To Sigma Theta Tau International

Teddie Potter, PhD, RN
Riane Eisler, JD PhD(h)
Dustin Sullivan, publisher

November 13, 2016

Dear Drs Potter and Eisler and Mr Sullivan

Thank you for your response to our concerns, which, however, we find inadequate; the great problems remain, for which we provide further evidence.

We note that the material at fault is largely a repeat of Potter’s doctoral dissertation. Sadly neither her advisor or any committee member or external examiner challenged her on the numerous factual errors in the thesis (now repeated in the book), nor the inadequate referencing – no page numbers for citations from a 200-page book!

1. Autobiographies? Nightingale never wrote one, yet she is on your list; Seacole’s book might better be called a travel memoir, but is closer.

2. Your reference to Seacole’s “interest in caring for others” from before Nightingale was born. It is common for children to care for and cure dolls; Seacole was hardly exceptional in this.

3. Rushdie: we do not suggest that you should quote him on Nightingale being a whore, but question why you would quote him at all when he said that. There are thousands of books and articles on Nightingale and a substantial number on Seacole: why cite one by an author with no expertise in nursing, war, history or health, and one who has made preposterous and nasty statements about the major founder of nursing?

Racial prejudice is indeed a problem for nursing, but Rushdie is hardly the person to comment, nor is this the place to discuss the issue. Many qualified nurses could be cited if the point is to be pursued. The suggestion that Seacole was not selected because of her race misses the fact that she never applied properly, was old for nursing and lacked hospital experience. Had she applied, she might well have been rejected, but we can hardly know for what reason.

Further, the “companion” cited for rejecting her, called the “dominator hierarchy”, was not acting on Nightingale’s behalf or even knowledge. Seacole herself was cautious in her suggestion of prejudice, that “had there been a vacancy, I should not have been chosen to fill it” (Wonderful Adventures of Mrs Seacole in Many Lands, p 79), but the fact remains that there was no vacancy as all the nurses had left!

Seacole reports going to the Herbert house on her (belated) quest, and found many people there, including “flunkeys,” but no nurses. If she had gone in good time, she would have seen applicants arriving and leaving and even the pre-departure briefing of the second group, held on December 1. An accusation of racism is serious.

4. What evidence do you have that Seacole considered “listening to narratives to be important parts” of her care? Page number?

5. That she gave care to “Russians”: not wrong but limited to “several” on one day only, the battle of the Tchernaya, 16th of August 1855 (pp 166-7). She also snipped buttons from their greatcoats and accepted |plunder” and “trophies” from Russian churches (pp 167 and 173).

6. You again confuse officers with ordinary soldiers. Nightingale’s mission was to ordinary soldiers, Seacole’s business was for officers. Yes, her mother had a “boarding house,” and she sometimes attended “invalid officers and their wives,” meaning officers and their wives. Not soldiers, who could not have afforded the price, and were required to live in barracks, in any event.

7. “Some of Seacole’s treatments are no longer considered effective and we feel it is unrealistic to criticize 19th century caregiving based on modern standards.” Fine on your second point. But which Seacole treatments can be considered effective now and which not? She gave the ingredients for only one (p 31), which included toxic substances. Please be specific.

The fact remains that Seacole in prescribing, preparing and administering “remedies” was practising medicine and pharmacy, although without a licence in either field. This does not make her a nurse. Nightingale, at that same time, opted for a cautious approach to patients, and pointedly said that chemicals do not cure. She is the great source for reparative nursing, putting the patient in the best condition for nature to effect a cure. This is radically different from what Seacole did, and the two should not be linked together.

8. You should acknowledge that dehydration is deleterious to bowel patients, far from calling it “care and cure.”

9. Your proposed revision “While in London, she heard news reports of the terrible conditions” and went “immediately” to the War Office” is still wrong. Seacole’s memoir shows that she was motivated by “the fearful storm of the 14th of November” (p 74), news of which did not reach London until November 30 (“The Gale in the Black Sea,” 30 November 1854 Times 7A). If she had been motivated by the general bad conditions, she could have applied months earlier. But she did not – busy on her gold stocks.

10. We do not see any reference to “borrowed” money. Please give a page number. “Funds” hardly means a loan.

11. Your proposed revision “the traditional route of service was barred” yet again, implies discrimination. We have no way of knowing what would have happened if Seacole had applied. The “traditional route” might be considered the submission of the required application and letters of reference.

12. Scutari vs. Balaclava. Seacole and her business partner both knew the Crimea was the place for their business. He was already there and she was en route to join him. Her memoir states “I am bound for the front in a few days” (p 90). Yet she was fearful of finding her way to the ship at night where she was staying until departure, as she told Mrs Bracebridge. Balaclava was always her destination; it was not a last minute decision based on seeing the hospital.

13. Your revision continues to be false by its reference to “men” when her business was always for officers, a “mess-table and comfortable quarters.” Officers and soldiers do not mix socially; officers eat in separate “messes,” not with the soldiers. That the quarters were not built was a business decision, based on Soyer’s advice. See his memoir, on their meeting and his entering her hut: “No sooner had we entered than the old lady expressed her desire to consult me about what she should do to make money in her new speculation, in which she had embarked a large capital” (Soyer, Culinary Campaign 232). He advised her: “‘Lay in a good stock of hams, wines, spirits, ale and porter, sauces, pickles and a few preserves and dry vegetables–in short anything which will not spoil by keeping.’ ‘Yes,’ said she, ‘I mean to have all that.’”

The “early nursing” term continues to be misleading. Seacole NEVER identified herself as a “nurse.” Page number??? She did use “doctress” for herself often, and even, as noted earlier “doctress, nurse and ‘mother’” but “nurse” as such, no.

14. Finally, you state that your treatment of Seacole “in no way diminishes the contributions of Florence Nightingale.” Presumably not, but you do nothing to make them known. Sigma Theta Tau published a picture book of Nightingale, a very fine one, with apt, brief quotations, but to our knowledge nothing serious on her.

15. Your “expert views” are not experts but Seacole campaign boosters. Many leading nurses have joined in the campaign, but this does not make them experts? An evidence for their expertise? Peer-reviewed articles?

[ signed by 17 members of the Nightingale Society ]