Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Nightingale versus Seacole...round one!

Roger Watson, Editor-in-Chief

Florence Nightingale's place in the history of nursing is assured, although she is also criticised. I thought that Mary Seacole was also safe until I received a manuscript from Emerita Professor Lynn McDonald of the University of Guelph, Ontario in Canada. The manuscript, entitled Florence Nightingale and Mary Seacole on nursing and health care, is online now and free to download.

Mary Seacole
I must warn you, if you are a Seacole supporter, this is not the best read you've ever had. While not critical of Mary Seacole herself or what she did, McDonald questions her allegiance to the black community and also her contribution to the development of nursing.
I was previously aware of some doubts about her nursing credentials with many seeing her more as a doctor, or 'doctress'. Certainly she did not found a philosophy of nursing or a school of nursing. But she is iconic to many and I was equally surprised to learn that, if the funds are raised to erect a statue of her in the grounds of St Thomas' Hospital, London, this will be the first statue of a black woman in the UK.

Florence Nightingale
I think that McDonald's main concern about the elevation of Seacole is that Nightingale's place in the history and development of nursing is often downplayed in juxtaposition. While I can find plenty to criticise in Nightingale myself - mostly things that were really the product of the time in which she worked - I can find no arguments against her place as the founder of modern nursing and, in my view, she made a very good job of it. What is often forgotten is that she did so much more in relation to public health. She was also a consummate politician who cleverly exerted her influence through the powerful men of the day.

Frankly, I could not resist the controversy that this paper will ignite and I have ensured that leading supporters of Mary Seacole are aware of the paper and invited to respond. I look forward to some robust - but polite - debate in the months ahead.


McDonald L (2013) Florence Nightingale and Mary Seacole on nursing and health care Journal of Advanced Nursing DOI:10.1111/jan.12291

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