Archive for August, 2016

To the editors of Quay Books

A letter to the editors of Quay Books
August 28, 2016
Dear Ms Linssen and Colleagues:

We are writing with concerns about the egregious misinformation published in a book of yours, Austyn Snowden, et al., eds., Pioneering Theories in Nursing, 2010, in the article by Sue Royce on Mary Seacole and Snowden’s own introductory chapter. Your website claims: “Our content is always current and of the highest quality,” an undertaking belied by this material. Sadly, much misinformation has been published on Seacole, but this book is possibly the worst, i.e., by the number and extremity of claims entirely unsupported by primary sources, and indeed countered by primary sources.

These are not matters of difference of opinion or interpretation, the usual stuff of academic debate. Medical science journals now retract articles that are flagrantly wrong, such as by falsifying data. Royce’s and Snowden’s material is of that ilk.

There are three ways of falsifying data: inventing it, altering it, and ignoring or deleting disagreeable data. All three apply here. Pictures help, too, such as those on the dust cover, of Nightingale, Seacole and two others, making Seacole into one of the four leading nursing pioneers.

Snowden’s Chapter 1 lists Nightingale, Seacole and Robb together. Nightingale was the original pioneer and first theorist; Robb did important work some 40 years later, founding nursing schools, teaching nursing and producing three books on nursing, all building on Nightingale (she certainly deserves to be covered), but Seacole contributed nothing to nursing or nursing theory.

Snowden’s view that Nightingale was not a theorist is unusual; a large number of nursing theory books list her as the first. Snowden makes Nightingale and Seacole to be equals here, neither doing theory. (Robb was not a theorist, but used Nightingale’s environmental theory.)

“On her way to meet her cousin at the battlefields, she made a detour to visit Nightingale’s hospital at Scutari. Fluir (2006). Seacole was on her way to meet her business partner, a relative of her late husband, not on the battlefield (he was not a soldier) but at Balaclava, their purpose to establish a business. The reference to Fluir, Mary Seacole’s Maternal Personae in Victorian Literature and Culture Cambridge University Press USA 2006 could not be found. Presumably a journal article by Fluhr is intended.

“She did not actually meet Nightingale as she was ‘distracted by her meetings with old colleagues and caring for the wounded soldiers.” In her memoir, Seacole described a short meeting with Nightingale, when she asked for a bed for the night. She recorded Nightingale’s reply: “’What do you want, Mrs Seacole—anything that we can do for you? If it lies in my power, I shall be very happy’” (Wonderful Adventures of Mrs Seacole in Many Lands, p 91). The hospital was crowded, but a bed was found, with the laundress. This favour is made to be an insult: “She was allowed to stay the night but was required to sleep with the washerwomen rather than with the nurses.” There was no general nurses’ quarters, but they were split up in several, crowded, rooms.

Snowden’s introduction states: “Section One discusses the pioneers such as Florence Nightingale and Mary Seacole who carved out the role of the nurse and professionalised it,” as if Nightingale and Seacole were both pioneer nurses, when Mrs Seacole, a generous and respected businesswoman, was not a nurse at all, let alone a pioneer nurse, nor ever claimed to be. The closest she comes is calling herself “doctress, nurse and mother,” but she reserved the title “nurse” for Nightingale and her nurses (see her excellent memoir).

Seacole did not nurse one day in any hospital, in the U.K., the Crimea, Jamaica or Panama. Name one! She did not write a book or article on nursing, teach or mentor a nurse. Name one! How, then, did she “professionalise” the role?

“Sue Royce comes to the conclusion that Western medicine was not ready for assertive healers like Seacole. In fact it took active steps to discourage her. Nightingale and Seacole and Seacole were in Scutari at the same time, but it appears Nightingale had no role for her there. Far from being put off by this, Seacole instead headed for the front line where she delivered care to soldiers on the battlefield. This persistence in the face of adversity is certainly a common theme amongst these early pioneers.”

Again, this treatment of the two as equals belies what is known from primary sources. Seacole is clear in her memoir that she stopped for the night at Scutari, visited at Nightingale’s Barrack Hospital and asked for a meeting with Nightingale. Of course Nightingale had “no role” for her there, nor did Seacole ask for any! She had purchased supplies for a business and was en route to meet her business partner and start it, as is clear in her book.

The “front line” claim is exaggeration, not invention. Seacole was on the battlefield on 3 occasions (she gives the dates), giving first aid after selling wine and sandwiches to spectators.

“Theory. Although Mary did not write about her nursing as did other nursing theorists, she did highlight many important issues.” None is named, and we do not know of any. Any examples?

Royce, in her Chapter 2, has Seacole being “rejected,” as do many other sources. If Seacole’s statement is carefully read, however, it is clear that she never submitted the required application and references (they are at the National Archives, Kew), but dropped in casually in numerous offices, all too late. Seacole acknowledged that Nightingale’s nursing team had already left, but hoped to go on a later one – but was too late for that, too. She was busy in her first two months in London attending to her gold investments, as she explained in her memoirs, a point omitted.

“Some army doctors were suspicious of her at first; fortunately others realised her skills and talents and utilised them fully.” Not one such doctor is named. Many doctors published their memoirs, journals and correspondence. Mrs Seacole, when mentioned, is described favourably, for her food and catering, never for nursing (examples are given in Lynn McDonald, Mary Seacole: The Making of the Myth, 2014). No doctor invited her into his hospital, as Seacole made clear in her memoir. Name one! The hospital closest to her business was the Land Transport Corps. She visited there as a volunteer, taking around Punch magazine, and, on New Year’s Day, 1856, plum pudding and mince tarts. This was much appreciated, but hardly constitutes nursing. The hospital was nursed by Nightingale nurses, set up by Nightingale on the request of the commandant and principal medical officer.

Royce asks, rhetorically: “Why do we not have women healers like Mary Seacole today?” Healer? Mrs Seacole admitted “lamentable blunders” in her “remedies” (p 31); certainly her addition of lead and mercury to “herbal remedies” would qualify, as her use of emetics, purging and blistering, all of which dehydrate, now recognized as the wrong thing to do for bowel patients. (She was no worse than many doctors in this, but to make this into “healing” is wrong.)

There are also minor factual errors, such as her going bankrupt in the Crimea in 1856, when it was back in England, in 1857, that this happened; that she was the “toast of 19th century London society” is exaggeration.

These numerous and extreme errors, we propose, require retraction at the earliest possible. A statement should be made in the preface that the material was found to be based on faulty sources and has, consequently, been retracted.

Yours sincerely (signed by 14 members of the Nightingale Society)

To Baroness Amos, Baroness Benjamin, and Baroness Scotland

To Baroness Amos, Baroness Benjamin, and Baroness Scotland

Dear Baronesses Amos, Benjamin and Scotland

We ask, how could three smart baronesses get it so wrong? We refer to your remarks made regarding the unveiling of the Mary Seacole statue at St Thomas’ Hospital. They repeat, uncritically, the usual propaganda of the Seacole campaign.

1. The “pioneer nurse” claim, but no one, from the Dept of Health through the RCN will say what she pioneered or where and when she nursed. During the Crimean War, she gave out Punch magazine to patients at the Land Transport Hospital near her business. She gave them a plum pudding and mince pies on New Year’s Day 1856. This is hardly nursing! Seacole added lead and mercury to her cholera “remedies” and used emetics and purging for bowel patients, which dehydrate, when rehydration is needed.

2. Contrary to the ITV news report, which had interviews with Baronesses Benjamin and Scotland, Seacole made no “towering contribution” to public life. She was kind and generous and she left an excellent memoir. Baroness Scotland is out of line by equating the contributions of the two “great women,” one white and one black. Yes, the contributions of black people should be acknowledged and celebrated, Mrs Seacole was a businesswoman who never nursed at all! She sold fine wines and meals to officers, while Nightingale nursed and got the filthy hospitals cleaned up, laundries and kitchens established for the benefit of British soldiers.

3. We entirely share Baroness Benjamin’s view that blacks should be celebrated for their contribution. The Nightingale Society has proposed a genuine black pioneer nurse, Mrs K.A. Pratt, to the Dept of Health to be honoured. We do not oppose honouring blacks, but oppose the use of misinformation, so blatant in the case of Mrs Seacole. Lynn McDonald’s Mary Seacole: The Making of the Myth, 2014, gives bios of six minority nurses who deserve to be honoured, all with excellent credentials.

4. The remark that we should stop being NIMBYs badly misses the point. St Thomas’ Hospital was for more than a century the home of the Nightingale School, the first nursing school in the world, important for establishing the profession in many countries. To have a statue at it honouring Mrs Seacole, albeit a decent woman, who gave out magazines and treats at a hospital, but who never nursed at one at all, is very wrong.

We would be happy to debate you on these points. We would provide you with a briefing. We think you owe the public retractions for your remarks. Plenty of information on the propaganda campaign is available. See

[signed by 14 members of the Nightingale Society]

To all Westminster MPs

August 7, 2016

Dear MP

It is probably no coincidence that the unveiling of the Mary Seacole statue at St Thomas’ Hospital, June 30, was set to coincide with major attention to Brexit. The unveiling was also the occasion on the awarding of the first History Hoax award, to the Rt Hon Jeremy Hunt, for promoting Mary Seacole as a founder of nursing and a “Hero of Healthcare.” The nominator wrote:

In erroneously omitting Florence Nightingale from her role as founder of nursing, public health visionary and pioneer in statistical analysis to improving public health and save lives, the programme instead honoured Mary Seacole for nursing, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson for women in medicine, Edward Jenner for medicine, and Nye Bevan for the Healthcare system. All deserve credit for their contribution, but not to the exclusion of Florence Nightingale, whose quality and quantity of health impacts were far greater.

Runner-up in the History Hoax awards is Sir Hugh Taylor, chair of the Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, for justifying the statue site at what was the Nightingale School of Nursing, and issuing a fallacious “research” statement making Seacole a “heroine who gave her life’s work in support” of the early development of nursing (20 July 2011). Yet he can’t give one example of any nursing by Seacole whatsoever.

The announcement of the unveiling resulted in yet another false achievement for Seacole, that she was “mentioned in dispatches,” an honour reserved for gallantry in battle. Her 3 battlefield excursions (she missed the major ones) took place post-battle, after selling wine and sandwiches to spectators. Mrs Seacole was a kind and generous businesswoman, but did not frequent battlefields “under fire” or pioneer nursing.

The Nightingale Society supports honouring her for her own life, but will continue to protest the re-writing of history to give her credit for Nightingale’s work.

Yours sincerely

[signed by 14 members of the Nightingale Society]