To the Complaints Administrator, Oxford Cambridge and RSA Examinations (OCR)
Charlotte Taylor, Complaints Administrator
Oxford Cambridge and RSA Examinations
Progress House, Westwood Way
Coventry CV4 BJ0
9 July 2014
Dear Ms Taylor
As per our introductory letter of 30 June 2014, we have been researching the teaching of Mary Seacole in English schools, Year 2 and History GCSE, particularly looking at connections or comparisons with Florence Nightingale. We did not do a study of teaching materials on Florence Nightingale per se, but have observations on coverage of her in the OCR Medicine Through Time.
We are concerned with the enormous amount of misinformation available about the life of Mary Seacole, produced initially by a campaign for her, but now echoed as fact in books both for pupils and teachers, websites and museums (which do school visits). We have yet to find a British source that gives a fair and accurate portrayal of her life. We would be grateful if you know of any and would apprise us of them.
Since there is no standardized curriculum in the U.K. we have had to rely on internet and library searches. Short of a fully funded study, which would require some years to complete, a comprehensive overview is not possible. However, we have found a substantial number of examples of schools, books for children, resource books for teachers, teaching resources and internet sites that cause grave concern. Misinformation embellishing Seacole’s work and minimizing Nightingale’s is routine, if motivated by the desirable end of racial and cultural diversity.
Copies of four articles (two of them peer-reviewed) and a book on Seacole are included. Links to internet sources on them are also available: www.maryseacole.info“
Herewith a brief overview of our findings. Appendices follow on schoolbooks and school websites. Photocopies of the covers of several children’s books are attached, a few sample pages from inside, and one whole children’s book, as illustrations.
Fourteen books for children have been published on Mary Seacole, all of them with substantial errors of fact, all of them embellishing her achievements, and most with the evident end of making her Florence Nightingale’s equal, sometimes with a hint that she was better or braver. Several of these books also present excellent background information on the period, or on other social issues, but even these incorporate flagrant errors.
Details of the factual errors are available for all on a website and a printed copy is provided as Appendix 1: www.maryseacole.info/
- Castor 1999 48 pp
- Collicott 1992  16 pp
- Collicott 2003 32 pp
- Cooke 2007 31 pp
- Godwin 2001 48 pp
- Harrison 2007 24 pp
- Huntley 1993 63 pp
- Lynch 2006 32 pp
- Malam 1999 24 pp
- Moorcroft and Magnusson 1998 24 pp
- Ridley 2009 24 pp
- Vincent and de la Mare 1985 16 pp
- Williams 2003 32 pp
- Williams 2009 56 pp.
Not one of these books mentions any of the known negatives about Seacole’s life, that she acknowledged “lamentable blunders” in her remedies, used toxic substances (mercury chloride and lead acetate), never submitted an application to become a war nurse and missed the first three battles of the war (she was in London attending to her gold mining stocks), or that she took loot from the bodies of dead Russian soldiers and accepted loot stolen by French soldiers from Sebastopol churches. None of these books notes that Seacole was a prosperous Jamaican, who employed blacks and used racial slurs (on Turks as well as “niggers”). All of this is perfectly clear in her own engaging memoir, Wonderful Adventures of Mrs Seacole in Many Lands (Oxford University Press 1988), reference to which would refute most of the false claims made by Seacole’s campaigners of today.
Some of the books have errors in such basic facts as the year the Crimean War started, and her place of death (England, not Jamaica). Some avoid any mention of Nightingale, while those that do acknowledge her describe her as another or an important nurse; one has Seacole helping her.
In their keenness to promote racial equality, such embarrassing facts are ignored as that Seacole distanced herself from her black heritage: blacks were always others, some her employees. In (nicely) telling off an American Southerner, she distanced herself, saying that if her complexion “had been as dark as any nigger’s” (Wonderful Adventures p 48).
A major error running across all the books is the replacement of officers, who were Seacole’s customers, with ordinary soldiers, whom she is said to have nursed, even in her own hospital (which was a club for officers). Soldiers could never have afforded her luxury goods or employed her catering services. None of the authors seems to have realized that, even if Seacole had been serving nourishing food to ordinary soldiers, she could hardly have made a dent in feeding the tens of thousands of soldiers stationed there. (Nightingale made it her mission to get nutrition improved for ordinary soldiers).
The books all use illustrations, some of them many times, that give a false picture of Seacole. Often they depict her as a young NHS nurse. Some show pictures of medals said to be hers (she won none of them).
Some of the books (notably Moorcroft and Magnusson) also contain some good material, but even where the information is correct, the overall impression given is suspect, for example, their timeline, which lists the birth of Mary Seacole with Julius Caesar invading Britain, the crucifixion of Jesus, the birth of Muhammad, the Norman invasion, Christopher Columbus’s voyage to the New World and (after Seacole’s birth), the First World War, the Second World War, and the first moon landing. Was her birth really as important as all these other events?
2. Books for teachers
Two books for teachers also provide misinformation: Rosemary Turner-Bisset and Emily Beadle, “History” in Dave Hill and Mike Cole, eds., Equality in the Secondary School: Promoting Good Practice Across the Curriculum 151-52), which states that “both women were involved in caring for the sick and injured during the Crimean War,” but held that differences in their “social and cultural backgrounds” accounted for differences in how they were treated later by British society, not any difference in their contributions. (2) Dave Hill and Leena Helavaara Robertson, eds., Equality in the Primary School: Promoting Good Practice 154, which proposes that teachers “adapt the current scheme of work on Florence Nightingale to include Mary Seacole,” to ask why Seacole is not equally remembered for contributions to the development of a profession, hospital safety, army reforms, status of women, etc.
3. School websites
Internet searches turned up over xx schools which had some material on Seacole, often also on Nightingale. These include secondary schools, primary and infant, Church of England, Roman Catholic and secular, foundation schools and academies, and one elite girls’ boarding school.
At the primary level, Seacole is typically made into a “good nurse,” at the least, sometimes “pioneer nurse,” sometimes with heroism added. On the website for Coteford Infant School, for example, children are said to order “key events in the life of Florence Nightingale and Mary Seacole,” and “learn about the improvements that were made to hospitals,” although Seacole made none, and never worked in one. She did act as a volunteer visitor, taking around books and papers for the patients, not the same thing as founding professional nursing or reforming hospitals. The children are then to apply this information to hospitals today, before the two “helped to bring about changes.” This is a clear transfer of the work that Nightingale did to Seacole, beginning in the Crimean War and continuing for decades later, to make hospitals safer.
In Wroughton Infant School a Mary Seacole Assembly linked Seacole with “Great Britons,” for the “incredible bravery” that she endured “whilst overcoming racism.” A picture of the children shows them wearing nurses’ uniforms-one presumably was Seacole, the other her “contemporary,” Florence Nightingale.
In Hertfordshire, schools have the use of a Seacole Year 2 trunk, so that the children can compare the work of the two women. They then had to write “as if they were Mary entering the battlefield and using some of the things in the trunk. O wonderful results!” The Seacole picture shown has her proudly wearing three medals, none of which she won, which is not stated.
Some school websites add new errors to the large storehouse of mis-statements already in circulation. Sanfield Close Primary School, for example, specified that both women were important in science. Nightingale’s importance in science is well documented, notably her statistical analyses post-Crimea, which are not mentioned on any website. The website did not specify any scientific advances made by Seacole, and we know of none.
At the primary level, the two women tend to be treated as equals-Nightingale is not attacked, but her enormous contributions are simply omitted. Sometimes the two are described as working together, while Seacole’s store/restaurant was 300 miles away from Nightingale’s Barrack Hospital. Often Nightingale is (incorrectly) blamed for Seacole’s rejection as a nurse.
At the secondary level further complications arise owing to material for History GCSE papers, noted further below.
Many school websites list other websites as “resources,” which, however, are themselves full of factual errors. The worst is the BBC, for which numerous complaints have been made, one of which, “Horrible Histories,” is currently under appeal. One error is the claim that Nightingale turned down Seacole 4 times as a nurse (she did not once), in a scene which makes Nightingale out to be a racist, while Seacole is portrayed, by an actress, as a young, Jamaican NHS nurse.
Other websites with much misinformation are the Science Museum, London (to whom a complaint has been made, and assurances given of correction); the National Army Museum; the Museum of London; Gunnersbury Park Museum and the Thackray Medical Museum, Leeds. These museums are often used for school visits.
It is gratifying to see that the U.K. National Archives and the U.S. National Geographic both revised their websites when errors were pointed out to them.
4. School events
Schools put on performances and invite parents and other community members to see what they are teaching on Seacole (sometimes on both her and Nightingale). Canonbury School, Islington, for example, the school attended by Mayor Boris Johnson’s daughter, had her playing Queen Victoria pinning medals on the two, with exaggerated praise (see Boris Johnson’s “Florence Nightingale and Mary Seacole: Who pioneered Nursing” in his Johnson’s Life of London: The People Who Made the City That Made the World 284).
5. OCR Medicine and Health Through Time
Given the status of this document its errors are of great concern. There are blogs and resource books for teachers on it, all of which are erroneous in their presentation on Seacole and some on both women.
According to the 2010 Mark Scheme (p 10), pupils are asked “4(a) Briefly describe the career of Mary Seacole.
Points might include worked as nurse/doctor in Jamaica, worked as a midwife, dealt with cholera in Panama, went to Britain and volunteered to go to Crimea, went at own expense, set up the ‘British Hospital,’ nursed soldiers, returned to Britain bankrupt, newspaper held an appeal for her, benefit concert held for her.”
Only one of these points, however, is correct-Seacole did return to Britain bankrupt, and for one other the error is minor-the appeal for her was organized by officers, not newspapers. The “British Hospital” point is a flagrant error, when even “British Hotel” is an exaggeration, for her restaurant/bar/store/takeaway/catering service. The “nurse/doctor” credit is far from the businesswoman/doctress occupation Seacole herself described in her memoir. She did not work as a midwife. Seacole did indeed deal with cholera in Jamaica, but not successfully.
“Medicine Through Time: How Did Florence Nightingale and Mary Seacole Improve Public Health?” states that Nightingale had genius, even that she reduced the wounded death rate from 40% to 2% (we would give most of this credit to the Sanitary Commission sent out to the Crimean War, with Nightingale assisting). It notes her 800-page analysis of Crimean War mortality, and her shorter, Notes on Nursing. This it blames, strangely, for paying “little notice to Pasteur’s Germ Theory,” which did not exist when she wrote the book. It asserts that Mary Seacole was also an “influential nurse in Crimean War: knowledgeable healer and midwife,” and credits her with setting up the “‘British Hotel,’ providing food and drinks to soldiers. Treated sickness and went to battlefield to help soldiers.” Then, when she returned, “Nobody tried to learn from her medical skills due to her race and lack of money.”
Folkstone Girls’ School cited Medicine Through Time on its website, and asked the following questions, which seem aimed at eliciting sympathy for Seacole and resentment for her treatment:
2: Developments in Nursing. Questions and answers.
13. What was the name of the contemporary of Florence Nightingale who arguable [y] did as much for nursing during the Crimean War? Mary Seacole.
14. Who helped to finance Mary Seacole’s work? No one, she had to fund herself.
15. What was the name given to the hostel she set up where she nursed soldiers and served them hot drinks and food? British Hotel.
However, Seacole never established a hostel for nursing wither soldiers or officers, while the drink and food was for officers, for purchase.
- Florence Nightingale and Mary Seacole should not be taught together at any level; their lives and work were too different.
- Teaching on Nightingale at the senior level should include were contributions to statistics and research, hospital reform, public health care generally, and the later emergence of the NHS more particularly, and India.
- Medicine and Health Through Time for the History GCSE requires revision in its coverage of both Nightingale and Seacole.
- Teaching on Seacole at every level should respect known facts about her life and contribution; she was an independent woman, adventurous, an intrepid traveller, a businesswoman (e.g., Panama during the California Gold Rush), writer of a valuable travel memoir, a kind and compassionate person, to avoid such false claims as that she saved lives and pioneered nursing or health care.
- Until suitable material on Seacole, print and other, are produced, teaching on her should be suspended. OCR should issue a warning that the available material on her now is unreliable and should not be used.
We would be happy to answer any questions or provide further information as needed.
Appendices 1 and 2
From Mary Seacole: The Making of the Myth
Covers and pages of children’s books and 1 children’s book
Appendix 1: Books for children on Seacole (in alphabetical order)
Castor, Harriet. Mary Seacole. New York: Franklin Watts 1999.
This book has an especially dishonest cover, depicting a young Seacole in a blue and white nurse’s uniform, looking after a wounded soldier at his bedside (not something that ever happened, or which she ever claimed to have done in her book). The fictions continue with Seacole searching “the battlefields for wounded and dying men, even while the guns were still firing,” again quite beyond her own description of aid given post-battle, on three occasions, to be precise.
The book credits both Seacole and Nightingale with saving “many soldiers’ lives,” but regrets that Nightingale became more famous, the result of her being white and rich, according to Castor, who did not acknowledge any significant work that Nightingale did.
Collicott, Sylvia. Mary Seacole. Aylesbury Bucks: Ginn History 1992. (See comments on her 2003 book)
Collicott, Sylvia L. The Story of Mary Seacole. London: Macmillan Education 2003.
This is one of the most erroneous children’s books, although it claims, on the inside cover, to tell the “true story” of Mary Seacole. Nightingale is not mentioned in it, but her work is attributed to Seacole. It makes Seacole out to be a reformer, travelling to many countries to make things better. There is no mention of her acknowledging “blunders” but she is constantly referred to as a good nurse. The tale has officers in London turning Seacole down for a nurse’s job (not her story, or one for which there is any evidence).
The book has Seacole building a kitchen “so that she could cook good for the soldiers,” then a place where they “could eat their food” (14), although Seacole herself described a hut that served as a restaurant/bar/catering service for officers, not soldiers, who could not have paid her prices. Nor did ordinary soldiers socialize with officers.
Next Collicott has Seacole (fictionally ) building “a hospital near her kitchen so that she could treat the soldiers’ wounds and diseases” (14). Seacole herself is portrayed as young and slim-just the thing for a hard working nurse, but she was middle-aged and stout in reality, as a restaurant proprietress and cook would often be.
Cooke, Trish and Axworthy, Anni. Hoorah for Mary Seacole. London: Franklin Watts 2007.
The book cover shows Seacole on the battlefield, wearing a white, nurse’s type hat (not her usual bonnet with ribbons), and wearing an apron, giving water to a bandaged soldier, not a scene she ever described in her own memoir. The authors acknowledge that the characters in the book are made up, but that they are “based on real events in history,” and then proceeds to give such erroneous statements as:
4: “She set up her own hospital in Kingston Town to care for the sick and wounded British soldiers,” when she ran a boarding house for officers, not for soldiers, and not a hospital at all. It incorrectly states that Seacole “decided to go to the Crimea to help” when the war broke out, but she only decided months later, when she was in London on her gold business. “She gave medicines to the injured soldiers and even went out across the battlefield to treat them,” an exaggeration.
Godwin, Sam. Mary Seacole: A Story from the Crimean War. London: Hodder Wayland 2001.
This book likens Seacole to Nightingale. In numerous illustrations, it shows Seacole as a nurse, wearing a white bonnet looking after a soldier on the battlefield. Examples of erroneous claims:
33: “Every morning Mrs Seacole woke me up before dawn. Together, we plucked the chickens, made coffee for the soldiers and sold goods in the shop. After lunch, we’d go to nurse the wounded in the hospital across the road.”
34: “Sometimes Mrs Seacole would saddle her old donkey and ride to the battlefield with medicine and food. More than once I begged her to take me with her but she always refused.”
38: Mrs Seacole got off her donkey at once, sewed up wounds, bandaged broken limbs, holding medicine bottles to soldier’s lips, “as we made our way through the sea of twisted bodies”
40: “All around us, cannonballs ploughed into the soil. Bullets flew past our ears but Mrs Seacole never flinched.”
Harrison, Paul. Who Was Mary Seacole? London: Wayland 2007.
Seacole’s kindness to soldiers is yet again exaggerated into feats of bravery on the battlefield. Her hut, which served food and drink to officers, here becomes “a boarding house, canteen and a general store where troops could buy supplies” (p 14). A picture has Seacole at the bedside of a soldier, although she never worked in any army hospital.
15: “Mary also nursed injured soldiers-even if that meant going onto the battlefield while the fighting was going on. Florence Nightingale, the famous British nurse, did not do this.” In fact no nurses, nor Seacole, went onto the battlefields during the fighting. While Nightingale was invited to Balmoral Castle to meet Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, Harrison has Seacole meeting them, indeed becoming friends and meeting often!
Huntley, Eric L. Two Lives: Florence Nightingale and Mary Seacole. London: Bogle-L’Ouverture 1993.
Fictional claims include Seacole developing a medicine which cured yellow fever and cholera” (43) and being so well known for this that she was put in charge “of all the medical staff on the island when yellow fever broke out in 1853,” although she made no claims for yellow fever successes, and noted being asked to bring nurses for an epidemic, but not doing so.
Incorrect statements continue during the Crimean War, such as the statement that Nightingale recorded a meeting with her (Seacole described their meeting, but Nightingale made no mention of it). Seacole is said to have set up the British Hotel in a house near Sebastopol (in fact a hut), where she gave tea, bandages and medicines, while she described no giving away of tea, the medicines were herbal remedies of unknown ingredients and the major battles were over when she opened shop. The author (incorrectly) claims three medals given her after the war (12).
Lynch, Emma. The Life of Mary Seacole. Oxford: Heinemann 2006.
This book fictionalizes Seacole in many respects, having her run “a shop, a restaurant and a small hospital” where she “nursed the soldiers from 5 a.m. until midday,” after which she worked in the store until 8 p.m.” It also has her working with doctors, and names W.H. Russell, the war correspondent, as a doctor. Seacole is said to have given “food and drinks to soldiers on their way into battle,” not a claim she ever made.
The fictions continue post-Crimea, to raising the status of nursing, work which Nightingale did. Lynch only gave passing mention to Nightingale as “a famous British nurse who helped in the Crimean War,” A picture of “the first training school for British nurses,” Nightingale’s, is shown, without any mention that it was hers.
Malam, John. Mary Seacole. London: Evans Brothers 1999.
In this book Seacole becomes “one of the first true nurses,”
19: “She was given medals to thank her for looking after the soldiers.” Malam regrets that Seacole was left out of the Crimean memorial in Waterloo Place (23), where the statues of Florence Nightingale and Sidney Herbert are erected.
Discussion topics are given: “Imagine running a store for the soldiers like Mary did. What would the soldiers want to buy?” except that Seacole’s store was for officers, and consisted mainly of luxury foods and wines. “What do you think the differences are between being a nurse during Mary’s time and being a nurse today?” a misleading inquiry since Seacole was not a nurse at any time. A suggested activity is to compare Mary Seacole’s life with that of Florence Nightingale,” which implies common ground, when their work and contributions were entirely different-and they probably only met for 5 minutes.
Moorcroft, Christine and Magnusson, Magnus. Mary Seacole 1805-1881. London: Channel Four Learning Ltd 1998.
This book has some excellent historical background, but mythologizes Seacole beginning with the cover, which has her in a blue and white nurse’s uniform, at the bedside of a wounded soldier. The fictional story of her going to London to volunteer is told, but she is turned down. What she did in the war is greatly embellished, up to the fiction of medals being awarded to her for her work. There is a picture of two medals, but she won none.
Nightingale gets a mention as “a well-known nurse who was also in the Crimea.”
Ridley, Sarah. Mary Seacole and the Crimean War. London: Franklin Watts 2009.
The book cover shows a Seacole photograph wearing three medals. It is in the series History Makers.
12: “Mary decided she must go and nurse the soldiers in the Crimea. She sailed to London and hoped to be sent out to join Florence Nightingale,” although Seacole’s own account has attendance to her gold stocks as the purpose of her trip to London. Her late (informal) application is not acknowledged.
13: “Sadly, Mary’s help was rejected and she realised that the colour of her skin was stopping people from trusting her,”
15: “At the British Hotel, Mary sold food, useful goods and hot meals, and rented rooms to people. She nursed the soldiers’ wounds and treated their illnesses.” But, according to her own account, her customers were officers and she rented rooms to nobody. She sold remedies over the counter, not quite treating illnesses, which were far less numerous, in any event, given her late arrival.
18: “Sometimes she packed up food and medicines and went to the battlefields to care for wounded soldiers,” an exaggeration for the three occasions she went to the battlefield, when the food and drink were mainly for spectators, for purchase. A caption for a picture likens her nursing on the battlefield to that of the nuns, although they did not nurse on the battlefield either (but they nursed in hospitals, which she did not).
Vincent, Denis and De la Mare, Michael. Mary Seacole. London: Macmillan Education 1990 .
This book has reading tests. The first is correct in describing the lack of food and mouldy food the soldiers had, but has the war starting a year earlier than it did. Seacole is shown on the cover in a blue and white nurse’s uniform.
2: Seacole’s British Hotel is described as a place where soldiers “could purchase good cooked food” which was for officers.
4: Seacole’s mother is said to have run a boarding house for soldiers, when it was for a variety of customers, in the case of the army and navy, officers only. Further, Seacole “looked after many people who had yellow fever, even nursing them in her own home,” not a claim she ever made in her book. “She also organised nurses for the British army which was stationed in Kingston,” while she stated only that she was asked to do this, but did not.
5: has Seacole asking Nightingale for a job nursing in the hospital, when her own account says that she asked for a bed for the night, and got it.
8: “Most of the people who resided at the hotel were sick or wounded soldiers. They were looked after very well.” Seacole made it clear that no one resided at her hut, which was effectively a club, with a store on the side, for officers. “For soldiers who were ill Mary prepared special food. She made things that were easy to consume,” but her customers were officers, and not ill. For some weeks before her hut opened, she provided tea, cake and lemonade to soldiers waiting transport to the war hospitals, but did not give treatment.
10: “Sometimes she was allowed to go into the hospitals. She did not jut nurse the soldiers, she talked to them as well, trying to cheer them up. Often she st with soldiers who were dying.” In her memoir, she described visiting at the closest hospital and probably she did cheer up the soldiers, although she described no such scenes. She noted that the doctors did not allow her to nurse in any hospital.
13: Soldiers are said to have collected money for Seacole, and “even held a music festival” for her, but the collection and festival was organized by her officer-customers.
Williams, Brian. The Life and World of Mary Seacole. Oxford: Heinemann 2003. This author has since published a second edition of the book. Both have lots of factual errors. (See the next comments).
Williams, Brian. Mary Seacole. Harlow: Heinemann 2009.
There is some good background in this book, but a lot that is simply dead wrong. Seacole did not write to the war minister for a job (16), He was a Mr Sidney Herbert (in the book promoted into “Sir Sidney”). She never submitted the required written application. She did not pack and take ship when she heard about the war (16), but proceeded to Panama on her gold business. The book is mistaken about soldiers having to steal their food as the army did not provide it (21). The army did provide food, although not nutritious food, a matter Nightingale worked to change. Seacole’s hut was for luxury items for officers, for sale at prices ordinary soldiers could not afford.
Seacole did not hand out food and drinks to soldiers as they marched off to battle (22)-she missed the three most important ones-but sold food and drinks to spectators, at three later battles.
The cover (see picture) reproduces the bust of her which shows her proudly wearing 3 medals she did not win, shows it again, and yet another picture of her wearing medals she did not win, on the inside. The text explicitly states that she won 3 medals (29).
Appendix 2, School websites (in alphabetical order)
(1) Secondary Schools
Birchfield Community School, Birmingham. This website has some correct points on it, including a picture of Seacole without medals. However, it is incorrect that “she fulfilled her ambition to nurse soldiers in the Crimean war, even though she had been denied the opportunity of to go with Florence Nightingale.” She is said to have tended to “wounded servicemen,” when her business was with officers, largely fit. She even becomes “one of the unsung heroines of British history,” “one of the two famous women who aided British troops in the Crimea,” when she was running a business for officers; Nightingale’s mission was for ordinary soldiers.
The website incorrectly has Seacole acting after she “heard of the collapse of the British nursing system in the Crimea and headed for London in 1845,” presumably a typo for 1854, but the more basic problem is that she only decided to go when in London, on her gold business. She is said to have applied to the War Office, but she never submitted an application, but instead dropped in informally to apply, late at that. There is a tone of resentment that “her contemporary, Florence Nightingale, has been lionised and is renowned and celebrated to this day. Mary Seacole however today remains largely forgotten.”
Dixons Allerton Academy, Rhodesway, Bradford. This website has a Seacole section under Diversity/Achievement. The picture shows Mrs Seacole wearing medals she did not win. While some of the description is correct, she is called ” Jamaican nurse who cared for British soldiers in the Crimean War,” but whose offers to be sent were refused, “despite her experience.” It is correct that she attributed her rejection to racial prejudice, but it should be acknowledged that she never properly applied, and even her informal (verbal) request to be sent was late (the first team was already at work there and the second about to leave).
Also incorrect, the website has her “British Hotel” selling “food, supplies and her medicines,” without acknowledging that the food and supplies were for officers, and the ingredients of her medicines unnamed, except one for cholera, which included toxic substances.
Folkestone School for Girls. The History Dept provides a Revision Guide for the OCR Medicine Through Time: How Did Florence Nightingale and Mary Seacole Improve Public Health? Errors and exaggerations in it are the same as for Medicine Through Time, noted above.
Heathfield School, Ascot, Berks. This girls’ boarding school has a “Seacole House,” along with three others: Jane Austen, Dame Nanette de Valois (the ballerina) and Mary Somerville. The standard misinformation about Seacole is provided, “a pioneering nurse and heroine of the Crimean War,” who “learned her nursing skills from her mother,” but “was refused a post as an army nurse because of the colour of her skin.” In the Crimea, she is said to have “established the British Hotel,” where she “nursed the sick and dying soldiers.” Her own account, however, makes it clear that her customers were officers, and that she nursed no one there, although she did sell her remedies to (relatively healthy) walk-ins. “Her reputation,” the site continues, “rivalled that of Florence Nightingale yet her story is far less well known.” Seacole was indeed a celebrity in her time, but her reputation hardly rivalled Nightingale’s, who was celebrated for her contributions to nursing, as founder, statistics (the first woman member of the Royal Statistical Society), hospital reform and much reform in public administration. Nightingale’s achievements were not then attributed to Seacole, as they are now.
Highgate Wood School, Haringey, London. The school magazine describes how the house names were selected by vote, with Seacole winning, along with Leonardo da Vinci and Thomas Edison. She is said to have learned “medicine” from her mother, then overcoming “indifference and prejudice to nurse the sick and dying in Jamaica, Panama and, most famously, the Crimea.” Her mother, however, was not medically trained, but a traditional herbalist.
Highsted Grammar School, Sittingbourne, Kent. Its Prospectus has Mary Seacole at the top of its list of “influential” women, after whom its houses are named, with Coco Chanel, George Eliot, Rosalind Franklin, Helen Keller and Anita Roddick. It asks: Which influential woman are you? You are Mary Seacole. A natural carer, you look after those around you and try to improve the situation for the better.”
John Roan School, Greenwich. The school has a Seacole House, also with others named after Leonardo Da Vinci, Charles Darwin and Marie Stopes, “people who have had a quite a profound impact on history.” What impact did Seacole have on history akin to that of Da Vinci, Darwin or Stopes?
Malbank School and Sixth Form College, Nantwich, Cheshire. The website, under Unsung Hero (97), has a picture of Seacole and describes her as a “Jamaican-born British nurse best known for her involvement in the Crimean War, lauded in her lifetime alongside Florence Nightingale, but then largely forgotten for almost a century.” Seacole was a celebrity and “much lauded” in her lifetime, but was hardly a “British nurse” for she was not a nurse. She retired in England, but did not work there, apart from an early period when she sold Jamaican pickles and preserves. She was seldom linked to Nightingale after the war, as the differences in work and contribution were obvious. No information is provided on Nightingale.
Oxford Spires Academy, Oxford, has a Seacole House, however no details are given as to its teaching on Seacole.
Prendergast Vale College. The website gives Medicine Through Time Revision notes from a website: revisegcsehistory.co.uk. The points on Nightingale minimize her contribution, while those on Seacole exaggerate hers. Seacole is said to have come from “a poor background in Jamaica,” when she was from the propertied class and was a successful businesswoman. She is said to have volunteered to nurse in the Crimean War, but was rejected, although she never formally applied. Her exploits nursing “soldiers on the battlefields” are exaggerated. The “British Hotel” she built was only a hut, and that for officers. Support for her back in England is credited to “press interest,” when the major force was officers, who were her friends and customers.
Springwood High School, King’s Lynn, Norfolk. A blog on GCSE History encourages cross references to other sources. Using the Punch cartoon on Seacole as “Vivandiere,” it asks why it was published. “Who was more important in the history of medicine, Florence Nightingale or Mary Seacole? Explain your answer.” A letter Nightingale wrote critical about Seacole, but also with some praise, is reported, but this is the only material written by Nightingale-nothing is said of her years of work founding nursing, reforming hospitals, extending nursing throughout the world, working on health in India and her visionary advocacy of quality health care even for the poorest.
There are numerous factual errors, such as Seacole’s mother having a “boarding house for sick soldiers” when she ran one for (largely well) officers. Seacole is said to have “set up a medical store and hostel in the Crimea, which she called the British Hotel, where soldiers could obtain medicines,” all of which is contradicted by her own account. “She also tended the wounded on the battlefield,” although this occurred only on 3 occasions (July 18, August 16 and September 8 1855). The website has her meeting Florence Nightingale “on several occasions, but Florence did not invite her to join her team of nurses.” Her own memoir, however, describes only one meeting, when Seacole did not apply for a job, as she was en route to join her business partner in the Crimea, supplies all ordered and also en route.
Seacole is given a plan she never mentioned in her memoir, that she gave “riotous parties” to make money to pay for food and drink for the “wounded soldiers in the front line.” But where was the “front line” in the Crimean War? The trenches could be considered the “front line,” but neither she nor the nurses went into them. Seacole did give out what aid she had to soldiers and officers post-battle on 3 occasions, for which she deserves great credit, but all these books and websites grossly exaggerate those kindnesses, both in number and significance in saving lives.
St Dominic’s High School for Girls, Brewood, near Wolverhampton. The website describes a Black History Month celebration with, as “heroes,” Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, Mary Seacole, Mahatma Ghandi and Mary Wollstonecroft. However, although she did believe in racial equality, Seacole was no active reformer, demonstrator or writer as the others were.
Sutton Coldfield Grammar School for Girls, near Birmingham. Its website on the History of Medicine cites museum resources to be used, and recommends “good clips” on the BBC‘s “Horrible Histories,” a youtube with flagrantly inaccurate accusations against Nightingale and a thoroughly false depiction of Seacole.
Waldegrave School for Girls, Twickenham, has a Seacole House. The website states: “Mary Seacole was a nurse from Jamaica. Hearing of the terrible conditions in the Crimean War and knowing more than most about wounds and infection control, she decided to travel to London to offer her help.” Yet her own account states that concern over her unprofitable gold stocks brought her to London. In another error, Nightingale is incorrectly said to have “turned her down” on her arrival. Seacole’s own account acknowledges that she did not even decide to go until after Nightingale had left. Further embellishments/fictions have Seacole “treating wounded soldiers from both sides, often on the battlefield whilst under fire.”
Wallington High School for Girls, Sutton. One of its 7 houses is named after Seacole: each is named after “an influential woman,” the others being Athena, Bronte, Johnson Sharman, Pankhurst and Curie.
(2) Primary Schools/Infant Schools
Bentley St Paul’s Church of England Primary School, Brentwood, Essex. Year 2 pupils had a Special Visitor who came to talk to the class about the nurses in the Crimean War. Girls acted the parts of Florence Nightingale and Mary Seacole, re-enacting “life in hospitals for the injured British and Russian soldiers.” Other children were give roles as nurses and orderlies, British and Russian soldiers. Both women were welcomed home as heroines, but no distinction seems to have been made as to what their respective roles were there.
Carlisle Infant School, Hampton, Middlesex. The brief entry notes a trip to a museum and a workshop about the “amazing life” of Seacole. The children are dressed in white nurse’s caps, although Seacole never wore a nursing cap as she was not a nurse. She did lead an “amazing life,” which is worth celebrating, on its own terms.
Christ Church Church of England Primary School, Leigh, Lancs. Year 2 children are to “explore the life of Florence Nightingale and Mary Seacole and their input to the hospitals we have today,” although Seacole made none whatsoever, while Nightingale’s “input” was massive and is still felt.
Christ the Saviour Church of England Primary School, Broadway, Ealing. Year 2 children “spent the day learning about Victorian life and met Mary Seacole,” who “travelled from Jamaica to the Crimea to help injured soldiers,” which she did not (she travelled from Panama to London to look after her gold stocks, then went to the Crimea to start a business for officers). “Through her hard work and dedication she helped save many lives,” an exaggeration for her undoubted acts of kindness, which did not save lives, nor did she ever claim that they did.
Church Lane Primary School, Sleaford, Lincs. For Black History Month, “Year 2 spent time discussing Mary Seacole. They learnt about the amazing work she did as a nurse and how she changed the way people thought about black women.” Since she did not herself identify as a black person, praised her Scottish roots and overlooked the African, it is not obvious how she would change how people thought about blacks. She, like white Jamaicans, employed blacks as servants. She travelled with 2 black employees, one her maid. Her employment of blacks, and sometimes disparaging remarks about blacks, are mentioned in none of the books or websites.
Coteford Infant School, Pinner, Middlesex. A newsletter states that: “The children will be ordering key events in the life of Florence Nightingale and Mary Seacole. They will also learn about the improvements that were made to hospitals and compare hospitals today and before Florence Nightingale and Mary Seacole helped to bring about changes.” Improving hospitals, however, was Nightingale’s mission for decades, at which she was greatly successful, but never Seacole’s.
Cradley Church of England Primary School, Halesowen, West Midlands. Year 2: “In our History topic we will be learning about Famous People in Britain’s past: Florence Nightingale, Mary Seacole, Queen Elizabeth I and Christopher Columbus.” No details as to their respective merits are given.
Crownfield Junior School, Romford, Essex. In the website’s Black History Month, “Famous Black People” are shown: Nelson Mandela, Mary Seacole and Dr Martin Luther King. Her picture is placed beside notes on “History of Slavery,” although she was born and lived as a free woman. The links with King and Mandela are especially misleading as Seacole did not identify as a black (she was three quarters white), praised her Scottish roots and never mentioned any Africa connection. She believed in racial equality, but is not known ever to have worked for it. The website further describes her as “a very successful nurse during the Crimean War.”
Cyril Jackson School, Limehouse. Primary Year 2 pupils recreated the battlefields of the Crimean War. Children commented: “Mary Seacole was so brave! but she missed the 3 first, major, battles and the first terrible winter of the siege. She was only on the battlefield, according to her own memoir, on 3 later occasions, in each case post-battle.
Eleanor Palmer Primary School, Camden. This website has a large picture of the proposed statue of Seacole, who is described as having set up a “‘British Hotel’ behind the lines during the Crimean War,” and assisting the battlefield wounded, although she was refused by the War Office-her late and only informal application is not noted. After the war, “service personnel” are credited with raising money for her, when it was her officer friends. The website credits her with winning medals, even a Russian medal, although she won none.
Farnborough Grange Nursery and Infant School, Hants. “Triumph for a War Heroine.” The pupils wrote a poem to celebrate Seacole, which has her helping soldiers fight disease, and later dying poor and alone (she may have died alone, but she was prosperous).
Gladstone Primary School. Gladstone St., Peterborough. Its website for Year 2 refers uncritically to the erroneous BBC Learning-Famous People website. It invites viewers to “Find out about the lives of Mary Seacole and Florence Nightingale,” without any apparent recognition of how different they were, or that the BBC is not a reliable source on either.
Hayward’s Primary School. East St., Crediton, Devon. Its website, “The Life and Works of Mary Seacole,” describes Seacole as “a Jamaican peasant girl,” when she was a property-owning businesswoman. She is said to have “popped off to Crimea and requested that she could work with Florence Nightingale. Florence refused,” contrary to Seacole’s own account of her meeting with Nightingale. The website credits Seacole with building “a hospice herself,” to which she “brought people from the battlefield,” when it was a hut that she had built, to which officers came for food, drink and catering services (it was not a hospital, hospice or hostel). It further credits her with becoming “a pioneer,” without saying what she pioneered, and receiving “three medals,” which she never claimed-although she did wear medals not her own.
Higham Ferrers Nursery and Infant School, Northhants. The Year 2 curriculum provides information for the summer term on “famous people,” to start “by studying the life of Mary Seacole,” who is called “a nurse in the Crimen War similar to Florence Nightingale.” They will look at “key events of Mary Seacole’s life and when she lived in relation to us, plotting events onto a time line. Children will learn how historical figures are remembered and design a memorial for her.”
Hildenborough Church of England Primary School. Nightingale and Seacole are treated together in Term 4. The website states that the children will focus on:
- Learning about the life and work of both Florence Nightingale and Mary Seacole….
- Finding out about the conditions for soldiers during the Crimean War.
- Exploring the impact of Florence Nightingale and Mary Seacole’s work….
They will consider materials for bandage materials, a subject certainly appropriate for Nightingale, as are the points on soldiers’ conditions and the impact of their work, but they do not suit Seacole, whose work and contributions were very different.
Holme Junior and Infant School, Holmfirth, West Yorkshire. The website reports that, in Class 1, Florence Nightingale and Mary Seacole are recreated. Pictures of the children are shown, bandaging other children.
Holy Trinity Church of England Primary School, Upper Tulse Hill, London. “Facts about Mary Seacole” include such misinformation as that she “gave soldiers clothes and boots to wear,” not a claim she ever made, although she did describe the items for sale to officers at her store. Both her mother and now her grandmother are said to have taught her “about medicine,” while Seacole described her mother as “an admirable doctress,” and did not mention her grandmother at all. Seacole herself is said to have been “a nurse in the Crimean War,” when she ran a business there.
Kilmorie Primary School, Kilmorie Rd, London SE. The website for Year 2 flags the BBC‘s highly unfactual “Horrible Histories.” The children are asked to consider (from that episode): “Do you agree that Mary should have been forgotten about and Florence gets all the praise?” without any information as to their respective work.
Kirk Sandall Infant School, Doncaster. A parents’ newsletter for autumn of Year 2 explains that the children “moved on to finding out about Mary Seacole who went out to nurse the soldiers in the Crimean War. She was a very brave lady.” The “brave” designation is of relatively recent origin-people who knew Seacole at the war described her as warm, kind and generous, well short of saving lives or risking her life.
Manor Oak Primary School, Orpington, Kent. In Year 2, both Seacole and Nightingale are taught, using the BBC‘s “Famous People” as a source, one which trivializes Nightingale while it overstates what Seacole did.
Maytree Nursery and Infant School, Southampton. The website reports a visit to the Southampton NHS Treatment Centre “to learn about nurse and heroine Mary Seacole,” and about the hospital.
Mount Pleasant Primary School, Brierley Hill, West Midlands. Year 2 Reading Focus notes “The Tin Soldier – Mary Seacole, Florence Nightingale.” Pupils are to find the links “between health and medicine over time. Find out and explore the impact that people in history and now have on modern day health, e.g., Louis Pasteur, Florence Nightingale, Mary Seacole.” The influence of Pasteur and Nightingale on modern day health can certainly be explored, but what Seacole’s might have been is not stated, nor is any evident from her writing and work.
Ollaberry School, Shetland islands. On its website, for Primaries 1-3, is a section “People Who Inspire Us,” where brief details are given of Seacole’s life, some of which are correct. Exaggerations include: “What did Mary Seacole do? Mary Seacole went to the Crimean War to help British soldiers. She nursed sick and wounded soldiers. When battles were raging, she gave everyone food, blankets, clean clothes and kindness. The soldiers called her ‘Mother Seacole.'” However, as her own memoir explained, she went to the war to start a business for officers, and never nursed “sick and wounded soldiers,” although she did give first aid on several occasions, however never when battles were “raging.” It was Nightingale who organized food, clothing and blankets for soldiers, not Seacole. Both gave kindness.
Paulerspury Church of England Primary School, near Towcester, Northants. The website notes its “Seacole Class,” no details given.
Petts Hill Primary School, Middlesex. The website describes a projected visit by Year 1 pupils to Gunnersbury Park Museum for a workshop about Mary Seacole to support work for Black History Month. What the workshop conveyed is not stated, but the website of the museum has many of the standard errors on Seacole. It calls an “eminent lady doctor” with secret “medicine,” who tended to “the wounded on the battlefield.”
Pilgrims’ Way Primary School and Children’s Centre, Southwark. Year One: “Mary Seacole-Pioneering Nurse and Heroine of the Crimean War. No details are given; the picture of Seacole shown does not include medals.
Prendergast Vale College, London, near Lewisham. Year 1 pupils: “In history we learnt about Mary Seacole and Florence Nightingale to think about people who help us ‘Stay Alive’ and this tied nicely into Black History Month where we investigated our own histories by interviewing our family members about their backgrounds.” Nightingale had much to offer about “Staying Alive,” but it is not clear how this would fit into the segment as described. Seacole did not, in fact, work on health issues, sanitation, nutrition, etc.
Sandfield Close Primary School, Leicester. The website reports on a project for a Rolls Royce Science Prize “to link our science to influential scientists,” naming both Florence Nightingale and Mary Seacole. The children are said to have “previously studied” them in Year 2, but not their “being important to science,” which Nightingale was. No information is provided as to any contribution Seacole might have made to science, and none appears in the literature.
Southwold Primary School, Hackney. Pupils at this school made a youtube: “The A-Z of Mary Seacole,” showing a portrait of her wearing medals.
A Appeal to raise money for Mary Seacole statue
B Balaclava opened a British Hotel in Balaclava
C Crimean War
F FN Mary Seacole offered to help her
G greatest, one of the greatest black Britons
H Hollander ship Mary Seacole traveled on
I injured soldiers, Mary helped
J Jamaica where Mary Seacole born…
L lost stories she wrote after the war?
M medals won from Turkey, France and Britain
P Panama where went
Q for Queen Victoria, queen of Britain
R racism, which she overcame
S Scottish soldier Mary’s dad
T Turkey fighting in Crimean War
U unknown when people forgot about her
X xpress they published her autobiography
Y yellow fever that lots of soldiers had
z zest for learning which Mary had
Seacole Primary School, Bosworth Rd., London. The website’s description of Mary Seacole is correct in her origins, her independence and travels. However, it makes the usual mistake of making her boarding house in Jamaica one for “invalid soldiers” when it was for officers, not injured, and in the Crimea, as a “centre in Balaclava to nurse sick soldiers,” with forays onto the battlefield “often under fire.” She was “the pioneering nurse and inspirational heroine of the Crimean War,” whose reputation “rivalled Florence Nightingale’s.”
St Bernadette’s Catholic Primary School. Cove, Farnborough, Hants. In Term 4, under Famous People, the pupils “Compare and contrast two: Florence Nightingale/Mary Seacole.” This could be a useful exercise, if appropriate materials were available to teachers. Since both the print and internet materials available are so erroneous this seems unlikely.
St John’s Church of England Primary School, Buckhurst Hill, Essex KS1 pupils in History “explore the historical background and way of life of people in the past,” specifying, as “famous men and women,” Guy Hawkes, Elizabeth I, Samuel Pepys, Mary Seacole).
St John’s Church of England Primary School. Winsford, Cheshire. The website states that “The original building dates back to Mary Seacole,” 150 years earlier. No details are provided as to what is taught on Seacole.
St Joseph’s Catholic Primary School, Hanwell, London. The website reports, with many pictures, a “Mary Seacole Gunnersbury Park” trip (see note on Petts Hill above).
St Joseph’s Catholic Primary School, Reddish. Stockport, Cheshire. The website reports that the children “have also enjoyed researching the famous, historical figures of Mary Seaocle and Florence Nightingale.” They “used a timeline to show events within their lives and found lots of information out using the internet.” A photograph of a bulletin board shows items on both. What internet sources the children used are not noted.
St Margaret’s Church of England Primary School, Nuneaton, Warwickshire. The website’s Famous people list has Samuel Pepys, Florence Nightingale and Mary Seacole. No details are provided as to the reasons for their fame.
St Margaret Clitherow’s RC Primary School, Stevenage, Herts. Its “Multicultural Statement states: “In History we teach the children about Mary Seacole and about Florence Nightingale.” No details are given as to the content of the teaching.
St Margaret’s Infant School, Medway, Kent. Pupils in the Woodpecker class “also learned about two very important women in history: Florence Nightingale and Mary Seacole, who saved so many lives of soldiers in the Crimean War.” The two are described in similar terms, even that they were both “told that they shouldn’t become nurses by family members and other doctors.” Nightingale was told precisely that, Seacole never, but followed her mother in learning the traditional skills of a “doctress” and running a boarding house. They both “made a huge difference,” although the website did not say what Seacole actually did to make a difference.
St Martin’s Church of England Infant School, Epsom, Surrey. “We are continuing to learn about the life of Florence Nightingale and we will be moving on to learn about the life of another famous nurse-Mary Seacole,” who was famous indeed, but as a businesswoman and adventurer, not a nurse.
St Mary’s Church of England Primary School, Melton Mowbray, Leic. Its website reports that the children were “finding out more about the Crimea, and Mary Seacole “even came to visit us!” There is no mention of Nightingale and what Seacole said on her visit is not reported.
St Mary’s Church of England Primary School, Kilburn, Camden. “All Year 2 parents and carers are invited to attend the Class Assembly” held to celebrate “the lives of Mary Seacole and Florence Nightingale.” No details are given, but it seems that the two lives are treated as if they were similar, when they overlapped so little.
St Mary’s Church of England Primary School, Kettering, Northants. A class topic on Seacole,” was said to have been “very much based around historical learning using art, drama and problem solving to really extend the children’s understanding.” Given the lack of adequate materials, however, it is difficult to see how the children’s “understanding” could be extended.
St Mary’s Catholic Primary School, Falmouth, Cornwall. The website states that Class 2, in “learning all about health,” will look at “Florence Nightingale and Mary Seacole,” no details given. Nightingale worked assiduously for decades on improving public health in home, school and hospital. Where an adventurous businesswoman might fit in on this subject is not apparent.
St Mary’s Catholic Primary School, Gillingham, Medway, Kent. An Ofsted report (Para 136, p41) states that: “Year 2 pupils show understanding and factual knowledge of the lives of Florence Nightingale and Mary Seacole.” One would like to know what sources teachers found to provide “factual knowledge,” given the highly unreliable print and internet sources known of.
St Mary’s Catholic Primary School, Whitstable, Kent. An Ofsted report (para 115, p38) states that in History, “Year 2 pupils learn about the Great fire of London….They compare the lives of famous people from the past with current day celebrities such as Neil Armstrong and Buddy Holly. They know about the work of Mary Seaocle and Florence Nightingale during the Crimean War and know that Mary Seacole did not receive, at the time, the recognition she deserved because she was black. This work makes a sound contribution to their moral and cultural development.” There seems to be no recognition that Seacole’s contribution was not at all equivalent to that of Nightingale.
St Oswald’s Church of England Primary School, Netherton, West Midlands. For Year 2 History, the “famous people from history” to be studied are: Van Gogh, Florence Nightingale, Mary Seacole and Samuel Greg. No details are given on the reasons for their fame.
St Peter’s Church of England Primary School, Chorley, Lancs. The website reports the study of “the lives of significant individuals in the past who have contributed to national and international achievements.” Included are Elizabeth I, Victoria, Christopher Columbus, Neil Armstrong…Rosa Parks and Emily Davison, Mary Seacole and/or Florence Nightingale and Edith Cavell.” Cavell was a nurse, but her fame comes from her bravery and patriotism in World War I, when she was executed by the Germans for helping British and Belgian soldiers escape. Nightingale of course was the founder of nursing and a major social and public health care reformer, while Seacole was a businesswoman. It seems that Seacole and Nightingale each do for the other, when their lives and work were so different.
St Stephen’s Church of England Primary School. Deptford, London. In Year 2 autumn term, “We look at the life of Mary Seacole and Florence Nightingale and how they made a difference to other people’s lives.” However, the two made very different contributions to other people’s lives, one as the founder of the nursing profession, hospital and health care reformer, the other as a businesswoman and volunteer.
Uplands Infant School, Melbourne Rd., Leicester. Year 2 topics include “Famous people–Mary Seacole or Florence Nightingale,” and Great Fire of London. Either Seacole or Nightingale, it seems, are to be chosen, as if each could represent the other.
Westfield Infant School, Chesterfield, Derbyshire. An Ofsted report states that: “Pupils in Year 2 have good knowledge about Mary Seacole. They know and admire the difficulties of race and gender she overcame to become a nurse in the Crimean War.” What they know was not specified, and of course Seacole was a businesswoman at the war, not a nurse.
Westfield Community School, Montrose Av, Wigan, Greater Manchester. Pupils in Year 2 Literacy learned about both Nightingale and Seacole. A blog then describes Seacole as “another famous nurse from the past.” They learned “some very interesting facts about her life,” unspecified. The two were then put together: “Today (Friday) in big writing we wrote a letter to Mary and Florence thanking them both for the wonderful things they did in the past and we think they are BOTH very important people that we should remember.”
Whitecote Primary School. A short bio of Seacole is given, with a picture of the Victoria Cross, which was given For Valour, but not to her, or any woman. The picture of her shows her wearing 3 other medals, none of them awarded to her. This website has much more information, and misinformation, than others.
“When Mary Seacole heard about the cholera epidemic she traveled to London to offer her services to the British Army. There was considerable prejudice against women’s involvement in medicine and her offer was rejected. When the Times publicised the fact that a large number of British soldiers were dying of cholera there was a public outcry, and the government was forced to change its mind. Florence Nightingale, who had little practical experience of cholera, was chosen to take a team of thirty-nine nurses to treat the sick soldiers.” However, Seacole did not go to London when the cholera epidemic became known, but only later, and that for the purposes of looking after her gold stocks. Nightingale, although her hospital experience was not lengthy, was nonetheless the best qualified person at the time to lead the nursing team. Seacole had had no hospital experience.
“Although Mary Seacole was an expert at dealing with cholera, her application to join Florence Nightingale’s team was rejected.” To the contrary, neither Seacole nor doctors had an effective way of dealing with cholera, and both used toxic substances in attempts. The errors continue with the statement that Seacole visited Nightingale “at her hospital at Scutari but once again Mary’s offer of help was refused,” although her own account specifies that she asked for a bed for the night and was given one-she was no longer looking for a position.
The account errs also in describing her business as selling “food and drink to the British soldiers,” when her customers were officers.
Nightingale and her nurses were some distance from the battlefield, more than “several miles from the front” referred to. But the account exaggerates in having Seacole treating her patients “on the battlefield,” and even on “both sides,” for which she gave a few examples, hardly a general practice.
The website is again wrong that Seacole “hoped to work as a nurse in India but was unable to raise the necessary funds.” The British Army paid the travel costs for nurses it sent anywhere. In the case of the 1857 Mutiny, it sent no nurses.
Whitehorse Manor Infant School, Thornton Heath, Croydon, Surrey. An Ofsted inspection report notes Seacole visiting Year 2: “As part of our history work on Mary Seacole and Florence Nightingale, the children took part in an exciting drama workshop. Mary Seacole herself came to visit us and told us all abut her experiences. She helped us to think about what it was like to work on the battlefield during the Crimean War. We learnt a lot from her and told her we thought she was a very brave nurse!!” There is no explanation that Seacole’s trips to the battlefield occurred, post-battle, on precisely 3 days (she missed the major battles). Nightingale’s work seems not to have been noticed.
Wilsden Primary School, Wilsden, Bradford, West Yorkshire. The website described a celebration for Black History Month of the “outstanding achievements” of such people as Nelson Mandela and Mary Seacole, whose “reputation after the Crimean War (1853-1856) rivalled Florence Nightingale’s.” She is described as a “born healer and a woman of driving energy,” and depicted with medals. Again, the comparison with Mandela raises problems.
Worthinghead Primary School, Bradford. “Mary was a nurse who also worked hard to look after soldiers during the Crimean War,” the usual exaggeration, since her business was for officers, and her first aid to soldiers, much appreciated, was on only a few occasions. There is regret that Seacole was “not as famous as Florence Nightingale,” with a further error that “she worked really hard to look after injured soldiers and was really brave, often going onto battlefields to look after the injured.” Links are provided to websites with substantial misinformation: BBC Famous People and BBC Historical Figures.
Wroughton Infant School. A Mary Seacole Assembly covered the topic of Great Britons, with “Mary Seacole, a contemporary of Florence Nightingale…a Jamaican nurse who showed incredible bravery during the Crimean War and did so whilst overcoming racism. Seacole’s life was performed in an assembly, with girls in nurses’ uniforms and boys in soldiers’.” Again, Seacole’s kindness and spunkiness have been exaggerated, her occupation as a businesswoman ignored.
While these examples hardly cover all schools, the pattern of errors and omissions is remarkable. Moreover, these occur in secular schools, Church of England and Roman Catholic.
We appreciate the worthy goals of promoting racial equality and diversity in role models, but cannot condone the use of misinformation to do this. In the case of nursing, there are other black and minority nurses who could be promoted, but are now ignored (six examples are given in Mary Seacole: The Making of the Myth, chapter 7). Mrs Seacole was a decent, kind and generous person. She lived a remarkable, independent and adventurous life. Her memoir is highly readable. However, she did not do the work Florence Nightingale did and should not be credited with it. She herself had no grudge against Nightingale, and each spoke well of the other-a fact that no one would glean from any of these books or websites.
Seacole herself was far from the goody-goody presented. In her memoir, she candidly admitted to “lamentable blunders” in her remedies, the taking of loot from the bodies of dead Russian soldiers and acceptance of loot stolen from Russian churches. She often spoke roughly of her black employees. She was proud of her business successes and proved herself to be resourceful and resilient, Far from the victim she is portrayed to be.
– Lynn McDonald, PhD, LLD (hon) University professor emerita Dept. of Sociology and Anthropology University of Guelph Guelph ON N1G 2W1 Canada