|The Nightingale Society
||5 August 2019
By Lynn McDonald, co-founder
It is good to see plans moving along for the celebration. Still lots of opportunities to pursue. Please let the Nightingale Society know of any developments.
More Misinformation on Nightingale and Seacole: Medical Humanities!
Who are they? Not doctors—they don’t save lives—but they do destroy reputations and make up fake facts. They have PhDs and publish. Medical faculties hire them. There is even a hint that their work might be good for patient care!
Herewith a prize example, Bradley and Nolan’s:
Dear Drs Bradley and Nolan,
I am writing with a question, and honestly objections, to points made in your chapter discussing Mary Seacole and Florence Nightingale in “Non-medical Prescribing: Multidisciplinary Perspectives“. Your factual points are simply wrong, from beginning to end. You do not give references, but presumably used the all-too-abundant shoddy secondary sources, that are strong on propaganda, doubtless for worthy motives of promoting diversity, but wrong, nonetheless. Where did she get “knowledge” of treatments for infected wounds? Or gastritis, fevers, foot rot, lice infestation and malnutrition? Not subjects she wrote about. Indeed she acknowledged the addition of lead and mercury to her herbal “remedies,” and even making “lamentable blunders” in those “remedies,” that made her shudder. She was certainly a sympathetic helper to many people both pre-Crimea and during the Crimean War, but I would like to see some documentation for “physical and spiritual care.” How did she make “a contribution to the development of both medicine and nursing at least as great as that of Florence Nightingale”? Please state what exactly she contributed, and what exactly Nightingale contributed. That is quite a statement!
Elsewhere you state a concern for “rigorous” qualitative work, so that this is hard to understand. I did a thorough refutation of the claims for Seacole in Mary Seacole: The Making of the Myth, 2014, using a good number of primary sources. But even if you consulted Seacole’s own memoir, Wonderful Adventures of Mrs Seacole in Many Lands, your points would be refuted. There are such simple matters as her having a business in Panama, not studying medicinal properties in South America. Any details as to what she learned in the Caribbean? Her book sets out commercial motives for those travels, purchasing things for sale elsewhere. Where did she ever say she ran or her mother ran “a boarding house for invalid soldiers”? Seacole’s book is clear that their customers were officers—ordinary soldiers could not have paid their prices, and were required to live in barracks. She described looking after guests who became ill; that is, regular customers; but it was never a hospital. Her book describes the purpose of her trip to London in September 1854 to attend to her failing gold investments, in the Palmilla mine speculation.
This letter will be circulated to colleagues in the Nightingale Society, and I will circulate your responses to it at the next opportunity.
Women in Medicine
The entry on Seacole in Windsor’s Women in Medicine: An Encyclopedia is short, but makes erroneous claims. In Kingston, Seacole is said to have run “successful boarding houses for soldiers, treated wounds and tropical diseases and minor surgeries.” But her customers were officers, not soldiers, and hardly wounded—but what war took place in Kingston, Jamaica when Mrs Seacole was there? It goes on to make the claim that Seacole made a “significant contribution to the war effort” but without saying what it was. Her distributing magazines (donated by officers and officers’ wives) at the hospital near her business was certainly kindness, as was her giving out hot tea to soldiers waiting transport to the general hospitals. But “a contribution to the war effort”?
Seacole is not only misrepresented in the nursing literature, but also the medical literature, or “medical humanities” literature. In the United States, she is now frequently included in reference books as an “African-American nurse.”