Archive for February, 2019

to Sir David Cannadine, director, Oxford Dictionary of National Biograpahy

Sir David Cannadine, director
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

Dear Sir David

We have received no reply from you to our letter on the egregious errors in the coverage of Florence Nightingale in the ODNB. We note that the Bicentenary of her birth takes place in 2020, which will likely encourage reference to the ODNB for information. Instead, they will find a host of errors, introduced by the first editor, Colin Matthew, who fell for F.B. Smith’s (now) much discredited book, Florence Nightingale: Reputation and Power, 1982.

Why make such misleading statements, and misinform so many students, that Nightingale “continued to disregard the germ theory of infection”? when she did not.

Why continue such sexist practices as reserving surnames and honorifics for men, nicknames good enough for women?

Why omit so much important work Nightingale did? Your ODNB entry does not even discuss Notes on Hospitals or her Introductory Notes on Lying-in Institutions, both pioneer studies that were enormously influential.

Why no mention of her later writing? Which shows how much nursing and medical care had evolved, and Nightingale with it. Her 1860 Notes on Nursing was enormously influential, and so were her later works. We call for a re-write of the entry, for accuracy and relevance.

Yours sincerely
[34 members of the Nightingale Society]

to Lord Crisp, former chief executive, NHS

February 13, 2019
The Lord Crisp KCB
House of Lords

Dear Lord Crisp,

We were disappointed to see your remarks about the celebration in 2020 of the Bicentenary of Florence Nightingale, when you called for this to be the occasion to celebrate “other great nurses such as Mary Seacole.” Yet you did not state, nor have we seen any information anywhere, as to how Mary Seacole qualifies as a “great” nurse, or indeed any kind of a nurse. She was a remarkable person, but a businesswoman, and a kind hospital volunteer visitor, but never a nurse, and never claimed to be.

Would you care to name one hospital where she nursed, as opposed to distributing donated magazines (which she did at the Land Transport Corps Hospital, near her business)?

Please name any book or article on nursing she wrote, or one nursing school she founded (there are lots for Nightingale).
Can you explain how Seacole’s using lead and mercury (added to her herbal “remedies” for bowel diseases!!) is good nursing? When the cure for cholera, etc., is rehydration, why would dehydration constitute great nursing?

Do you recall that Seacole herself admitted to “lamentable blunders” in her remedies? For information on her, based on primary sources, not propaganda, see

We particularly regret your failure, and that of the Dept. of Health and the NHS, to recognize valid black nursing leaders. We recommend Kofoworola Abeni Pratt, a Nigerian who did nurse training in London, won an RCN scholarship, and was nursing at St. Thomas’ Hospital when the NHS started. She was probably the first black nurse in the NHS, and she went on, after returning to Nigeria, to lead in founding professional nursing there. Why ignore her and her important work?

It is regrettable that you, as a former chief executive of the NHS, seem to have no understanding of the importance of Nightingale’s work in making the NHS possible. Are you aware that she was the first person, in 1866, to articulate the vision of quality care for all, regardless of ability to pay (in a letter to Edwin Chadwick)?.The launch of the NHS in 1948 would not have been possible if the great reforms she worked for (successfully) in the old workhouse infirmaries had not been achieved. Note that, at the time, 80% of hospital patients were in workhouses, which still had bedsharing and pauper “nurses.” There is much to celebrate in Nightingale’s work, but you mentioned nothing. She was a pioneer in evidence-based health care, surely a concern of today.

We would be glad to provide you with a briefing on Nightingale and Seacole. Indeed we would be glad to debate you publicly on the subject.

Yours sincerely
[34 members of the Nightingale Society]