Posts filed under “Correspondence on Nightingale/Seacole misinformation”

To Stephen Hart, NHS Leadership Academy

Stephen Hart
Managing Director,
NHS Leadership Academy

June 2019

Dear Mr Hart

We wish to raise two matters with you, one positive, one negative, and ask a question.

The positive is the promotion of an outstanding nursing leader, Kofoworola Abeni Pratt (1915-92), the first black nurse in the NHS, who remains remarkably unknown and uncelebrated. We want to see her recognized, such as by the naming of a Leadership Award after her. We can send you a link detailing her accomplishments, and there is a fine biography available on her.

The negative is the continuing downgrading of the work of Florence Nightingale (1820-1910), the first person to articulate the vision that became the core principles of the NHS. This neglect is combined with misinformation (now going on for many years) of Mary Seacole, a fine and generous businesswoman and volunteer hospital visitor during the Crimean War, but who was not a pioneer nurse, nor ever claimed to be one.

We note the bizarre ranking of Seacole as the top pioneer/ leader, by Clare Price-Dowd, of the NHS Leadership Academy, in an article published in the British Journal of Nursing. Price-Dowd gave no achievements by Seacole to justify that ranking. A letter to her follows which sets out our concerns in detail.

We note that the NHS Leadership Academy has programmes named after Edward Jenner, Rosalind Franklin, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson and Nye Bevan, all well qualified for the honour. There is no nursing leader, however, but Mary Seacole is named as one, without good grounds. She has many noteworthy achievements, but can you name anything she did in hospital nursing herself, or training nurses, mentoring nurses, producing books or articles on nursing and effecting change for the better in the profession?

We note that the Bicentenary of Nightingale’s birth will be celebrated next year, and ask what the NHS Leadership Academy plans to do to for this celebration.. We would be happy to provide you with information on the importance of Nightingale’s vision and work towards making quality health care available to all, regardless of ability to pay.

Yours sincerely

[ 18 members of the Nightingale Society ]

To Clare Price-Dowd, NHS Leadership Academy

Clare Price-Dowd
NHS Leadership Academy
June 2019

Dear Dr Price-Dowd

We write with concern about the position you took, and your failure to provide reasons for it, in your article in the BJN “The changing face of nursing: from the pioneers to the future of leadership.” Your choices of leaders/pioneers are odd, and you failed to give references on points of fact. There is so much misinformation about Mary Seacole in circulation that it is difficult to get the facts right, but there are adequate primary sources.

  1. Listing Seacole as the top choice of nursing leader/pioneer, without noting so much as one qualification: what nursing did she herself do? (apart from selling “herbal” remedies, which sometimes contained lead and/or mercury)? What hospital(s) did she nurse at? What books/articles on nursing did she write? What nurses did she train or mentor? We are aware of none.
  2. Nightingale’s work is well known, and she was, would you not agree? the major founder of the profession. You describe her rather as “the person most people see as the epitome of the nurse,” but why not say what she did? Especially as you later address the qualities needed for leadership in the future. You state that she used “models and theories to influence others to make changes in health care.” We would say that she used evidence, well argued and illustrated, to influence decisions in health care.
    Since your position is with the NHS Leadership Academy, it might be well to acknowledge that she was the first to call for the key components of the NHS, and that in 1866 and 1867! None of your other choices did anything close to what she did for the formation of the NHS.
  3. We wonder about the choice of Edith Cavell as a nursing founder, when her life was tragically cut short. She deserves celebration for her courage and patriotism, but she had only a few years giving leadership in nursing when she was executed.
  4. Kofoworola Abeni Pratt does deserve inclusion as a pioneer and founder, and it is time that the NHS Leadership Academy recognized her. Sadly, it seems still, as you yourself, more keen to repeat the misinformation of the Mary Seacole campaign than to provide credible BAME models for today’s nurses. You could start with Pratt! (See a backgrounder on her at nightingalesociety.com/backgrounders/8-kofoworola-abeni-pratt/

We urge you to go back to primary sources–much of the misinformation on Seacole can be seen to be wrong when her own memoir is consulted. The bicentenary of Nightingale’s life will be celebrated in 2020. We look to nursing leaders to make a positive contribution in crediting her for what she did. Celebrating Pratt, a Nigerian who chose to study nursing at the Nightingale School, is a fine example of Nightingale’s ongoing relevance–she inspired future leaders!

Yours sincerely

[18 members of the Nightingale Society]

Please reply to contact@nightingalesociety.com

To Clare Price-Dowd, NHS Leadership Academy

Clare Price-Dowd
NHS Leadership Academy
June 2019

Dear Dr Price-Dowd

We write with concern about the position you took, and your failure to provide reasons for it, in your article in the BJN “The changing face of nursing: from the pioneers to the future of leadership.” Your choices of leaders/pioneers are odd, and you failed to give references on points of fact. There is so much misinformation about Mary Seacole in circulation that it is difficult to get the facts right, but there are adequate primary sources.

  1. Listing Seacole as the top choice of nursing leader/pioneer, without noting so much as one qualification: what nursing did she herself do? (apart from selling “herbal” remedies, which sometimes contained lead and/or mercury)? What hospital(s) did she nurse at? What books/articles on nursing did she write? What nurses did she train or mentor? We are aware of none.
  2. Nightingale’s work is well known, and she was, would you not agree? the major founder of the profession. You describe her rather as “the person most people see as the epitome of the nurse,” but why not say what she did? Especially as you later address the qualities needed for leadership in the future. You state that she used “models and theories to influence others to make changes in health care.” We would say that she used evidence, well argued and illustrated, to influence decisions in health care.
    Since your position is with the NHS Leadership Academy, it might be well to acknowledge that she was the first to call for the key components of the NHS, and that in 1866 and 1867! None of your other choices did anything close to what she did for the formation of the NHS.
  3. We wonder about the choice of Edith Cavell as a nursing founder, when her life was tragically cut short. She deserves celebration for her courage and patriotism, but she had only a few years giving leadership in nursing when she was executed.
  4. Kofoworola Abeni Pratt does deserve inclusion as a pioneer and founder, and it is time that the NHS Leadership Academy recognized her. Sadly, it seems still, as you yourself, more keen to repeat the misinformation of the Mary Seacole campaign than to provide credible BAME models for today’s nurses. You could start with Pratt! (See a backgrounder on her at nightingalesociety.com/backgrounders/8-kofoworola-abeni-pratt/

We urge you to go back to primary sources–much of the misinformation on Seacole can be seen to be wrong when her own memoir is consulted. The bicentenary of Nightingale’s life will be celebrated in 2020. We look to nursing leaders to make a positive contribution in crediting her for what she did. Celebrating Pratt, a Nigerian who chose to study nursing at the Nightingale School, is a fine example of Nightingale’s ongoing relevance–she inspired future leaders!

Yours sincerely

[18 members of the Nightingale Society]

Please reply to contact@nightingalesociety.com

To the Lincoln Center, New York

to: Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts,
10 Lincoln Center Plaza, New York, NY
March 25, 2019

Dear Sirs/Mesdames

Kindly pass on this letter to those connected with the Marys Seacole biodrama –- writer, director, actors, etc. Please note that we the undersigned, all living some distance from New York, have not seen the performance, but are using reviews in the New York Times and the New Yorker as the sources for our concerns.

Mary Seacole was a remarkable, independent, woman and many good things can be said of her, but your biodrama repeats an all too frequent, but false, accusation against Nightingale, as “haughty,” with “an icy sneer.” Seacole’s own memoir reports only one encounter with her, when she asked Nightingale for a bed for the night at her (overcrowded) hospital, and got one. Seacole was on her way to the Crimea to join her business partner to start their business. The encounter was entirely friendly, according to Seacole.

The “tireless work on the battlefields” is a gross distortion. Seacole’s memoir shows that she missed the first three, major battles of the war–she was in London attending to her gold investments. She was present for three later battles, thus was on the battlefield on three occasions, in each case for at most a few hours, after selling wine and sandwiches to spectators. Perilous? Hardly, and many people went onto the battlefield post-battle.

Nurse and healer? But Seacole herself admitted adding lead and mercury to her “herbal” remedies, and frankly admitted that she had made “lamentable blunders.” Lead and mercury are both toxic in any quantity, and counter-productive for bowel patients. We might suggest that a more honest presentation would also be of greater interest.

That this is the Lincoln Center is particularly inappropriate. Nightingale was a leading anti-racist. Her grandfather worked with William Wilberforce on the abolition of slavery. Her material for war hospitals was used by the United States Army in the Civil War. She wrote on the disappearance of the Australian aboriginal races. She supported Indian nationals in their struggles. She wrote a campaign letter for the first Asian to be elected to Parliament, etc.

Yours sincerely

Chris Brice, Rev., Church of England priest
Gerald Calver, B.A. (Hons.), legal costdraughtsman
Ann Cameron, PhD, professor emerita of developmental psychology
Robert Dingwall, PhD, FacSS, HonMFPH, prof emeritus, Nottingham University, founding director, Institute of Science and Society
Rose Dyson, EdD, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education
Charlene Harrington, PhD, Professor emeritus, UCSF
Susan James, MA, international development professional
Lynn McDonald, PhD, LLD (hon), emerita professor
Aroha Page, PhD, assoc professor nursing, Nipissing University
Rev. Chris Pettet, Vicar, St. Margaret’s, Wellow
Harold E. Raugh, Jr, Lt Col, PhD, FRHistS, FRAS, US Army, ret
Dorothy Goldin Rosenberg, MES, PhD, lecturer, env. health
Deborah Tregunno, RN, PhD, assoc. professor, School of Nursing
Joan Thompson, OBE, RRC, BA (hons), SRN
Gwyneth Watkins, MA, retired teacher
Bruce Webber R.N. (ret.)

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 www.maryseacole.info

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]

from Sarah John, Notes Directorate, Bank of England

from: Sarah John
Chief Cashier, Notes Directorate
sarah.john@bankofenqland.co.uk

20 December 2018

Dear members of the Nightingale Society,

Thank you for your letter dated 9 December addressed to the Governor. As Chief Cashier with responsibility for banknotes, and a member of the Banknote Character Advisory Committee, he has asked me respond on his behalf.

Thank you for taking the time to write to us with your views about Mary Seacole. As you will have seen in the press, the selection of the character for the next £50 note has attracted a lot of attention. We are delighted by the way the nomination process has captured the imagination of the public, and provoked some very interesting debates on the relative merits of potential candidates to appear on the banknote.

This is, however, just the start of the process. As the Banknote Character Advisory Committee works through the shortlisting process, we will be undertaking detailed historical research on each of the leading potential characters. I can assure you that the final decision, to be taken by the Governor, will be made in light of all the relevant available facts about the life and achievements of the shortlisted characters.

Yours sincerely,
Sarah John
Chief Cashier

To Mark Carney, Governor, Bank of England

to: Mark Carney, Governor
Bank of England
Threadneedle Street
London EC1R 8AH

December 9, 2018

Dear Dr Carney

The points made in the letter to you on Mary Seacole, by numerous MPs, are either clearly erroneous or unsubstantiated. We urge you to consult her own (fine and interesting) memoir, Wonderful Adventures of Mrs Seacole in Many Lands, which will belie so much of what is said of her by her current fans.

  1. “She became distinguished for nursing victims of the cholera epidemic and the yellow fever epidemic in both Kingston and Panama.” But she admitted she could do nothing on yellow fever, and her cholera remedy included lead and mercury. There is simply no evidence that her “remedies” helped anyone, and dehydration, by vomiting and purging of the bowels, is wrong: the effective treatment is rehydration.
  2. “Upon learning of the inadequate medical facilities for soldiers in Crimea, Seacole travelled to England and requested that the British War Office send her as an army nurse.” Hardly! Mrs Seacole went to England to attend to her gold stocks, not to offer help. After some 2 months of fruitless attempts to that end, she decided to go to the war, AFTER Nightingale and her nursing team had left. She never sent in the required application to the War Office, (the are at the National Archives, Kew). Instead, dropped into various offices seeking to go, too late.
  3. That she provided comfortable facilities for those sick and injured. No. The “British Hotel,” the name of her business, was a hut that sold meals, fine wines, etc., but there was no accommodation for the sick, well or injured (see her memoir!). She was called “Mother Seacole” by officers and friends, her usual customers. Ordinary soldiers were allowed to make purchases at a different hut from the officers, but could hardly have afforded her prices for meals and wine.
  4. Her business was much appreciated by officers, who raised money for her after she and her business partner had to declare bankruptcy. It is correct that Mrs Seacole was named at the top of the “Black Briton” list, but it should be understood that she did not identify as a black. She was a property-owning Jamaican, a Creole, with a white father, a white husband, a white clientele– she employed blacks, such as “my good-for-nothing black cooks” and her maid was black. She did experience discrimination herself, mainly from Americans in Panama. She handled herself with aplomb on those occasions. In short, the case made for her omits rather a lot. Nor has anyone provided any evidence of any pioneering contribution she made to nursing.

Yours sincerely

[31 members of the Nightingale Society]

History hoax on a banknote? Letter to Westminster MPs

Dear MP

Some MPs are lobbying to get Mary Seacole on the £50 banknote, but their description of her as “Pioneering Nurse” is simply false. Do we want a history hoax on any banknote?

Mrs Seacole was a fine and decent person. During the Crimean War she was what was then called a “sutler,” running a business for officers, a combination of restaurant, bar, store, and catering service. An officer who wanted champagne could drop in and buy it or send a servant to pick up bottles. She sold “herbal” remedies for various maladies, but some contained lead and mercury, which are toxic in any dose. In her fine memoir, Wonderful Adventures of Mrs Seacole in Many Lands, 1857, she acknowledged “lamentable blunders” in her “remedies.” Please take a serious look before you proceed!

Mrs Seacole aided both customers and soldiers with their illnesses as best she could. She never nursed a day in a hospital in any country, her own Jamaica, Panama (where again she ran a business), the Crimea (her famous business) or later in Britain, where she retired.

Note that Mrs Seacole never called herself a “nurse,” but used a combined title of “doctress, nurse, and ‘mother’” or–take note– the “yellow doctress,” indicating that she was of fair complexion (she was Jamaican born, Creole, one quarter African in heritage). Anyone who wishes to claim her as a “pioneering”nurse should state what she pioneered, no? Her memoir gives recipes and menus from her business, but the only remedy for which she gave specifics (with lead and mercury) was neither pioneering, nor a remedy.

Mrs Seacole deserves recognition for her independence and kindness, but why the history hoax? Why not put the first black woman to nurse in the NHS on the banknote? Or some other woman with appropriate credentials?

Yours sincerely
[members of the Nightingale Society]

To Kate Pankhurst, author, Fantastically Great Women Who Changed the World (2016)

To Kate Pankhurst
Kate@katepankhurst.com
Spinning Mill Studios, 2nd floor
Spinning Mill, Sunny Bank Mills
Farsley, Leeds LS28 5UJ

Dear Ms Pankhurst

We are disappointed with the shoddy, inaccurate coverage you give to Mary Seacole in your book, Fantastically Great Women Who Changed the World, 2016. Mrs Seacole was certainly a fine person, independent, generous and interesting, but how did she change the world? Certainly nothing that she described of her own life in her memoir, an excellent book, Wonderful Adventures of Mrs Seacole in Many Lands. There she portrays herself as an adventurer—a keen observer of the world—and kind and resourceful in tough circumstances, but hardly anything more.

Moreover, her “remedies” are questionable at the very least. She gave a recipe for only one, to which she added lead and mercury, toxic substances at any strength, and not good for cholera and bowel diseases in particular. Indeed, she acknowledged “lamentable blunders” in her memoir (see p 31).

A “nurse”? But she never called herself a “nurse,” although she did use “doctress, nurse and mother” as a descriptor, but “nurse” was for Nightingale and her nurses. Do you realize that Seacole never nursed one day in any hospital in any country? Nor did she claim to have in her book. She describes assisting officers and men on the battlefield (on 3 occasions, not routinely), and she gave tea to soldiers waiting transport to the general hospitals—but never inside. Nor did she nurse in any hospital in Jamaica—she describes being invited to, but declining. Read the book carefully!

You state, incorrectly: “This nurse [NO!] set up her own hospital in the Crimea during the Crimean War”…. But in her book she said she planned to establish a “hotel,” never a hospital, and did not even do that (Chapter VIII). Instead, she had huts put up for a bar/restaurant/store/takeaway/catering service, for officers. Quite different.

You then state that she was “turned down” as an official nurse, carelessly not noticing that she only applied for a post, informally, AFTER Nightingale and her nurses had left, indeed after the second team of nurses had left. Mrs Seacole did not apply early, even though she was in London, as she was busy on her gold investments, which she makes clear in the book.

You state that Nightingale “nursed soldiers in the Crimean War” (she did a lot more than that) and that Seacole “did the same and at her own expense”!! Hardly, she ran a business, in which she invested from her earnings from her previous business, as did her business partner.

The point “because as a black woman” raises a more complex issue, for Mrs Seacole did not identify as black, but “yellow” or fair-skinned. Like white Jamaicans, she employed blacks. She travelled with two black servants and employed black cooks at her business. Rather off what you say.

It is particularly grating to see a descendant of the great suffrage leader Emmeline Pankhurst get Nightingale wrong—an early supporter of the vote for women (1866), who signed numerous petitions for the vote who did much to improve education for women, started nurse training and made nursing the best-paid occupation for women at the time.

If your book is re-published, you should ensure that these gross errors are corrected. You should apologize for misleading people—a children’s book! A bit much to expect children to check out sources, when the author can’t be bothered!

Yours sincerely
[19 members of the Nightingale Society]

To Blaise Simqu, Sage Publications

To: Blaise Simqu
Sage Publications Inc
2455 Teller Rd.
Thousand Oaks CA 91320

Dear Mr Simqu

We are writing with concern about seriously false and misleading material in a Sage book, Leadership in Health Care, and ask you to communicate this to the authors, Jill Barr and Lesley Dowding.

One might expect a book entitled Leadership in Health Care make the distinction between providing leadership in health care, as Florence Nightingale did, and running a business for customers, as Mary Seacole did during the Crimean War–however nicely she did it. But they get it spectacularly wrong, without ever citing a reference!

While Nightingale was leading the nursing, cleaning up hospitals and establishing laundries and kitchens for the sick soldiers, these authors have her “collecting data.” When did she have the time? (She did analyze data, post-Crimea, but the data were collected by the War Office.) They also have her in the wrong country: the Barrack Hospital was in Turkey–the war was in the Crimea, 300 miles away.

They go further off in listing Seacole in “leaders in health care,” immediately after Nightingale, as if she ranked second. However, as her own book, Wonderful Adventures of Mrs Seacole in Many Lands (a good read) made abundantly clear, she ran a restaurant/bar/store/takeaway and catering service at commercial prices for officers. How does this qualify as health care? They repeat the common misinformation (no source given) that Seacole was “refused an interview to go to the Crimea). Check her Chapter VIII: She never applied, but only dropped in casually to various offices concerned with the war, after the nurses had left. What does it mean to be “refused” when you never applied?

If you want to call someone a nurse, should you not say where and when they nursed?

Not done with it, and again without a reference, Barr and Dowding have Seacole “held up as one of the first black women leaders.” What did she lead? Her business sadly failed. Her remedies were doubtful at best–she admitted to “lamentable blunders” (p 31), which adding lead and mercury to herbal preparations would be–lead and mercury are toxic in any dose. For other examples of Seacole misinformation online, see www.maryseacole.info/ For a book, see Lynn McDonald, Mary Seacole: The Making of a Myth (Toronto: Iguana 2014).

There is a lot of other silliness in Leadership in Health Care, but these bloopers are really inexcusable. The authors should retract them and apologize for misleading their readers. They should delete the material in any subsequent edition, or get it right.

Yours sincerely
[19 members of the Nightingale Society]