To the Trustees of the Nightingale Museum

To: Natasha McEnroe, please forward to all Trustees
Dame Christine Beasley, chair
Professor Ian Norman, vice-chair
Jon Card
Colin Brough
Alastair Gourlay
Jonathan Rounce
Chloe Sheppard
Janet Vitmayer OBE
Baroness Mary Watkins

7 November 2016

Dear Dame Christine and Trustees

Lt Col Raugh, jr., and Major Robins have forwarded your response of October 26, 2016, to the rest of the co-signers. We appreciate your willingness to consider constructive criticism, and hence respond together, on two points.

1. The film with Helen Rappaport: none of us has been able to see it, but we question why a person would be chosen who has three publications on Nightingale/Seacole which all denigrate Nightingale, and one even accuses her of racism, and attribute false accomplishments to Seacole. Details below. Unless Rappaport apologized in the film, and retracted her published statements, we wonder why she would be given yet another platform. The fact that she is a member of the Crimean War Research Society does not absolve her from the responsibility of checking facts. Anyone can join the society, which includes many amateur historians.

2. We did not say that your material on Cavell and Soyer was inaccurate, but incomplete, omitting their significant connections, especially Soyer’s, with Nightingale. We would expect a Florence Nightingale Museum to make those interesting connections.

2001. Rappaport, Helen. An Encyclopedia of Women Social Reformers. 2 vols. Santa Barbara CA: ABC Clio.

Nightingale is said to have “declined an invitation to join the London National Society for Women Suffrage in 1867″ (2:492), although she signed it, and many other petitions for the vote. (Helen Taylor thanked her for her prompt signature and Clementia Taylor sent her a receipt for her dues.)

Rappaport fell for Hugh Small’s erroneous account of Nightingale’s hospital having the highest death rates, without one table or chart or one firm statistic!. Rappoport took his speculation as fact: “But the reality of Nightingale’s sense of personal failure and despair is a far more compelling story, recently uncovered by Hugh Small.”

She is sarcastic that Nightingale was “supposedly sole pioneer of women’s nursing in Britain” (2:486-87), although Nightingale always gave great credit to other nurses, especially Mary Jones, Agnes Jones, Sarah Wardroper, A.L. Pringle and Florence Lees. Rappaport is mistaken on Nightingale’s religion, calling her Unitarian, when she was evangelical Church of England.

Rappaport’s item on Seacole in the same publication is wildly inaccurate in the other direction, “Seacole, Mary (1805-1881) Jamaica,” 2:631-3. There she credits Seacole with going to the Crimea “to pioneer the nursing of the sick and wounded during the war of 1854-1856,” Nightingale’s work! Seacole only went in the spring of 1855, to run a business.

There are unfounded statements: “For many years, Seacole’s unique contribution to the development of nursing and the treatment of tropical diseases lay buried.” What “unique contribution”? Her “remedy” for cholera included toxic substances and dehydrated the patient (WA 31).

Rappaport falsely stated that Seacole looked after “sick British soldiers at the military camp at Up-Park Town, near Kingston,” when she herself stated that she was asked to, but did not (WA 63).

False again, that, “When the Crimean War broke out in 1854, she realized her moment had come and immediately sailed for England, where she offered her services to the War Office.” Her own account shows that, when war was declared, she went back to Panama on business, went on to London in September 1854, and only began to seek a post as nurse after 2 months or more on business (WA 73-76). Hardly “immediately sailed”! A convenient Timeline is provided in a peer-reviewed article by McDonald, using sources just as available to Rappaport (“Florence Nightingale and Mary Seacole on Nursing and Health Care.” Journal of Advanced Nursing 69,11 (November 2013):1436-44).

Rappaport, worse yet, portrays Nightingale as a racist who refused Seacole’s services, as had the War Office, but Seacole never properly applied: “Florence Nightingale (no doubt for the same reasons of racial prejudice) also declined her offer to join her band of nurses.” Yet Seacole’s own account shows that, when she met Nightingale, at Scutari, she asked for a bed for the night and got one; she was en route to the Crimea to start her business. The actual account, according to Seacole, reads: “‘What do you want, Mrs Seacole–anything that we can do for you? If it lies in my power, I shall be very happy’” (WA 91). Where is the racism?

Rappaport transmogrifies Seacole’s hut for serving food and wine, into a hotel with hospital: “Above the ground floor store and canteen [the canteen was in a separate hut] was a sick bay [non-existent] where she nursed the wounded, dispensed her own herbal medicines and introduced methods of nursing that emphasized cleanliness, plenty of ventilation and an abundance of her own home-cooked food.” But the food was for sale to officers, and the ventilation, in a hut!!! – it was Nightingale who emphasized ventilation. Cleanliness? Not mentioned in Seacole’s book, but there are 3 chapters on the food she sold to officers.

A picture has Seacole at the bedside of a soldier (2:632), but the only times she was at a bedside was when she was distributing magazines, Punch, to the local hospital, where Nightingale’s nurses did the nursing.

2005. “The Invitation that Never Came: Mary Seacole After the Crimea.” History Today 55,2 (February 2005):9-15.

This article has Seacole so important that the queen would want to invite her to a personal meeting, and that there could be only one rational explanation for the queen’s reluctance; someone must have turned the queen’s mind: “There is only one logical candidate to fit the latter argument: Florence Nightingale.” Rappoport invents: “At some stage the queen must, surely, have interrogated Nightingale about the celebrated Mrs Seacole.” There is not a shred of evidence for this bizarre suggestion.

It is sorry enough that the Florence Nightingale Museum did nothing to defend Nightingale when she was attacked as a racist by the BBC, but to give a platform to someone who repeated the accusation is troubling.

Detailed refutations of Hugh Small’s claims are available in peer-reviewed publications by Lynn McDonald, available on her academic website, Some years ago the director agreed to cross-link it with the Museum’s website. But this has yet to happen.

2007. No Place for Ladies: The Untold Story of Women in the Crimean War. London: Aurum.

In this book, Rappaport accords Seacole medals she never won, nor ever claimed to have won them (she wore them, but in her book is clear that she did not win any, and the picture of her on the cover shows no medals). Nightingale gets sarcasm: “Miss Nightingale Queens It with Absolute Power”; a picture shows the Crimean medal with 4 clasps (Alma, Balaclava, Inkermann and Sebastopol–for the siege); Seacole did not win the medal and was not even in the Crimea for the 3 battles listed, and missed the first half of the siege of Sebastopol. This is misinformation by picture, not history.

We would be happy to provide a briefing on the subject and/or to debate Rappaport or anyone else you wish at the Museum.

Sincerely yours
[signed by 17 members of the Nightingale Society]