To Kate Pankhurst
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!
[19 members of the Nightingale Society]