Newsletter 2021:04

From Lynn McDonald, project director | May 9, 2021

Florence Nightingale Foundation and its “Partnership” promoting Mary Seacole

[for background, see the following link for The Nightingale Newsletter 2021:03, April 21, 2021]

Our letter went a second time to the Foundation, with more signatures, up from 31 to 42.

We have received no substantive reply to our letter, but only an email from Greta Westwood, the CEO, giving a link to the ”partnership.” Thus, no answer to what nursing Seacole ever did, and what “partnership” Nightingale and Seacole had, apart from (as we pointed out) that Nightingale gave Mrs Seacole a bed for the night when she was en route to the Crimea in 1855. Herewith:

“Florence Nightingale Foundation (FNF) is delighted to be partnering with the Mary Seacole Trust to deliver the hugely successful Mary Seacole Awards. Both organisations celebrate the diversity of the nursing and midwifery workforce and the communities in which they work. This partnership will further highlight the contribution of nurses and midwives from diverse backgrounds working in the NHS in England.

“COVID-19 has emphasised the continued and now urgent need to support ethnic minority communities who have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic. By joining forces, FNF and the Mary Seacole Trust will support nurse and midwife leaders to develop projects to reduce inequalities and improve health services and outcomes for such communities.

“This new partnership will celebrate the achievements of nurses and midwives who follow in the footsteps of both Florence Nightingale and Mary Seacole.”

Responses: Some people have emailed Greta Westwood themselves, to get a polite reply, but again no real answer on the erroneous content.

A subsequent email from Dr Westwood badly missed the point:

“As you will know the Florence Nightingale Foundation is a UK wide nursing and midwifery charity providing leadership development opportunities for over 400 nurses and midwives per year. It is not a historical society.” (email 4 May 2021).

How “not being a historical society” entitles it to invent fake facts was not explained.

Back to Nightingale: A Crimean War soldier writes her in 1887

Sometimes a letter to Nightingale tells us something about her work not in any letter of her own. Here is a fine example from 1887, written by a Crimean War soldier about her help of over 30 years earlier. British Army surgeons then did little more than amputate injured limbs; more complicated surgery to reconstruct the limb was still a long way off. The soldier was Samuel Atkins. Since he was wounded at the Battle of Inkermann, 5 November 1854, he would have been one of the first soldiers Nightingale looked after at the Scutari Barrack Hospital. His letter goes on to his religious beliefs.

Source: Woodward Biomedical Library B.64, University of British Columbia

9 March 1887


You will doubtless be surprised at receiving a letter from an old Crimean soldier after so many years have passed away, but I have always been anxious to write to you, but could not obtain your address, and have only now quite incidentally, in talking to a friend, discovered through her the address of your sister to whom I have addressed this letter for you.

I was one of the soldiers in the 33rd Duke of Wellington Regiment and was wounded at the Battle of Inkerman, in the head, muscle of right arm and down the ribs, and taken to the hospital at Scutari. After being under the doctors treatment for a time, he said that the next day he must cut my arm off, and I told you what the doctor had said and you told me that I had not better have it off as there was no danger and that they could not take it off without my permission and that my arm would look better in my sleeve. There the sleeve would tuck in my waistcoat pocket.

A few months after coming home to my native village, when out one day my arm being still crooked I stooped down, picked up a stone to throw at a bird and the sudden jerk pulled my arm straight and I was shortly after this able to take some temporary employment and have been able to follow my work ever since.

And now you will perhaps ask yourself why I have written all these particulars to you. It is that I may thank you from the very bottom of my heart for all your kindness to me and all other suffering ones while I and they were in the hospital. I often remember you in my prayers at the throne of grace for thank God since leaving the Crimea I have found grace in trusting in the precious blood of Christ.

I trust that you are in the enjoyment of good health and that the presence of the Master Christ may be always with you. And I know that you will one day hear him say (Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my children, ye have done it unto me) Well done good and faithful servant enter thou into the joy of thy Lord. Hoping that you will excuse the liberty I have taken. I remain, Madame

your obedient servant,

Kofoworola Abeni Pratt: From the First Black Nurse in the NHS to Major Founder of Nursing in Nigeria

by Lynn McDonald, April 2021

Kofoworola Abeni Pratt (1915-92) was an outstanding nursing leader, well recognized for her work in her home country, Nigeria, but scarcely known in the United Kingdom, despite her significant British connections and international reputation. She was the first Black person to train at the Nightingale School, then based at St Thomas’ Hospital, London, starting in 1946. Then, when the National Health Service was launched in July, 1948, she was on duty—the first Black nurse in the NHS.

Her background and education

Née Kofoworola Abeni Scott, she was born into a privileged Lagos family, early converts to Christianity. She was given a good education in a Church Missionary Society girls’ school, after which she obtained a teaching certificate and taught History at the secondary level for five years. She wanted to become a nurse, but, like Nightingale, was prevented by her family, on account of the unseemly reputation of nurses. In the case of Nigeria, the higher posts were reserved for British expatriate women, with the menial tasks accorded to Nigerians (the practice of the Colonial Nursing Service).

In 1941, the then Miss Scott married a Nigerian pharmacist, Eugene Samuel Oluremi (Olu) Pratt, who shared her faith and strongly supported her aspiration to become a nurse. The couple were married in the Scotts’ and Pratts’ family church, the Cathedral Church of Christ, Lagos, where Mrs Pratt was active in cathedral governance and women’s organizations.

Olu Pratt made the introduction for his wife to the matron at St Thomas’ Hospital in 1946—he had gone to London ahead of her to apply for medical studies for himself. The matron accepted her, subject to the arrival of the required documents, which proved to be in order.

St Thomas’ had been bombed in the war, so that, on Mrs Pratt’s arrival in 1946, its departments were in temporary quarters in other parts of London. She, as well as doing the regular training, getting excellent marks, went on to obtain extra certificates in midwifery (and worked as a midwife), tropical diseases, the ward sister’s course, and, on a return trip, hospital nursing administration, these last two at the Royal College of Nursing. Pratt later won grants to enable her to travel to see nurse training in other countries. In the United States, she was impressed by training based at universities. She would later lead in the introduction of university-based training in Nigeria, achieved in 1965.

Professional nursing in Nigeria

Encouraged by British “Nightingale nurses,” Pratt returned to Nigeria in 1955 to become the first Nigerian ward sister, then, successively, the first Nigerian assistant matron, deputy matron, and, in 1964, matron, at the top hospital in Nigeria, University College Hospital, Ibadan. This transition from expatriate nurses, doctors, other professionals and administrators to Nigerians was called “Nigerianization”. It began with the approach of independence, which was gained in 1960.

After a mere two years as matron at UCH, Ibadan, although enough to demonstrate her ability as an administrator. Pratt took on a greater challenge, as chief nursing officer for the Federation of Nigeria, the first Nigerian in the post. Her domain became the whole country, the largest in Africa, sixth largest in the world. She led in the establishment of other nursing schools and did some of the training herself.

Throughout, Pratt was, unusually for the time, both a wife and mother, with two sons, one born in Nigeria and one while she was training in London. Her husband obtained British medical qualifications, to return to practise in Nigeria.

From nursing to political leadership in health care

Pratt, like Nightingale, saw the importance of political action in the achievement of healthcare reform. Thus, in 1973, when she was offered the post of “Commissioner for Health”—in practice, the Minister of Health for Lagos State, then under military rule—she accepted. During her time in office (only two years) she saw to the expansion of healthcare services, the building of more hospitals, and the equipping of boats to take healthcare services to villages best accessible by water. She made the provision of better conditions for nurses a priority, culminating in the building of a fine nurses’ residence, long delayed by previous governments, dubbed the “Nurses’ Hilton.” Pratt was the first nurse to become Minister of Health for her country or state.

She received many honours, was named “chief,” awarded the Order of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, an honorary doctorate of laws and the Florence Nightingale Medal,; she was appointed a fellow both of the Royal College of Nursing and the West African College of Nursing. She died in Lagos in 1992, predeceased by her husband, Dr Olu Pratt, in 1985.

A biography of Pratt

An excellent biography was published about her, An African ‘Florence Nightingale’: a biography of Chief (Dr) Mrs Kofoworola Abeni Pratt. The author, Justus A. Akinsanya, was a distinguished Nigerian-born nursing academic, whose career was mainly in the U.K. Unluckily, the book soon became an “orphan book,” that is, the publisher went out of business and the author died. A PDF link is available on the website of the Nightingale Society. It is otherwise effectively unavailable.

Mrs K.A. Pratt: Role model

Mrs Pratt’s career makes her a fine role model not only for Black and minority ethnic nurses, but ALL nurses who aim high.