To the University of Ontario Institute of Technology

Dr Robert Weaver, Associate Dean, Research and Partnerships
Dr Holly Jones-Taggart Associate Dean, Undergraduate Studies
University of Ontario Institute of Technology
28 October 2016

Dear Drs Weaver and Jones-Taggart

This letter is sent to you as it was not possible to contact Nancy Slawski, who is listed as the person responsible for creating the material in question.

The Mary Seacole item in your website “Nursing 101″ ( is factually wrong from start to end. Most of the errors could have been avoided if the writer had looked at Seacole’s own memoir, Wonderful Adventures of Mrs Seacole in Many Lands, which is briefly quoted. Major errors are:

1. That Seacole was a “black Florence Nightingale… equally accomplished,” recognized as “one of the greatest contributors to nursing history.” But she did not call herself a “nurse,” a title she used for Nightingale and her nurses. She was a businesswoman, as she made abundantly clear in her book. She did not nurse one day in any hospital, write anything about nursing, train one nurse. Or say where and when! What did she accomplish that would be remotely equal to Nightingale’s founding of the first nursing school in the world, mentoring of nurses for 40 years and much fine writing on nursing and broader health care issues? Seacole’s book has 3 chapters on the food and drink she sold officers from her business! Those who “recognize” her as a great contributor to nursing history have never given any evidence for the claim.

2. “Mary Seacole was a self-trained nurse who opened the door for ethnic minorities in nursing.” No. She called herself “doctress, nurse and mother,” and did some first aid. Her “patients” were relatively healthy walk-ins, buying her herbal “remedies.” These remedies themselves need another look, for she added mercury and lead to them, and admitted “lamentable blunders” (see her memoir, p 31). The door to ethnic minorities was opened, later, and with nothing to do with Seacole. (See Kofoworola Abeni Pratt, a pioneer Nigerian nurse, possibly the first black nurse in the NHS.)

Seacole volunteered at the hospital closest to her business, taking around magazines and, on New Year’s Day, 1856, bringing plum pudding and mince tarts, all very kind, but not nursing, let alone a major contribution to it.

3. “In 1850 a cholera epidemic occurred and Mary effectively dealt with the disease.” Hardly. She gave what help she could, but, sadly, her use of emetics, purging through the bowels and blistering (mustard poultices) are bad for cholera and any bowel disease. The effective treatment is oral rehydration therapy, not known then. Why pretend?

4. Seacole, on return from Panama “cared for people due to a yellow fever outbreak.” Yes, but unsuccessfully, as she frankly admitted. She deserves credit for being kind, for example, by closing dying people’s eyes. See her Chapter 7.

5. Seacole “travelled to London to aid the British Army; however, her application was rejected although Mary was more than qualified and had many letters of recommendation.” Wrong again; in her book she says she went to London to look after her gold investments (p 74); she included one letter of reference. More importantly, she never applied for a nursing job! She described dropping into offices concerned with the Crimean War, to ask informally for a post, after Nightingale had left with her team. The applications of the many who did apply, and their letters of recommendation, are available at the National Archives, Kew; there is nothing from or about her there.

Nursing 101 implies that Seacole was again turned down, by Nightingale herself. But Seacole’s own book describes an amicable meeting, when Seacole asked her for a bed for the night, as she was on her way to join her partner and start their business. These are Seacole’s own words about Nightingale: “‘What do you want, Mrs Seacole–anything that we can do for you? If it lies in my power, I shall be very happy’” (p 91).

Incidentally, Nightingale did have cholera experience, probably not as much as Seacole, but she is not known to have added toxic substances to any “remedy.” You really have it wrong!

Finally, the picture of Seacole displayed shows her wearing medals, which she did, without any mention that she never was awarded any, nor ever claimed to have been. With all the claims of heroism for her, this should have been noted.

For further information on the misrepresentation of Seacole see and a short book, which uses primary sources, not propaganda (Lynn McDonald, Mary Seacole: The Making of the Myth, 2014).

The “Nursing 101″ Seacole item should be withdrawn.

Yours sincerely
Mark Bostridge MA (Oxon), biographer
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
Marilyn Gendek, RN, MA, MN, FACN, consultatnt, nursing regulation and education, Australia
Marc Gilbert PhD, National Endowment in the Humanities Chair, Hawaii Pacific University; president, World History Association
Paul Hawkins (Rev), MA (Oxon) MA (Cantab)
Eileen Magnello, DPhil, research fellow, University College London
Wendy Mathews, BA, Grad Dip Phys (ret), former governor Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust
Lynn McDonald, CM, PhD, LLD (hon), emerita professor, director, Collected Works of Florence Nightingale
Aroha Page, PhD, assoc professor nursing, Nipissing University
Allyson Pollock, FFPH, FRCGP, FRCP (Ed) professor, Public Health Research and Policy, Queen Mary College, London
Harold E. Raugh, Jr, Lt Col, PhD, FRHistS, FRAS, US Army, ret.
Colin Robins (Major) OBE, MA (Cantab), FRHistS, editor emeritus, War Correspondent: Journal of the Crimean War Research Society
Dorothy Goldin Rosenberg, MES, PhD, lecturer in environmental health, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education
Pat Smedley MSc (Nurs), BA Hons, RGN, former chair, Friends of the Florence Nightingale Museum
Ronald Trubuhovich, OMNZ, FRCA, FANZCA, FCICMANZ
Alex Whitehead (Rev Canon) MA, Mphil, Dip Ed, Homiletics co-ordinator, Lincoln College of Theology and Ministry

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