|The Nightingale Society|
Report from Lynn McDonald, co-founder, 10 February 2017
Lies, Damned Lies and “Alternative Facts”
As if “post-truth” weren’t enough, we had our vocabulary expanded in the Trump campaign and inauguration by “alternative facts.” Those of us in the Nightingale Society who track the Mary Seacole campaign are well familiar with the practice.
- Someone publishes or broadcasts a “lie,” or is it an “alternative fact”?
- It is picked up by other authors, broadcasters, bloggers, etc., assumed to be legitimate, meaning factual, or based on real evidence.
- The more places – books, articles, videos, TV programs – it appears, the easier it is for people to accept it in good faith.
- Once the “alternative fact” or “lie” makes it into highly respectable sources, it spreads even further and faster. Examples in the case of Seacole misinformation are the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography and the Science Museum, not just the Royal College of Nursing (a routine source of misinformation on Seacole) and the BBC (which was forced to withdraw one of its worst videos).
We tend to call Seacole myths “misinformation,” for the perpetrator may well have been innocently taken in by a bad source. Beware:
- Mary Seacole won medals (1, 2, 3 or 4, depending on the source), when primary sources, including her own memoir, claim none.
- Mary Seacole routinely risked her life on the battlefield to save soldiers, when her memoir records precisely 3 occasions when she went onto a battlefield, all of them post-battle.
- Mary Seacole was a “pioneer nurse,” even the pioneer of “patient-centred care,” when her own memoir reveals not one nursing practice she pioneered, one hospital or agency where she nursed, one nurse she trained or mentored, one nursing book or article she wrote, and she admitted “lamentable blunders” with her “remedies.” In her own memoir, she never called herself simply a “nurse,” preferring “doctress,” or a conglomerate “doctress, nurse and ‘mother’”.
- That Seacole established a “British Hospital” to care for wounded soldiers, when her memoir shows that her hut, the “British Hotel,” was for officers, a commercial establishment, with high prices, not a clinic or hospital for anybody, and not a place soldiers could go (officers and men did not dine together).
- That Seacole’s fame rivalled that of Nightingale’s after the Crimean War, when newspaper coverage (checked for The Times) shows 5 to 10 mentions of Nightingale for every one for Seacole. Moreover, those for Nightingale were of substance – nursing, hospitals, home visitors, social reforms – while those for Seacole focused on her financial situation. Certainly she was highly regarded post-Crimea, and deserved to be, as a kind businesswoman who needed help when she went bankrupt – not as a nursing leader.
Do we want British children to be taught “alternative facts” in school? It would be hard to do otherwise now, given the number of false sources and paucity of reliable books and videos. The very comparison the National Curriculum suggests – Nightingale AND Seacole – encourages the “nursification” of Seacole.
How to stop it is the big question now. Ideas welcome.
Complaint about Nightingale coverage in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
150th Anniversary of Nightingale’s proposal for workhouse nursing
(Note this item was also circulated in the newsletter of the Collected Works of Florence Nightingale.)
January 19 2017 marks the 150th anniversary of Nightingale’s great proposal for reform to the Poor Law system of Britain, when workhouse infirmaries were the only recourse for the great majority of the population (the regular hospitals were fee paying, with some charity wards). The workhouse infirmaries then were dreaded places, with bed sharing, lousy ventilation and vermin. While there was some attendance by qualified doctors, the only “nursing” provided was by “pauper nurses,” or women with no training, paid a small amount, normally spent on alcohol. Drinking on the job was problem enough in the regular hospitals, but reform had begun. Not so in the workhouses, until the first experiment in Liverpool, organized by Nightingale, and financed by a Liverpool philanthropist.
Nightingale’s proposal in 1867 was a brief to a Parliamentary committee on London workhouses. Its subject was limited to cubic space, certainly an issue, but to Nightingale far from the most important. She took the opportunity to bootleg her cause: the need for quality nursing care.
Her proposal for fundamental reform was not accepted, but the way was opened for reforms at workhouses with progressive boards. Gradual reforms brought up the standards at the workhouses, with Nightingale promoting both improved nursing and better hospital buildings themselves. Reforms continued to be brought in over the next decades, so that, when the National Health Service was launched in 1948, the old workhouse infirmaries could be integrated with the regular, civil, hospitals.
Question: has any Nightingale-related organization noticed this great anniversary? The Royal College of Nursing? Nursing journals? The Florence Nightingale Museum?