Rt Hon Baroness Scotland, QC
Director-general, Commonwealth Secretariat
Marlborough House, Pall Mall, London SW1Y 5HX
Dear Baroness Scotland
We are concerned about your remarks at the conference of the Commonwealth Nurses and Midwives Federation March 6. The World Health Organization chose 2020 for the Year of the Year of the Nurse and Midwife precisely because of that year being the bicentenary of Nightingale’s birth. Yet, in your remarks you included Mary Seacole along with Florence Nightingale, as if she had made any kind of similar contribution. You made three such references, as if equals, and indeed your third reference gave precedence to Seacole. She was an interesting, independent and generous person, and her business for officers much appreciated. What exactly, we ask, did Seacole do as a founder either of nursing or midwifery. Specifically, kindly state:
You referred to Nightingale and Seacole together three times, as if equals, and indeed your third reference gave precedence to Seacole. Kindly say (also for colleagues) what exactly Seacole did as a founder either of nursing or midwifery. She was an interesting and generous person, and her business for officers much appreciated, but do say:
- At what hospital(s) she ever nursed
- What nurses she trained or mentored
- To what countries did she sent nursing leaders
- What books, articles or chapters she produced on either nursing or midwifery.
Seacole’s three forays onto the battlefield post-battle are documented—yes, kind acts, but so did many people perform such kind acts and they are not credited as founders of the nursing profession. She distributed magazines (donated by officers and their wives) to the hospital close to her business, and took the patients there mince tarts on New Year’s Day 1855. Again, kind acts, but hardly close to what Nightingale did.
In Seacole’s fine memoir, it is clear that she was running a business. She never called herself a “nurse,” but did use the expression “doctress, nurse and mother”; “nurse” she used for Nightingale and her nurses. She described her “remedies,” and also acknowledged that she made “lamentable blunders,” and certainly the addition of lead and mercury would qualify.
In short, your assessment of Seacole’s contribution reflects the common propaganda for her, which is not based on fact. It is unacceptable that you should foist your personal opinion at a Commonwealth event to which you were invited for your position as secretary general.
Not the least of the harms done by the Seacole propaganda campaign is the failure to recognize significant BAME nursing leaders. A prime example is Kofoworola Abeni Pratt, a Nigerian (Nigeria is in the Commonwealth), who trained at the Nightingale School in London, then led in the introduction of professional nursing by Nigerians in Nigeria.
[ 17 members of the Nightingale Society ]