Posts filed under “Nightingale bicentenary”

to Sir David Cannadine, director, Oxford Dictionary of National Biograpahy

Sir David Cannadine, director
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

Dear Sir David

We have received no reply from you to our letter on the egregious errors in the coverage of Florence Nightingale in the ODNB. We note that the Bicentenary of her birth takes place in 2020, which will likely encourage reference to the ODNB for information. Instead, they will find a host of errors, introduced by the first editor, Colin Matthew, who fell for F.B. Smith’s (now) much discredited book, Florence Nightingale: Reputation and Power, 1982.

Why make such misleading statements, and misinform so many students, that Nightingale “continued to disregard the germ theory of infection”? when she did not.

Why continue such sexist practices as reserving surnames and honorifics for men, nicknames good enough for women?

Why omit so much important work Nightingale did? Your ODNB entry does not even discuss Notes on Hospitals or her Introductory Notes on Lying-in Institutions, both pioneer studies that were enormously influential.

Why no mention of her later writing? Which shows how much nursing and medical care had evolved, and Nightingale with it. Her 1860 Notes on Nursing was enormously influential, and so were her later works. We call for a re-write of the entry, for accuracy and relevance.

Yours sincerely
[34 members of the Nightingale Society]

to Lord Crisp, former chief executive, NHS

February 13, 2019
The Lord Crisp KCB
House of Lords

Dear Lord Crisp,

We were disappointed to see your remarks about the celebration in 2020 of the Bicentenary of Florence Nightingale, when you called for this to be the occasion to celebrate “other great nurses such as Mary Seacole.” Yet you did not state, nor have we seen any information anywhere, as to how Mary Seacole qualifies as a “great” nurse, or indeed any kind of a nurse. She was a remarkable person, but a businesswoman, and a kind hospital volunteer visitor, but never a nurse, and never claimed to be.

Would you care to name one hospital where she nursed, as opposed to distributing donated magazines (which she did at the Land Transport Corps Hospital, near her business)?

Please name any book or article on nursing she wrote, or one nursing school she founded (there are lots for Nightingale).
Can you explain how Seacole’s using lead and mercury (added to her herbal “remedies” for bowel diseases!!) is good nursing? When the cure for cholera, etc., is rehydration, why would dehydration constitute great nursing?

Do you recall that Seacole herself admitted to “lamentable blunders” in her remedies? For information on her, based on primary sources, not propaganda, see

We particularly regret your failure, and that of the Dept. of Health and the NHS, to recognize valid black nursing leaders. We recommend Kofoworola Abeni Pratt, a Nigerian who did nurse training in London, won an RCN scholarship, and was nursing at St. Thomas’ Hospital when the NHS started. She was probably the first black nurse in the NHS, and she went on, after returning to Nigeria, to lead in founding professional nursing there. Why ignore her and her important work?

It is regrettable that you, as a former chief executive of the NHS, seem to have no understanding of the importance of Nightingale’s work in making the NHS possible. Are you aware that she was the first person, in 1866, to articulate the vision of quality care for all, regardless of ability to pay (in a letter to Edwin Chadwick)?.The launch of the NHS in 1948 would not have been possible if the great reforms she worked for (successfully) in the old workhouse infirmaries had not been achieved. Note that, at the time, 80% of hospital patients were in workhouses, which still had bedsharing and pauper “nurses.” There is much to celebrate in Nightingale’s work, but you mentioned nothing. She was a pioneer in evidence-based health care, surely a concern of today.

We would be glad to provide you with a briefing on Nightingale and Seacole. Indeed we would be glad to debate you publicly on the subject.

Yours sincerely
[34 members of the Nightingale Society]

Partners 2020 Planning Meeting

Held Nov. 12 2018 in London at the Wellcome Trust. Eileen Magnello (our link to the Royal Statistical Society) and Lynn McDonald (by telephone) took part. Partners reported on their plans for 2020, and some are TERRIFIC! Deva Marie Beck reported for NIGH (Nightingale Initiative for Global Health) on a feature film, well along in planning. NIGH material shows the relevance of Nightingale to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

Museums are planning major exhibits and travelling exhibits to other cities. The University of Nottingham project reported on plans for schools outreach in the Midlands, and possibly a film on Nightingale’s homecoming after the Crimean War. The British Library will exhibit Nightingale artifacts throughout 2020.

• See the link to the report for more details.

Nightingale Bicentenary planning meeting

At the Royal Statistical Society, 12 March 2018

Present: Richard Bates, Robert Dingwall, Yuko Leung, Lynn McDonald,  Eileen Magnello, Jonathan Menem, Chris Pettet, Pat Smedley, Alex Whitehead

Regrets: Mark Bostridge, Stephanie Davies (Leeds), Sapiah Binti Abdul Hadi (Malaysia)Joan Thomson (N. Ireland),

University of Nottingham project on Nightingale for 2020:

Directed by Paul Crawford. The two post-doctoral fellows, Richard Bates and Jonathan Menem, are working for this project described it to us: it is an ambitious and well-funded, three-year project on Nightingale relating to the Nottingham area. We will co-operate in all possible ways with it.

Nightingale Bicentenary Plans:

Eileen Magnello reported on the work to date of the wider Bicentenary committee, chaired by David Green, the new director of the Florence Nightingale Museum. She is particularly working towards a major exhibition and meeting at the Science Museum, London, as well as a one-day meeting at the Royal Statistical Society.

Reports were given on initiatives in planning for Australia, via a report from Marilyn Gendek, and for Canada, from Carolyn Edgar. The Rev Chris Pettet, Vicar at Nightingale’s church in Wellow, Hampshire (where she is buried) reported on their project of a new window in her honour at the church. They regularly hold a commemorative service at the time of her birthday.

Lynn McDonald reported on the Commonwealth Nurses and Midwives Federation conference, held on the preceding week-end in London (she was giving a paper). The conference provided an opportunity to renew contacts with Commonwealth nurses and midwives from the conference of 2016, and to let many active nurses and midwives know about our group and plans for the Bicentenary.

Objectives for the Bicentenary: we agreed on our objective being a celebration of Nightingale’s work not fixed on the past, but flagging her ongoing relevance. She was, as well as the major founder of the modern profession of nursing, a pioneer of evidence-based health care, safer hospital architecture, health promotion and access to quality health care for all, regardless of ability to pay. Her work in statistics makes her a model for girls to go into maths and stats; she supported suffrage, education and economic opportunities for women, again ongoing issues.

From Dr Peter Carter, RCN

Dear Wendy,

Thank you for your letter concerning Florence Nightingale, Mary Seacole and Edith Cavell.

I am not entirely clear what has prompted you to write now, when the Nursing Standard articles to which you refer were published in 2014 and 2013.

Although part of the RCN family, Nursing Standard is editorially independent and it is neither in my gift, nor would it be appropriate, to seek to direct their reporting on this matter. The RCN honours the different and distinctive legacies of these three important figures and I find it sad and a little perplexing that so much energy is devoted to controversy over their respective merits and historical significance.

The RCN works with the Florence Nightingale Foundation, providing support for its annual conference and commemorative events and also puts its full weight behind international nurses’ day which falls on Miss Nightingale’s birthday. We support the Mary Seacole awards and will be working with the Cavell Trust to mark the 100th anniversary of her death.

Personally I am a huge admirer of Florence Nightingale. This woman in my view is one of the most iconic people in British history over the past best part of 200 years. Her pioneering nursing work is unparalleled and is something to celebrate and cherish. Her ‘Notes on Nursing’ (1860) are as relevant today as they would have been all those years ago. Her use of statistics was pioneering as was her work on sanitation. A true woman of innovation and vision.

I am however not willing to see the RCN drawn into “taking sides” in this debate which I believe reflects rather badly on the spirit of generosity which is a hallmark of nursing.

Yours sincerely

Dr Peter Carter OBE
Chief Executive & General Secretary
Royal College of Nursing

From NHS England

RE: Bicentenary of the Birth of Florence Nightingale 2020 Mary Seacole Campaign

Thank you for your letter which NHS England received on 8 April 2015.

Your correspondence has been passed to the Case Management Team that manages correspondence for the Chief Executive, Chairman and Directors and a case officer will provide you with an update in due course.

If you require any further information or wish to speak to someone about your case, please contact NHS England at the email address and telephone number shown below quoting the reference number CAS-07122.

Yours faithfully

NHS England
PO Box 16738 | Redditch | B97 9PT

From Lambeth Council

Dear Mrs Matthews,

Thank you for your letter (Our Ref LP/2015-04/8170) to Councillor Peck, The Mayor of Lambeth and Cabinet Members in respect of the Mary Seacole Statue proposed for St Thomas’ Hospital. As you may know, Lambeth Council’s role in this process was as the Planning Authority. The Planning Application – 11/04574/FUL has already been approved.

As Lambeth Council is not the proposer or owner of the statute it is not for Lambeth to suggest or promote an alternative site, especially as a site has already been approved after following the proper process. In these circumstances, I would suggest that you present your arguments and requests directly to the Guy’s and St Thomas NHS Foundation Trust to determine if they are willing to amend either the wording on the Statute or consider an alternative location in line with your representations

In respect, of the celebration of Florence Nightingale’s bicentenary we would of course be interested in in supporting you and others with promoting and developing events in the borough to mark this significant milestone. Our Events team (telephone 020 7926 6207) would be happy to offer advice and assistance on holding events in Lambeth, I would also suggest that you review this guide to holding events in Lambeth – ‘Outdoor events in Lambeth’ In addition, the following websites – & , provide excellent advice. The Council’s archive service may also prove to be a useful resource and contact with planning your arrangements, including the Landmark service – Lambeth Archives Image Collection.

Whilst I know that this was not the answer you were hoping for I hope that the above information is of some use to you.

Michael Warren

PA to Councillor Lib Peck, Leader of Lambeth Council

To Simon Stevens, CEO, NHS

Simon Stevens, CEO
National Health Service
PO Box 16738 Reddich B97 9PT
April 5, 2015

Dear Mr Stevens

Re: Bicentenary of the Birth of Florence Nightingale 2020
Mary Seacole Campaign

We are writing to raise two related issues with you and your colleagues: celebration of the bicentenary of Florence Nightingale in 2020, and the complication of the active campaign for Mary Seacole to be recognized as an “equal nurse,” “pioneer nurse” and even “pioneer health service” provider, titles awarded her variously by the Dept of Health, by NHS Employers, the RCN, etc.

We see little prospect of an appropriate celebration while the denigration of Nightingale continues. Nurses did not start it, but no nurse, nursing or health care organization defended Nightingale when she was accused, in a BBC “educational” programme no less, of discriminating against Seacole on the basis of race. We did, and eventually the BBC Trustees ruled that the programme was “materially inaccurate.”

The Department of Health named leadership programmes in public health after Seacole in 2013, although it has never said what she pioneered, and we are aware of nothing that would qualify. Nightingale, of course, pioneered much, as the major founder of the modern profession of nursing and the visionary, in 1864, of the NHS itself, that is, of the provision of quality care to all, including those unable to pay.

The listing of Seacole with Edward Jenner, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson and Aneurin Bevan, omitting Nightingale, is peculiar to say the least. It was Nightingale who first set out the goal of quality care for all, and did so much to improve care for the neediest. The old workhouse infirmaries were turned into real hospitals, in time with nurse training schools themselves.

A letter we sent to Jeremy Hunt, the Secretary of State for Health, May 20 2013, made these points, and received no answer.

The NHS Employers could give us no answer either, but rather complained that we were too fussy about accuracy in research (NHS letter of 30 July 2013). The RCN CEO and president, likewise, declined to answer our request for particulars.

The Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust had no answer to our queries (of 2012 and 2013) as to what Seacole did as “Britain’s black heroine who gave her life’s work in support of its early development,” a statement it issued as research background for its board (20 July 2011). In fact, Seacole did not give a day of her life to develop nursing in England, or elsewhere: she was a businesswoman, a caterer with an informal practice of over-the-counter herbals on the side.

We note also that the inordinate focus on Seacole has the unhappy result of sidelining genuine black and minority nurses who gave leadership. (See Lynn McDonald, Mary Seacole: The Making of the Myth, 2014 for bios of several who deserve recognition.)

We would particularly urge you to consider Mrs K.A. Pratt, a Nigerian Nightingale nurse who trained in England on an RCN scholarship. She was likely the first black nurse in the NHS when it opened in 1948. She subsequently became chief nursing officer in Nigeria, where she led in the development of professional nursing, with Nigerian nurses.

We hope that you will celebrate Nightingale’s bicentenary and ask that you turn the matter over to the appropriate people for planning. We ask you to review all Mary Seacole promotional material you use. Mrs Seacole was a spunky person who led a remarkable life that deserves celebration. It is unfortunate that she should be credited with Nightingale’s achievements. She deserves better than to have her life hijacked for a political campaign, even if its purpose, of improving diversity in nursing, is a worthy one. There are better means for doing this.

We would argue, finally, that the challenges of health care today are such as to ensure the ongoing relevance of Nightingale’s principles and standards. Environmental health, safe hospitals and the creative use of good research to improve policy were her specialties.

Yours sincerely

To the Mayor and Councillors of Lambeth

Mayor and Councillors of Lambeth
Lambeth Town Hall
18 Brixton Hill
London SW2 1RD

April 5, 2015

Dear Mayor and Lambeth Councillors

Re: Mary Seacole Statue intended for St Thomas’ Hospital and Florence Nightingale Bicentenary 2020

We note that the three years will soon draw to a close of the period for which planning permission was granted, after a hearing on April 24 2012. We understand that if the money is not all in place, that planning permission lapses, so that a new application would be required if and when the money is all raised.

We are aware that your permission process is narrowly focused on technicalities, assuming that the broader merits of the matter would have been dealt with elsewhere. In the case of the Seacole statue, this did not happen. The Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust promised consultation on a statue, then made its decision to approve without any, indeed at a closed-door meeting. As we pointed out to the Trust, the document it used to justify acceptance– claiming that Seacole was a dedicated nurse who gave her life to the early development of nursing in England- -was without foundation. The evidence is clear that she did not nurse a day in her life in England, or elsewhere. (She was a businesswoman; during the Crimean War she kindly gave first aid on several occasions, and was a friend to many, but did nothing to develop the profession.)

We entirely agree that Mrs Seacole’s life deserves celebration. Our concern is simply that she should not be credited with Nightingale’s work, or that Nightingale should be denigrated to make space for her.

To name Seacole “Pioneer Nurse” on a statue at Nightingale’s hospital would be seen by many people to be an outrage. St Thomas’ was the home of the first nurse training school in the world, and the base of Nightingale’s decades-long work in mentoring nurses from many countries, and sending out trained nurses to help found the profession in other countries.

The proposed placing of the statue facing the Houses of Parliament is particularly troublesome. Seacole took no interest in the political process, while Nightingale was an astute political activist all her life. She wrote briefs and reports for Parliamentary committees on health care and lobbied Cabinet ministers and MPs.

Placing the statue somewhere else in Lambeth would make sense. There is already a Seacole statue in Paddington, near where she lived. She never worked or lived in Lambeth, but there is a family connection through relatives of her late (English) husband, Edwin Seacole. His sister, Maria Seacole, married a James Kent in 1832, and their son’s marriage in due course produced a granddaughter, Florence Seacole Kent, born in 1861.

The 1881 Census shows her living in Brixton. On 14 April 1883, she married William Frederick Tilt at St Paul, Brixton. In 1901 she was a widow, still living in Brixton.

In 2020 the world will celebrate the bicentenary of the birth of Florence Nightingale. She is still highly respected in most of the world, especially in India, Japan and China, and many will be coming to London to mark the occasion. Are visitors to discover that someone else has replaced her as the “Pioneer Nurse” at her own hospital?

We draw this complex matter to your attention, with two requests:

1.that Lambeth begin to consider how to celebrate the Nightingale bicentenary and find a more appropriate place for a Seacole statue than at Nightingale’s hospital.

Yours sincerely

To Dr Peter Carter and Cecilia Anim, RCN

Dr Peter Carter, chief executive, and
Cecilia Anim, president
Royal College of Nursing
20 Cavendish Sq
London W1G 0RN

April 5, 2015

Dear Dr Carter and Ms Anim

We continue to be concerned with the wildly inaccurate presentation of Mary Seacole by the RCN, in the Nursing Standard, your website and events. We believe that the life of Mrs Seacole deserves celebration, for her own merits. Instead, she has been appropriated as the equal or even superior to Nightingale, something she never claimed: see her delightful memoir, Wonderful Adventures of Mrs Seacole in Many Lands.

We note with dismay the continued denigration of Florence Nightingale, the major founder of nursing, a major hospital reformer and the early, great, visionary of public health care.

Her bicentenary will be celebrated in 2020, yet it is difficult to imagine any appropriate celebration in the U.K., given the ongoing disparagement of her life, contributions and character.

Not one nurse or nursing organization protested when the BBC put out an “educational” video on Mary Seacole which had an actress portray Nightingale as a racist, with an entirely fictional anti-black script. We protested and, after a year and a half of runaround by BBC official, the BBC Trustees ruled that the video was “materially inaccurate.”

We received no answer to our enquiries to the RCN in 2012, followed up in 2013, as to what Seacole did to pioneer nursing.

Yet stories published in the Nursing Standard repeatedly call her a “pioneer” nurse, and equate her work with that of Nightingale, without ever mentioning a specific. We are unaware of any work Seacole did to found the nursing profession. She gave first aid on three occasions on the battlefield during the Crimean War, post-battle–after serving sandwiches and wine to spectators.

This was greatly appreciated, but hardly qualifies as “battlefield nursing” or makes her a nursing “pioneer.”

In her memoir, Seacole recounts visiting the Land Transport Corps Hospital (one nursed by Nightingale’s team) to distribute magazines and visit. Again, this shows her to have been a kind volunteer, but has nothing to do with founding a profession.

Seacole’s own book reports her use of lead acetate and mercury chloride in “remedies” for cholera–indeed she considered that adding lead acetate helped with “stubborn” cases (WA p 31).

Doctors, it must be acknowledged, were then using such mistaken “remedies,” and the effective cure for cholera and other bowel diseases, oral rehydration therapy, only came into use in the 1960s. Seacole could hardly have known better, but to credit her with “pioneering” nursing, and even being a leading “nurse practitioner,” is simply wrong. Yet she is routinely held to be “role model” for nurses.

We query Jean Gray’s presentation of Nightingale, Seacole and Cavell as “equal heroes,” who deserve “equal recognition” (Nursing Standard 28,4 p. 28). Cavell, of course, is celebrated for her bravery and patriotism, not nursing–her life was cut short. Cavell, incidentally, trained at a hospital where Nightingale mentored the matron, and was night superintendent at a workhouse infirmary where Nightingale got trained nursing started.

There are many nurses apart from Nightingale who made excellent contributions to early nursing, yet they are ignored.

Gray should have told us exactly what Cavell and Seacole did that of the same significance to Nightingale’s decades of work to build the profession. Why do you continue to ignore significant, authentic pioneers?

Cecilia Anim is quoted as calling for celebration of “Seacole’s uniqueness and commitment to the profession” (Nursing Standard 27,37 p 10). She was certainly unique, and had many fine qualities, but we ask what did she do for the nursing profession?

We note that the Nursing Standard does not permit, or even send out for peer review, articles that take a critical view of Seacole, no matter how well documented they are. This is unworthy of a professional journal.

The contention that Mary Seacole was “rejected” as a nurse by Nightingale, or someone representing her, is all too frequently made, but is contradicted by available primary sources, including her own memoir. Seacole never submitted the required application. Moreover, she was late starting her informal calls on government offices to apply: Nightingale certainly had already left, and probably the second team had left, too. No one in the RCN seems willing to acknowledge that Seacole’s trip to London in autumn 1854 was to attend to her gold stocks, not to become an army nurse, that it was only after 2 months of unsuccessful efforts on those stocks that she decided to try to become an army nurse–too late. Yet this is clear in her memoir (WA, p. 71).

Nightingale called for nurses to honest, truthful and trustworthy in their work. We concur, adding only that this is a good standard for nursing organizations and journals as well.

Yours sincerely