachers, nurses, and advocates in their own communities for the education and inclusion of black people in the south. Deaconess Alexander is the pebble that was dropped in the pond of Georgia that had ripples of impact that went on for generations.

Recollections from her students account Deaconess Alexander as both mother and father to the children in Pennick, Georgia. No matter how bad her students acted, she responded with kindness and a firm assurance that learning to read and write would make a difference one day, even if her students did not realize it now. Students remember that Anna Alexander would not just ensure her students were well educated enough for college, she would drive them there if they did not have the means to do so. She was known for providing not just education, but clothes, food, and shelter to ensure the well being of her flock.

What comes to my mind as I read about Deaconess Alexander is a saying my father said to me growing up. He would say, no matter the situation, “Anna, soft overcomes hard.” Like my father, Deaconess Alexander responded to all from a place of consistency, tough love, and enduring kindness, to soften the hardest hearts. Her love established something that the community recognizes it needs more than ever today: how do we love others, more than we love ourselves? How do we love others enough to not just fix things on the surface, but to strive for a change that makes the world a better place? Through this softness she made a place for her children, assured their future, established a place for women and African Americans in the Episcopal church and lived the words that Jesus charged to us when he said, “Love one another.”

-Anna Courie

Edith Cavell

EdithWhile some saints were deeply devout to all things God and church from infancy, Edith was not one of these saints. She was a typical child of her era. An avid artist (several of her paintings survive) and active outdoorswoman, she found Sundays tedious, as her father kept a strict Sabbath – no reading from any book other than the Bible, no play, and certainly no card games. We glimpse Edith’s opinion of this Sunday routine in a letter to a cousin, where she says, “Do come and stay again soon, but not for a weekend. Father’s sermons are so long and dull.” Servants of the household also frequently discovered the Cavell children deeply involved in card games while their father made Sunday parish calls.

Edith eventually found her way into nursing. Again, while some saints discovered their vocation and received glowing reviews, Edith reminds us of the beautiful holiness of mediocrity. Her nursing instructor said of her, “Edith had plenty of capacity for her work, when she chose to exert herself,” noting, “She was not at all punctual.”

As the daughter of a priest and an educated woman of her time, Edith was not expected to become a career woman. In fact, she received heavy criticism for her desire to become a career nurse. Edith observed in a letter to her family, “The old idea that it is a disgrace for women to work is still held in Belgium and women of good birth and education still think they lose caste by earning their own living.”

Nevertheless, she persisted in her calling and career as a nurse.

Edith ministered at the Red Cross Hospital in Belgium, where all wounded soldiers, regardless of nationality, received equal care. Edith was eventually arrested and tried for “assisting men to the enemy.”

In the hours before her execution, her chaplain reports she said, “I have no fear nor shrinking; I have seen death so often that it is not strange or fearful to me.” She said goodbye to her priest, adding she would see him again in the presence of God.

Edith was executed by a German firing squad on October 12, 1915.

Edith, quite contrary to her desire only to be remembered as a nurse who did her duty, was recast as a national martyr. She has numerous memorials in England, including a statue near Trafalgar Square in London inscribed with her most famous quote, “Patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone.”

Her other memorials include Mount Edith Cavell in the Jasper National Park in Alberta, Canada, several movies, musicals, and masses and an opera composed in the late 1920’s, of which two of three acts have been found.

-Laurie Brock

[poll id="224"]

Anna Alexander:
Edith Cavell: Robert Cutts from Bristol, England, UK - The Edith Cavell Memorial via Wikipedia


* indicates required

Recent Posts




196 comments on “Anna Alexander vs. Edith Cavell”

  1. Both are holy women -- the most difficult choice of this year's LM to date! I'm holding off my vote for now...

      1. Me, too. These are my two "finalists." All I can say is that I'm glad this is just a "game" & that I've learned about two women/saints that I'd never heard of before. Thank God for both of them.

        1. I agree! This was the hardest choice in all the years of doing this. I ended up going with Anna Alexander. As a teacher who deals with kids who do not seem to care, I have seen what happens when one educator won't give up on them. I feel like she quietly changed so many lives! And she inspired me to be a better teacher!

        2. Amen!

          Part of the joy of Lent Madness has been learning about some of God's people for the first time, and the other great joy is reading the thoughtful comments of the Lent Madness Community - And like Karen. I want them both to advance.

    1. Maybe the most difficult choice of ALL Lent madness matchups, ever. Even after a pause for morning prayers, still impossible! Good to remember they already share in all the company of heaven. In the end, I voted for Edith, for her holy "mediocrity" and persistent example to all extraordinary ordinary people.

      1. I absolutely agree so I just quickly shut my eyes and kept trying to vote until I managed to hit one of the names. I'll never say which one.

    2. I agree hardest decision .. took so long to decide and still not sure I voted as my heart wanted me too

  2. I voted for Anna Alexander because I’ve lived in Georgia for most of my life, but have never heard of her.

  3. The quote, "Edith has plenty of capacity for her work when she chooses to exert herself" was the kiss of death for me. I cannot vote for someone who is only occassionally into it.

    1. My father used to say about me that I did good work although not much of it. That was his opinion, it was Edith's teacher's opinion. Opinion is not necessarily fact.

      1. Here here. In school I got the same evaluation. Of course that was well before anything was known about learning disabilities. As an adult I return to college, was tested and helped. It may have taken me 12 years to work, raise 3 kids, and go to school from no credit to Massters. But I did it, and with straight As. To this day I also credit spell check to help my dyslexic eyes.

        1. Good for you. My brother-in-law had educational support from the day her started school, thanks to his forward thinking mother. He even attended a very good college under an LD program. However, he still does not read well, but has learned to make the most of his gifts and is a very successful salesman.

          Following my mother-in-law's example, we got our daughter diagnosed early, with NonVerbal Learning Disorder, and with lots and lots of support and focusing on long-term progress, she is now a senior in high school taking 5 AP classes, and has been accepted to a very prestigious college. She never learned phonics well, or to spell well, but she is an amazing sight-reader.

    2. Interesting that didn’t bother me at all. It just sounded like an officious boss who wants things done the way she wants them done and she hadn’t found her calling yet. Once she did it sounds like no one would call her lazy or not a hard worker. As a person who has often fallen short of others expectations to be someone I am not I completely related to this part of her. It was inspiring to see the amazing person she became once she found her niche.

    3. And yet, there must be something about her. Last round she won soundly and there has likely not been another person more devoted to his work than the opponent she beat. Work with a world-wide impact a hundred-fold greater than her own. Sometimes, a simple example and a martyrdom carry a lot of weight.

      1. I think you're right about the advantage martyrdom gives. I myself am not tempted to be martyred, even if it gave me an edge in some future Lent Madness bracket. I hope to see a contemplative win one day and look forward to Julian of Norwich returning to the madness; someday she'll get that golden halo.

    4. I have read books on Edith Cavell's life & works and totally disagree with her teacher's comment! She went on to open a School of Nursing in Belgium where she taught and nurtured Nursing students. During WWI she sheltered and hid British and Belgium soldiers from the Germans. Her life ended in front of a German Firing squad for all her good work! This short note does not begin to tell all the good work she did in her short lifetime!!!

    5. That quote about Edith's mediocrity nearly won her my vote! I'm kinda mediocre, if I'm honest. And we who are mediocre need our heroes!

      But I voted for Anna because WOW, what an incredible woman. Nothing stopped her. I'll admit, though, the wording about "the children she touched along the way..." made me imagine her walking between Brunswick and Darian and tapping kids as she passed them in the street, and due to her magic touch, they became "teachers, nurses, and advocates." Of course it wasn't that simple, but if anyone writes up her official hagiography, you can have that one.

      1. I'm so glad I'm not the only one that read that with that image in her head. I figured I needed another cup of coffee after that one!

        I haven't voted yet. I'm torn; this is a really difficult match-up.

    6. Seriously? She died for doing the right thing. I'm pretty sure she exerted herself when it counted.

    7. OK, but remember that was when she was a student. Many students that I encountered, as a high school teacher, did not "hit their stride(s)" until they entered the "real" world. However, I still haven't decide which to vote for. I may decide to sit this one out (which I NEVER do in "real" elections), just because I can't vote for BOTH of them. Those of you who were able to make a decision are to be commended.

    8. Um . . . Edith was executed for helping free hundreds of Allied POWs. You think she was "only occasionally into it"?

    9. Stood fearless before the firing squad, but some clown at some point early in her life said she was not always doing her best. Well, obviously the clown must be right -- uh, right???
      Lord help Saint Francis of Assisi if you ever wander into an area where they determine whether he ought to be a saint.

  4. Tough choice today. I voted for both of these amazing women in the first round. On the one hand, Edith who undoubtedly saved many people through her nursing and was martyred for not refusing to help anyone regardless of their side in the war. On the other hand, Anna who walked in love through many obstacles and made a profound difference that is probably still felt today in Georgia. In the end, I had to go with " tough love, and enduring kindness, to soften the hardest hearts" so I voted for Anna.

  5. I agree with Ann's comment above: this is such a difficult choice. I voted for my fellow American, and that's the only reason! I love reading about these wonderful people.

  6. "Stories tells us that when the diocese would not build her a new church, she took over an abandon whiskey bar and converted the bar to an alter to God."

    Really, people. If you're going to advocate for a proponent of education, you need to check your copy better - it should be an "abandonED" whiskey bar and it's "altar" not "alter". Despite these goofs, my vote goes to Anna!

    1. By the time I read this morning's post (almost 7:00 a.m., PDT), those goofs had been corrected.

      1. If only we who comment could edit our comments too. Autocorrect wrecked one of mine last week.

        1. This is a big, big wish of mine. Surely that is possible, she said winningly. 😀

    2. "...and converted the bar to an alter to God..."
      I'm disappointed that this had been corrected before I had a chance to read it.
      As an English teacher, I should be glad it was fixed. However, as one always in need of grace, I love the idea of an ALTER to God. The greatest gift we can place on the altAR before God is our willingness to be converted from whatever we were (a bar, a sinner, a saint....) and be altered into the persons we were created to become.

    1. Thank you, Frank. The video you produced about Anna's father learning to read, using the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer, was inspiring too. This was the hardest choice yet, coming right after the easy one yesterday, but Anna speaks to my heart. She gets my vote.

    2. Such a wonderful message from Presiding Bishop about Deaconess Alexander. Thanks, Frank, for sharing it here. So many of the great women and men with whom I have taught over the years consider teaching their ministry. Most teachers I know and love go way beyond teaching the standards. Each goes the extra mile to meet individual needs of children. Whether it is a hug, a new pair of shoes, a listening ear, food for the weekend...every extra gift brings with it love and hope. My vote is for Anna.

  7. Tough choice, I agree. Both are extremely worthy and inspirational women.
    Had known of Edith Cavell before L.M. but not of Anna Alexander.
    Going for Deaconess Anna in this round in the hope she will become better known.
    (Also because we are fortunate to have a terrific deacon in our parish.)

  8. One of the schools in the benefice I serve is named after Edith Cavell. She is a beloved and saintly woman whom the people here admire greatly.

  9. Truly tough choice today. I can relate to Edith is so many ways — the awful Sundays of enforced piety to the comments about her work efforts — go Edith.

  10. Speaking of bars... Edith Cavell’s is a pub just across from Norwich Cathedral.

  11. Tough choice but went with Anna because she reached out to the African American community which was marginalized and with education helped the community.

  12. I had to vote for Anna, in tribute to the amazing Deacons I have known.
    But this does not in any way disparage Edith, who sounds like she would be equally deserving of the golden halo. Hope to see her in future Lent Madnesses!!

  13. What a hard choice to make today!! Ugh. I went with Edith probably because I read her second... i wish these two were meeting later.

  14. Episcopalian nuns do exist, they do exist, they do exist.
    Anna gets the vote today.

    1. Deconesses, unlike nuns, could be married, but like nuns prior to the decision of the General Convention of The Episcopal Church to allow women to be ordained as deacons, they were not ordained as they were not male. Once the diaconate was open to women, becomes a deaconess was no longer an option. Note by this time then-British Hong Kong had had female deacons since before WWII and had already priested three of them (Florence+ in 1944, and two more in the late 1960s).

      But yes, there are multiple orders of nuns and monks in the Anglican Communion, including here in the States. While all three ordained orders are open to both monks or nuns, as they are to lay men and women, I only know of one monastic, an SSJE monk whose name escapes me pre-coffee, who has served in the House of Bishops.

  15. This was a very hard choice; both embody women I try to emulate on a daily basis. I only voted for Edith because she paid for her beliefs with her life.

  16. I agree that this one is close. In death Edith has been remembered and memorialized. But although I am from Georgia I never heard of Anna Alexander of Pennick, GA before. I like voting for an obscure Deacon. She belongs to the History of Georgia and the Episcopal church.

  17. I find the focus in the Saintly Sixteen on pithy sayings and quirky quotes to diminish many of the saints and it helps to go back to the initial write-up from Round One. For example, today’s text on Edith makes her seem like a well-off slacker who didn’t use her gifts wisely.
    But, thinking there must have been more to Edith if she bested John Wesley, I went back to find this information:
    “Realizing the danger for citizens and soldiers alike, Edith helped provide an underground escape route for those fleeing to the Netherlands. More than 200 soldiers escaped to safety. German military authorities discovered her acts. Edith confessed—which likely saved the lives of others who assisted her—and was sentenced to death.”

    And, “As she awaited execution, the Germans allowed an Anglican priest to visit her. He recalls that in their final meeting, Edith received communion and prayed, expressing forgiveness toward her executioners. She said, “I thank God for this ten weeks’ quiet before the end. Life has always been hurried and full of difficulty. This time of rest has been a great mercy. But this I would say, standing as I do in view of God and eternity, I realize that patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness toward anyone.”
    I’m sure many of us wouldn’t want to be examined today based solely on our high school report cards.

    1. Thanks for republishing those words, Deborah. I too went back and confirmed my sense that Edith’s biographer, probably unintentionally, had thrown her under the bus in this round.

      1. "thrown under the bus".
        Dang. Martyred again, eh?

        Yes and no - Laurie Brock's write up got my attention by telling a different sort of story, not the same old same old hagiography. She painted a portrait of a saint I'd really love to have met "at tea"...tho' EC would probably not have wanted to take time away from her work. ("Yeah, just doin' the right thing, fighting Nazis, etc. No biggie.")

    2. Thank you so much for reminding me about the facts in the first bio sketch about Edith.

  18. I would have appreciated birth and death dates for both candidates. It would have given me a historical frame of reference to make a more educated choice.

    1. Those should be in the biographies in the first round, the links to which are in the very first paragraph. Anna's date and even time of death, appears in the photo of her statue up above her quirks & quotes section.

      To quote what, other than her own words, is on the base of her statue:
      OCTOBER 12

      1. “The peace of God it is no peace,
        But strife closed in the sod.
        Yet let us pray for but one thing:
        The marvelous peace of God,
        The marvelous peace of God.

  19. I voted for Edith because when I was growing up we went to my maternal grandparents' house every Sunday and after dinner the adults played bridge in the dining room and the children played Rook in the living room. Every Sunday my grandmother said "If the preacher comes put the cards away." I never understood as a child why she said this since the preacher never came to visit on Sunday, never ever. Brought back found memories.

  20. Oh what a difficult choice. Having voted for both first time round I have struggled today. There is so much to admire in both women, and I am so grateful to make Anna's acquaintance having not heard of her before. However, I cast my vote for Edith on several grounds: I now live in Norwich where she was laid to rest, because I suspect that Anna will prevail today, and finally for all latecomers who get there in the end...