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


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196 comments on “Anna Alexander vs. Edith Cavell”

  1. I commiserated with nurse Edith. What a trial to have a father whose long and dull sermons were what impressed him onto your memory. And I painfully get the criticism, "she's always late." But I voted for deacon Anna. I voted for her because she taught and raised up new teachers, nurses, and community organizers. She insisted that reading and writing would matter to students in the future even if they didn't value those skills now. She persisted.

  2. Most difficult choice thus far! I had to go with Deaconess Anna as she so epitomizes the ministry of Deacon and has not been celebrated as has Edith Cavell has deservedly been! We so need Deaconess Annas in every struggling community!

  3. Anna appears to be one who quietly went about dramatically changing the lives of those she came in contact with for the better. I am convinced that these many, many often unknown saints bring the kingdom of God closer to us than some of the more famous ones, and exhibit in their own persons what God wants us to be.

  4. Although Anna was not executed, she too gave her life for her beliefs. She lived for her call.

  5. Though I’m from Georgia, and a teacher, I’m going with Edith. I am so impressed by her healing indiscriminately. The Good Samaritan has nothing on her, and she followed Christ’s example far beyond anything I would have done. She even surpassed John 15:13; she laid down her life for her enemies. Wow!

  6. "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?"
    This is something I strive to do in my life too - with God's help.
    While "nevertheless, she persisted" is a nice rallying cry today - Anna gets my vote!

  7. I enjoyed reading about both of these women. Normally I would be an easy pick as my twin sister is named "Edith" and I am a nurse! I would have followed my heart voting almost by name and calling alone... Then I read more about Anna. An old, competitive, twin thing has emerged to guide my choice between these two interesting and devoted women. Anna, it is!

  8. As a nurse I leaned to Edith, but in honor of Archdeacon Jan Grinnell and Deacons, Jean Barry and Gail Wheelock, all of my parish. Jean started many programs and two shelters for the homeless and Jan has revitalized campus ministry at the University of Rhode Island and prepares many deacon postulates.

  9. While both are worthy choices, Anna's legacy of education helped many across Georgia, and she deserves the notoriety a Golden Halo would bring for her efforts.

  10. I voted for Anna. We need to know and celebrate those who cared for and educated African American children when public education too often ignored them.

  11. I was struck this morning by the similarities of these two women when I reread their original bios. Both believed that anger, whether by hatred or bitterness, was a wasted emotion; that the only way to change her community, and ultimately the world, was through love for our fellow humans and the commandment of Christ to love and forgive, without regard to nationality, ethnicity, or our own bitterness. Could I vote for both of them?

  12. Deaconess Alexander persisted and raised up generations of educated African-Americans...even without the help of her diocese. She walked and rowed her boat several miles to touch and change lives. She was a determined spirit. Proud of our diocesan Saint who didn't wait around for somebody to get behind her efforts.

  13. I will vote for Anna today...softness overcomes hard. Perhaps I will use this thought in one of my (lay preaching) sermons...hope Edith would approve, and invite folks for the weekend!

  14. Let us all be "pebbles" from which ripples spread across generations! Edith has gotten enough recognition; go Anna!

  15. “Edith had plenty of capacity for her work, when she chose to exert herself." I had at least one similar review as a student. I also love the quote on the memorial. My vote goes to Edith.

  16. Anna had me at ‘converted a bar into an altar’. I think she truly was a pebble in the pond of Civil Rights, without any goal but to improve the live of the Children of God who looked like her.

  17. Tough-Tough-Tough. I was swayed by the memorial inscription:

    her most famous quote, “Patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone.”

    This is a model and inspiration for us

  18. As a retired nurse this WAS a really hard choice but, in the end I had to go with Anna because she overcame so much prejudice in helping educated people of color in a time it meant risking her safety. Again I say, a really hard choice today as both deserve a halo!

  19. This was a hard choice, and I believe both women are deserving of advancement. But in the end, I voted for the daughter of slaves who rose to near total obscurity, despite her service and ministry, rather than the daughter of privilege who is already admired and celebrated for her good works.

  20. Two fine saints, two fine blogs, equals two too-hard choices. But as much as I like and relate to Edith, today I went with soft Anna, who truly raised the bar for worship spaces. Our college parish had a '70's slogan that went something like "Live music, no cover!" Cheers, ladies!

  21. This was a difficult choice, and I agree with the person who wanted both to advance. I voted for Edith because she continued to help all those wounded regardless of nationality even though she knew that this could be viewed as treason, and, in fact, she gave her life as a result of her commitment to this service.