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

Anna Alexander vs. Edith Cavell

  • Anna Alexander (65%, 4,451 Votes)
  • Edith Cavell (35%, 2,405 Votes)

Total Voters: 6,856

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Anna Alexander:  https://www.episcopalrevivalingeorgia2017.org/deaconess-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. My late husband was a teacher and it has been said of him that his work with his students was like dropping a pebble in a pond--his impact was so great and the ripples spread so far. So, of course, I voted for Anna, although Edith is certainly deserving too.

  2. Yes, two fine saints and two fine blogs - thank you to each blogger for helping us appreciate the saints who have gone before us! I voted for Anna because a) she's from Georgia, where I live, and b) she overcame despite the many prejudices she undoubtedly faced, and c) "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?"

  3. How can I possibly choose? This feels like the “Sophie’s Choice” of Lent Madness.
    I love Anna’s ‘Bar of Christ,’ and she educated/caused to be educated so many young people. Imagine the ripple in the pond she created with all the “...teachers, nurses and advocates...” she influenced! As someone who deeply values education, I thought this would be an easy choice.
    Then along came Edith, rising above her supposed mediocrity and eschewing the social norms of the time by pursuing a career in nursing...during war time, no less! What really got to me, though, was her belief: “Patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone.” She died for this belief!
    Oh, Supreme Executive Committee, why do you torture us with such impossible choices??? How can I even vote? Truly, a conundrum.

  4. “The beautiful holiness of mediocrity”? We mediocrities may strive to be holy, and some of us may succeed, but mediocrity itself is not a holy condition. Neither, for that matter, is excellence.

    Edith’s story of finding her calling and following it into the jaws of death is deeply moving and inspirational; but my vote must go to Deaconess Anna, who persisted in her calling, against great odds, for at least sixty years.

    That number, and much other information, comes from a piece about Anna posted on the Internet by the Diocese of Georgia. You can find it by searching on her name and dropping down past the first few entries, which notwithstanding your search terms will concern the actress Ana Alexander.

  5. I found both women to be remarkable. It was a difficult choice. I, too, am surprised the vote was not closer. I had heard of Edith before but not Anna. Since people already know something about her, I voted for Anna. May all the strong women have their stories told so that they can take their rightful places in history.

  6. I'm enjoying reading all the good comments. Tough choice. There aught to be a way to split your vote. But had to go with Edith because I'm a sucker for the stubborn Martyrs of the world. Like Bonhoeffer she stepped up for what was Right.

    1. Maybe it has something to do with being near the U.S. Capitol. The parishioners need a drink after seeing what happens there.

  7. Giving one's life IS the ultimate sacrifice & I'm going to continue to "research" both women, because I know that their lives will guide me. However, I'm voting for Anna. The PB mentioned in his video that "she realized that what she had received, she must give" and noted that "she dreamed things...that had not even been dreamed of , and asked 'why not?'" Yes, this is just another person's interpretation of someone else's behavior, but it decided me . . .for today. These women are still BOTH my "finalists."

  8. What a heart wrenching choice ! As many others I voted for both in the first round. Grabbing at straws to make a choice I added up that I'm a nurse, my parents severely restricted activities on Sunday, and hope that I would be strong enough to die for my love of Jesus..........my vote goes to Edith.

  9. Edith prevailed against all those who did not want her to do the work of God--to become a nurse, to care out of love to all people. Her selflessness was not sanctioned. As a nurse, I applaud her and hold her up as an inspiration and model.

  10. This match-up puts the "madness" in Lent Madness.
    I haven't voted yet but am leaning toward Edith in honor of nurses everywhere. As a retired nurse I know how stressful the job is. Add the political climate of WWI Europe and.... Edith for me.

  11. Tough choice. All of these saints are amazing
    Makes me feel I should be doing something
    Spectacular

  12. No problem at all choosing this morning. The Deacon(ess)-I still have trouble with that "-ess" as I am a Deacon! The issue today is choice and I voted for Anna who ministered in a Church that was S-L-O-W to welcome those of us "sable-hued" Episcopalians. That was not a problem with nor to her because she ministered in the name of Jesus Christ to those who knew and didn't know Him as their personal savior. She was a true emissary of Christ as she equipped all those who would be lifted up even when they didn't know they needed or wanted to so be....and in Georgia, of all places ! OK ! Just joshing ! Mea Culpa !

  13. I am sorry to have to choose between these two, but Edith both set aside national loyalties to treat enemy soldiers and gave her life for others' freedom without fearing death. I hope that in such a situation I could make the choices she did. No contest.

  14. As a deacon, I feel I ought to vote for Anna. After reading about her life and watching the videos, I am compelled to vote for her. There was nothing occasional or reticient about Anna. Even though she wasn't a martyr, she dedicated her life to serving others in all the ways that Jesus instructed us.

    1. I like the Celtic concept of the "green martyr," the one who lives life daily striving to usher in the kingdom. "Martyr" is Greek for "witness"; there are many ways to witness. The early church identified martyrs as those who died for the faith. But perhaps our faithfulness is a type of martyrdom of self in favor of a higher selfhood.

  15. I'm afraid I'm going with the crowd because of Anna's inspiring work in educating black children (and I will not apologize for using the term "black"; it's a lot better than what they were probably called at the time). However, I'd like to know who the composers were for the masses and opera in memory of Cavell.

    1. I was also attracted by the idea of turning a bar into an altar. Divine intoxication.

    2. I did my own homework:
      Eventide: In memoriam Edith Cavell - oratorio by Patrick Hawes
      The Cavell Mass, by David Mitchell
      Standing as I do before God - choral setting of her last reported words by Cecilia McDowall

        1. People are still searching for the third act of the opera, at least as reported on the first few entries on the search. According to the internet the opera was performed in 1927. Use the information with auction: the internet is not always reliable...

          1. Agreed. This is the first time I returned to the original writings on each, and still couldn't really decide.

          2. That was my rationale too! It's true that the longer we go in Lent, the harder the choices are.

          3. Yes, couldn’t find that. But I really loved the Cecilia McDowell piece! Lovely!

  16. Two fearless women. Both very inspiring. I went with Anna for being American, doing her good work despite push-back from those in charge, and touching so many children!

  17. How very interesting that both saintly women were the epitome of God's peace and justice. Both worked in her own way to heal and empower 'all of God's children'. Both recognized the importance of each and every one of God's children and worked to help each student/patient become the person that God created them to be. Both women are so worthy that choosing was hard...I cast my vote for Anna but will delight in either saint advancing to the next level. Rock on, ladies!!!

  18. I had to read through the comments first, but finally decided who to vote for. Edith the nurse already has a martyr's crown from 1915 courtesy of the Germans, so I'm voting for Anna the deaconess who had way less privilege and in her day did not receive the support of her diocese the way she should have because of the color of her skin and her gender.

    And altering a bar into an altar is pretty cool. Wine & bread took the place of whiskey & bourbon.

  19. While I admire Anna and all her good works, Edith really speaks to me. “The beautiful holiness of mediocrity.” I’m sure Anna will win today’s matchup and that’s super, but Edith was approachable, a regular person like me.

  20. Anna got my vote, but I liked that Edith maybe did "not live up to her potential" Seems like teachers said that about me.

  21. As the daughter of an Episcopal priest, I *totally* get Edith's “Do come and stay again soon, but not for a weekend. Father’s sermons are so long and dull.”

  22. I chose Anna Alexander in my bracket and while it was a hard choice today, I stuck with her because as it says in the final paragraph, "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.”

  23. A tough choice, but I chose Anna Alexander because I think we do not recognize enough of the holy men and women of African descent, with the exception of Martin Luther King and Bishop Tutu (who is not yet eligible!). And now that I think of it, we especially do not recognize the contributions of African-American women enough, especially those who came after Abolition.

    1. I agree! This is why I finally went w/ Anna. Tough choice and I do hope we see Edith Cavell again in LM.

  24. Anna all the way. We had a mostly African-American mission that was partially funded by canon law of the diocese. The diocese de-funded. It was a struggle, but with grants and support from other churches it continued to feed three meals a day, do job training, keep the day school going, before school and after school programs, drive kids to school, fight for them, get them boots when it snowed, etc. Now they struggle, but have raised enough to pay half the salary for a part-time priest. Having lived in the south and worked for and with a number of African-American churches, I know the struggle. I can't imagine the strength of Anna. She stayed focused on her community and the art of education and Christian formation. She was so wise to preserve her energy and not get distracted by the injustices. It's amazing that she so impressed her bishop that he named her a deaconess. (No small miracle there). Oh. Ironically, the defunding bishop preached at Anna's church. He's a spectacular preacher. Don't miss an opportunity to hear him in person--even if it's a days drive, or more. He's at his best in a pulpit and when he comes down right into the congregation. Tis a joyful experience. Treat yourself--he's that good. Last thought. I remember all the innocent children and mothers that were lined up and shot or sent to the gas chambers, and the Nightingales of WWII who landed at Normandy--especially Dot Lewis. They also treated all the wounded.

  25. This was the hardest! I finally went with Edith. It's hard to live and treat your enemy equally.

  26. Edith has my vote. The courage it must have taken to persist in spite of man's evil is astounding to me.