Florence Nightingale

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Florence Nightingale (born May 12, 1820, Florence Italy, died August 13, 1910, London, England), was an English pioneering nurse during the Crimean War (1854–56). She became the heroic symbol of the vocational, professional nurse, establishing the nurse's critical role in medicine and hospital care.

She was popularly known as "The Lady with the Lamp", and was a pioneer of modern nursing. She was an early innovator in statistics, using pie charts to analyze the distribution of patients in her wards by type of disease, and Gannt Charts (she used them to help schedule her nurses).

Nightingale set up the first professional nursing school, the Nightingale School of Nursing, at St. Thomas’ Hospital in London in 1860. She also took a role in setting up training for midwives and nurses in workhouse infirmaries. She was the first woman awarded the UK's Order of Merit, an award she did not get until 1907, when she had been retired for so long that most people thought she was dead.

She struggled with chronic illness herself, an inspiration to all who strive to overcome disabilities.


It is a myth that Florence Nightingale was the first Englishwoman to be called "Florence". The name had been in use occasionally since Tudor times, but it is true that thousands of Victorian girls were named Florence in her honor.

Religious Beliefs

Florence Nightingale was a devout Christian and believed that her vocation to be a nurse was a calling from God. As a girl of sixteen, she had a vivid religious experience, when she thought she heard the voice of God calling her to His service. She noted this down in her diary, and waited patiently for God to reveal to her what his purpose was. When she later read of the terrible suffering of men wounded in the Crimean war, she was certain that this was the vocation she was intended for.

Career and Achievements

Born to wealthy Unitarian parents, William Edward and Frances Nightingale, Florence received an extensive education at home and never went to school. She studied mathematics, languages, history, geography and philosophy, and was very well-read. As a girl, she travelled extensively around Europe with her family, viewing sites of historic and artistic interest. Coming from this privileged background, she had no economic need to work and defied convention in choosing nursing, which was in the mid-nineteenth century an untrained and despised occupation. Nurses were regarded as ignorant, dirty, menials who were no better than servants, and were even associated with loose morals. Florence set out to change all that.

Because there were no colleges of nursing, Nightingale got what training she could at a religious institution, the Institution of Protestant Deaconesses at Kaiserswerth in Germany, which had been set up in 1833 as a charitable institution for the destitute. She spent two weeks there in July 1850 and returned for three months in July 1851. There she learned basic nursing skills, including the importance of patient observation, and the value of good hospital organization.

On her return to England in 1853, Nightingale became the superintendent of the Institution for Sick Gentlewomen (governesses) in Distressed Circumstances, in London, where she began to establish her principles of cleanliness, methodical care and discipline. In October of that year, England became involved in the Crimean War. The Times newspaper reported that care of the sick and wounded soldiers in field hospitals was gravely inadequate and that the most basic supplies were not available for care. The British public raised an outcry, and Nightingale responded by writing to her friend, Elizabeth Herbert, wife of Sidney Herbert, Secretary of State for War, offering to lead a band of nurses to the military hospital at Scutari (Üsküdar) in Turkey. At the same time, Herbert wrote to her asking her to do so. Their letters crossed in the post, reinforcing Nightingale's conviction that the hand of God was at work.

With official permission, Nightingale led a group of 38 women, eighteen of them being nuns. They left England on 21 October, 1854, and arrived in Scutari at the Barrack Hospital on 5 November 5. The attitude of military command was hostile, as they did not believe that women should interfere in any military operation. She found filthy conditions, inadequate supplies, unco-operative staff, and terrible overcrowding. Cholera was rife and more soldiers died in these hospitals than on the battlefield. The army surgeons thought it was indecent for women to go into the wards. Five days after Nightingale’s arrival in Scutari, injured soldiers from the Battle of Balaklava and the Battle of Inkerman arrived and overwhelmed the facility. Nightingale wrote that it was the “Kingdom of Hell.”

Nightingale bought equipment with funds provided by the London Times and enlisted soldiers’ wives to assist with the laundry. The wards were cleaned and basic care such as bathing, clean clothing and clean dressings for wounds, with adequate food, was provided for the first time. Nightingale herself did tours on inspection of the wards, raising the morale of patients; this earned her the title of “Lady with the Lamp.” The result of her new regime was that the mortality rate in the hospitals fell to a fraction of what it had been. This gained her the respect of the military and medical establishment, and soon won her personal fame. More volunteer nurses followed.[1]

Understanding of infection and microbiology was only slowly advancing in the mid-nineteenth century, and Nightingale's insistence on cleanliness, before the scientific understanding of sterilization, produced results that appeared to be miraculous.

Nightingale made repeated excursions to Crimea; on one of these in May 1855, she herself fell ill with “Crimean fever”— probably brucellosis, contracted from drinking contaminated milk. No treatment was known, and she recovered slowly. The debilitating effects of the illness were to last for 25 years, frequently confining her to bed because of severe chronic pain.

In 1856, when the Crimean War ended, Nightingale returned to England and was invited to meet Queen Victoria and her husband Prince Albert, Prince Consort. A Royal Commission on military medical and purveyance was set up using statistical data and analysis for the first time, modelled on Nightingale's methods.

In 1855, the Nightingale Fund was established and by 1859 through private donations, £45,000 was raised and put at Nightingale’s disposal. She used it to set up the Nightingale School of Nursing at St. Thomas’ Hospital in London. The school, which opened in 1860, formalized secular nursing education, making nursing a respected career for women for the first time. The model was followed worldwide and Nightingale's monograph Notes on Nursing: What It Is and What It Is Not, was published and studied widely. Under her auspices, the first school for the education of midwives was established at King’s College Hospital in 1862. She also pioneered training of district nurses, improving the health of the poor and those who could not go into hospital.[2]

Personal Life and Sexuality

Nightingale was a celibate, who never married or had love affairs. She believed that this was the state in which she could best serve God. Modern LGBT activists have tried to suggest that she was a lesbian, but it is vigorously rebutted by her most recent and most authoritative, biographer, Mark Bostridge. When asked whether she was a lesbian, he replied firmly, "There's no evidence for that!" [3]


On her death in 1910, at Nightingale’s prior request, her family declined the offer of a state funeral and burial in Westminster Abbey in London, the traditional resting-place for national heroes. Instead, she was honored with a memorial service at St. Paul’s Cathedral, London and was buried according to her own wishes in the family plot in St. Margaret’s Church, East Wellow, Hampshire.[4]

Saint or Feminist?

Nightingale's career has something of the elements of sainthood, and also strong claims to being feminist.

Her work was inspired by a strong sense of religious vocation. She trained at religious institutions, took nuns with her to start her work, and lived her life on a model of celibate dedication that has a strong resemblance to that of Christian saints. Longfellow wrote a poem about her addressing her as Santa Filomena (Saint Philomel, the Greek mythological name of the nightingale). Her avoidance of celebrity was saint-like, and this saint-like role was acknowledged by the award of the title of Lady of Grace of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem. Nightingale's career can be compared to the life of Mother Theresa of Calcutta who has been canonized by the Roman Catholic Church.

On the other hand, by making nursing into a respected and paid profession, enabling women to earn their own living and become independent, Nightingale also raised the social standing of women and widened the choices available to them in society. Becoming a trained nurse has been since her time a popular and valued job whereby a woman gains skills, exercises responsibility and asserts her right to work outside the domestic sphere. Nightingale's approach to nursing was strictly scientific, free from any sentimentality. Through her improvements in the training and practice of midwifery, successive generations of women giving birth around the world have undoubtedly benefited.

Nightingale in later life refused to join in the campaign for women to get the vote, disappointing female suffrage supporters. Her career and principles have little or nothing in common with later 20th-century feminist campaigns, but nevertheless she ought to be considered a significant pioneer of women's rights in the context of her own time and generation, and some would say that her achievements were greater than those of later generations of feminist. [5] [6]


  1. http://www.victorianweb.org/history/crimea/florrie.html
  2. Florence Nightingale: The Woman and her Legend by Mark Bostridge. pub. Viking 2008.
  3. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/profiles/florence-nightingale-a-new-biography-sheds-light-on-the-lady-with-the-lamp-942339.html
  4. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Florence-Nightingale
  5. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Florence-Nightingale
  6. http://www.victorianweb.org/history/crimea/florrie.html