To the Publications Director, OCR Publications

To the Publications Director, OCR Publications

OCR Publications
July 9, 2014

Dear OCR Publications Director

We are writing with concern about the mark scheme for Mary Seacole in Medicine through Time. We also have concerns about the mark scheme for Florence Nightingale, but they are minor in comparison. For example, her important work analyzing mortality data post-Crimea, her health promotion work and “environmental” theory of nursing and health care are omitted. The material refers to deaths from wounds, apparently oblivious to the fact that disease killed far more people. The material on Seacole, however, is simply factually wrong, when relevant sources are consulted, notably her own memoir, Wonderful Adventures of Mrs Seacole in Many Lands (Oxford University Press 1988 for page references). The information on her life is thoroughly documented with primary sources in “The Wonderful Adventures of Mrs Seacole, in Lynn McDonald, Mary Seacole: The Making of the Myth, 2014, chapter 3. A (largely) accurate biography is Jane Robinson, Mary Seacole: The Charismatic Black Nurse Who Became a Heroine of the Crimea.

Mark Scheme A951/11-14 January 2011 indicates that marks are given for false statements in 4(1) “Briefly describe the career of Mary Seacole.” Of the eight points given as illustrations of good answers, five are thoroughly incorrect, and two are wrong in minor ways:

  1. worked as nurse/doctor in Jamaica,
  2. worked as a midwife,
  3. dealt with cholera in Panama,
  4. went to Britain and volunteered to go to Crimea,
  5. went at own expense, set up the ‘British Hospital,’
  6. nursed soldiers,
  7. returned to Britain bankrupt,
  8. newspaper held an appeal for her, benefit concert held for her.

An example, given 3 marks, states: “Mary Seacole did a lot to help the soldiers in the Crimea. She set up the British Hospital and kept soldiers clean and fed. She personally looked after the soldiers and often went into battle to help them.”

On 1, the answer fails to mention her actual occupation, proprietress of a boarding house in Jamaica, later a store/restaurant in Panama and one in Crimea, with work, on the side, as a “doctress” or herbalist. 2, she never worked as a midwife. She prescribed and administered drugs on her own, what would now be called practising medicine without a licence.

On 3, Seacole “dealt” with cholera, but not necessarily well. She acknowledged “lamentable blunders” (WA 31) and that some of her remedies later caused her to “shudder.” She used lead acetate and mercury chloride, toxic substances. Her “remedy” for cholera featured emetics, purgatives and sweating, all of which dehydrate the patient, while the known treatment (now, not then) is oral rehydration therapy. Seacole’s “remedies” were no worse than what many doctors used at the time, but she thought they were good, while some doctors, at least, were more sceptical.

On 4, the purpose of her trip to London, according to her own memoir, was to pursue her unsuccessful Panamanian gold stocks (WA 71). She only volunteered to go the Crimea in late November 1854, after the first three, major, battles had taken place, and well after Nightingale had left (WA 78-80). She never submitted the required application to become a nurse, but dropped in informally to various offices, never the one stipulated in the announcement inviting late applications for nurses, that is, after Nightingale’s departure.

On 5, she never set up any hospital, or claimed to have. In her memoir she specified her intention to establish the “British Hotel,” to be a “mess table and comfortable quarters for sick and convalescent officers” (WA 81) but in fact set up a hut which served as a restaurant/bar/store/takeaway/catering service for officers. There were no overnight stays at it, and it closed each night at 8 p.m. and on Sundays.

On 6, her customers were officers, not soldiers, and she sold them goods and services. On three occasions she gave first aid on the battlefield, post-battle, to officers or soldiers as needed (WA 155, 164, 169). She also sold remedies over the counter to (walk-in) soldiers, and in some cases gave them away. This is far from what is normally understood by “nursing.” Seacole never nursed in a hospital anywhere: Jamaica, Panama, Crimea or Britain.

On 7 she and her business partner sought bankruptcy protection on their return to Britain; they had overstocked the restaurant/bar/store in the long period after the fighting was over when business was good: “My restaurant was always full” (WA 178). This was a bad business decision, not quite what is often implied.

On 8, the appeal and benefit concerts were held by officer friends, former customers. Newspapers assisted with positive stories about her but did not organize them.

We ask that Ofsted inspectors ensure that the teaching given on Seacole be fair and accurate for a school to be rated positively for it. Given the lack of adequate resources, we believe that teaching on Seacole should be suspended. The promotion of racial equality and cultural diversity are worthy goals, but the end does not justify the means. Mrs Seacole was a fine and decent person whose life deserves to be celebrated. She does not deserve false stories to puff her up. In the case of nursing, there are a number of good black and other minority nurses who have been neglected, thanks to the Seacole campaign. Pupils deserve honest and accurate information at all ages, with details appropriate to their age.