MRSA: the Nursing Standard approach

M Make it up! (Don’t be limited by boring historical facts)
R Repeat it! (The more you say it, the truthier it gets)
S Slur your opponent (Slander and libel don’t count for the dead)
A Avoid inconvenient facts (Why tell the whole truth?)

The articles below demonstrate these practices. Make it up: Seacole is frequently referred to as a “nurse,” and even credited with opening a hospital on her own to provide nursing care, sometimes giving such care on the battlefield, none of which she claimed for herself (see Doctress). Nor did Seacole ever claim to have won those medals she is pictured with (see Medals).

Nursing Standard articles show resentment for any recognition given Nightingale, who in fact did make the establishment of nursing–throughout the world–her life’s work.

Elizabeth Anionwu refers to Nightingale as a “nurse” along with Seacole, making it clear that she considers Seacole the superior one. And Jenny Knight (below) complained that “adulation was heaped” on Nightingale, while Seacole was “snubbed by the establishment,” although it was that establishment (princes, dukes, etc.) who raised the fund that supported Seacole in her retirement.

The Nursing Standard articles (as other sources) simply avoid mentioning salient facts. That Seacole was mainly a sutler, in the language of the day, or a restaurant and storekeeper, is simply omitted from descriptions. W.H. Russell, the Times war correspondent, is frequently quoted for his praise of Seacole (and he did praise her), dropping his point: “She is the first who has redeemed the name of ‘sutler’ from the suspicion of worthlessness, mercenary baseness and plunder.”

The first fund that was raised by Seacole supporters for her after the war was to re-establish her in her business. Lord Rokeby’s letter “To the Editor of the Times” (25 November 1856:6f) is clear that when the bankruptcy proceedings against her were terminated, they would raise a subscription “to enable her to recommence the business to which she is accustomed.” Seacole indeed opened a new store, in Aldershot, but it, too, failed. Yet Anionwu, the major writer in the Nursing Standard on Seacole, and vice-chair of the Mary Seacole Memorial Statue Appeal, never acknowledges the sutler occupation, and only once (in my perusal of her articles) called her a businesswoman, albeit adding it to the description of “Victorian Jamaican nurse and businesswoman.”


Davis, Carol. “Living Her Dream.” Nursing Standard 18,32 (2004):12. This article twice describes Seacole not merely as a nurse but a “pioneering nurse,” and gives her credit for Nightingale’s vision of nursing and achievements in establishing it as a profession, raising it from its then status as a low paid and despicable occupation. Sylvia Denton, president of the Royal College of Nursing, is quoted, but without a single example of either Seacole’s beliefs or her acting successfully on them: “Against all odds, she had an unshakeable belief in the power of nursing to make a difference. Mrs Seacole changed the face of modern nursing.” Any specifics? From what to what? Another claim has her travelling “the world adding European medical knowledge to her traditional skill,” contrary to anything Seacole herself stated in her memoir.

The article betrays resentment that there is a “statue” of Nightingale in Liverpool, in fact a defaced bas relief. Nor does it mention why Nightingale should be honoured in Liverool, namely that she worked for years with philanthropist William Rathbone, to bring trained nursing into the Liverpool Workhouse Infirmary, in 1865, and mentored matrons and nurses there for decades thereafter.

A mental health drop-in centre in Liverpool named after Seacole is a good thing, but the rank ignorance of Nightingale’s Liverpool work is inexcusable. With Nightingale’s help, Liverpool was the first city in Britain to have professional nursing in its otherwise dreaded workhouse infirmary.

“We Can Still Learn from Mary Seacole.” Nursing Standard 18,36 (19 May 2004):7.

Pearce, Lynne. “Tribute to a Visionary.” Nursing Standard 19,4 (6 October 2004):16-17. (Where Seacole is said to have raised “funds to pay her own passage to the Crimea, where she sets up the British Hotel, offering accommodation, food and nursing care to British soldiers,” although her memoir clearly shows that Seacole had funds from her previous business, and had a business partner, Thomas Day, and that the British Hotel was largely a restaurant for officers, and never offered accommodation or nursing care to anybody.)

“In brief. The BBC has agreed to broadcast.” Nursing Standard 19,13 (3 December 2004):8. (The BBC has two films that denigrate Nightingale and her work; this article is about its broadcasting a pro-Seacole documentary; advertising for it claims that Seacole “saved thousands of British soldiers,” although Seacole herself never made any such claim, nor is there any evidence for it.)

“A Warm Portrait of Mary Seacole.” Nursing Standard 19,25 (2 March 2005):28.

“Seacole Biography aimed at Nurses.” Nursing Standard 19,47 (3 August 2005):7. (This article covers the launch of Anionwu’s biography of Seacole, which itself contains much misinformation.)

“Two Great Nurses.” Nursing Standard 20,34 (3 May 2006):26.

“A great Muslim nurse set the standard for Nightingale and Seacole.” Nursing Standard 20,38 (31 May 2006):31.

Kendall-Raynor, Petra. “Choice of Nightingale’s ‘Shrine’ for Seacole Memorial Contested.” Nursing Standard 21,34 (2 May 2007):8. (This article claims an “historic link,” not specified, between Seacole and the “original site” of St Thomas’ Hospital.

“Elizabeth Anionwu Gains a Fresh Perspective on Mary Seacole.” Nursing Standard 23,33 (22 April 2009):24.

“Elizabeth Anionwu Discovers Mary Seacole was a Celebrity in her Time.” Nursing Standard 24,5 (7 October 2009):26. (Seacole was indeed celebrated in her time, but the story gives credence to the false claim that the Russians gave her “a medallion.”)

Deane, Erin. “Campaign for Mary Seacole Memorial.” Nursing Standard 24,34 (28 April 2010):12. (One of the most inaccurate reports, including much more than the usual false claim that Seacole “opened the British Hotel, where she provided soldiers with accommodation, food and nursing care.”)

Knight, Jenny. “Standing up for a Nursing Icon.” Nursing Standard 24,34 (28 April 2010):14-15. (The author resents Nightingale for having “adulation…heaped on her,” failing to mention any of the work she did to deserve it.)

“Statue Supporters at Parliament.” Nursing Standard 24,47 (28 July 2010):5. (Where Seacole is said to have “travelled to the Crimea front line to treat wounded British soldiers,” although in her memoir she gives her plan as a “mess table” for officers–she did describe giving aid to wounded soldiers post-battle, on three occasions, while making clear that her main function was the provision of food and drink to her customers.)

Chifulya, Sidone. “Inspiring Stories.” Nursing Standard 25,5 (6 October 2010):72. (As well as exaggerating Seacole’s “battlefield” exploits, the article suggests that there is documentation of her having been awarded “a medallion” by the Russians.)

Anionwu, Elizabeth. “A History that Lives on,” Nursing Standard 26,5 (5 October 2011):18-19. (This article includes a claim for “successful treatment of yellow fever and cholera” by Seacole, although she claimed no success in yellow fever, and only occasional on cholera, The frequent incorrect claim is made that Seacole “raised the funds to pay for her own passage to the Crimea.” Seacole is likened to Nightingale in bringing about change in nursing care, although Seacole herself made no such claim–that work was Nightingale’s for decades after the Crimean War.)

Anionwu mis-states the case in another article, stating that Seacole “travelled to London to offer to nurse in the Crimea,” when in her own memoir Seacole explained that she had gone to look after her gold mining stock (WA 74). She has Seacole taking “a variety of references” (246), although Seacole herself gave an excerpt of only one (76). Anionwu called the British Hotel “primarily a store and canteen” (247) when restaurant and catering service for officers would be more accurate, if one judges from Seacole’s own memoir, she adds “a type of nurse-led outpatient clinic where soldiers queued for her to prescribe remedies and dress their wounds” (247), again quite beyond Seacole’s own casual description of leaving her cooking to go to the store or remedies (WA 140). Nor did she mention the wounded arriving except from sporting events in the later months of the war, when no fighting was going on and officers went off to races, hunting and other excursions (182). This is not dressing the wounds of soldiers. Anionwu again makes Seacole more an unlucky victim of circumstances on the failure of her business. She had the war ending “abruptly in 1856, leaving Seacole destitute, partly due to the amount of sales on credit she had made to the soldiers” (247). But the peace treaty was slow in coming–a full six months after the end of hostilities. The debts owing her were not from soldiers, who were only peripherally her customers, but officers. And her business partner explained that their debts were not the crucial ones, but their laying in of expensive stocks, especially red wine.

Neither Anionwu nor other writers for the Statue Campaign acknowledge Seacole’s frank admission of “lamentable blunders” in her prescribing without saying exactly what they were. But she did frankly state; that she “lost patients” which she might later “have saved”; that cholera treatments she gave made her “shudder” when she considered them later. These writers also omit mention of Seacole’s use of “an additional dose of ten grains of sugar of lead,” which she “mixed in a pint of water…in doses of a tablespoonful every quarter of an hour.” She used this for a “stubborn attack” of cholera and considered that it had worked (31).