Florence Nightingale

Florence Nightingale. Coloured lithograph. Wellcome V0006579

Florence Nightingale Facts

Born: May 12, 1820 Florence

Died: August 13, 1910 United Kingdom

Nickname: The Lady With The Lamp

Accomplishments: Pioneer of Professional Nursing

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Florence Nightingale Summary

Florence Nightingale was a guiding force in the field of nursing. She was born May 12, 1820, to William “WEN” and Frances “Fanny” Nightingale in Florence, Italy. Her parents named her after the city she was born in; just over two years earlier they had named her sister—Frances Parthenope “Parthe”—after Parthenopolis, a Greek settlement now part of Naples, Italy. William Nightingale was the son of a Sheffield, England, banker and had changed his surname to Nightingale from Shore in order to inherit the estate of a great uncle, a mining magnate in Lea, Derbyshire, England. In 1817, William married Frances “Fanny” Smith, the daughter of William Smith, an abolitionist Whig member of Parliament. They embarked on an extended tour of the Mediterranean for their honeymoon, returning to England in 1821 with their two daughters.

Florence Nightingale’s Early Life

The Nightingales lived at Lea Hall from 1821 to 1825, until their new home, Lea Hurst was completed. However, Fanny deemed Lea Hurst inadequate almost immediately, with “only 15 bedrooms” and located too far from London. It became their summer home. William purchased Embley Park, a large estate in Hampshire, which became their permanent residence.

It was at Embley Park in February 1837 that Florence received a calling from God; she wrote “God has spoke to me and called me to His service.” Though she did not know what that service would be, she knew that the society life her parents and sister enjoyed so much was not going to be enough for her. She had begun a courtship with Richard Monckton Milnes, a childhood friend, and began spending time visiting the poor and sick. She asked to stay on at Lea Hurst after the rest of the family returned to Embley in 1843, but Fanny would not allow it. In the fall of 1845, the village of Wellow was hit with an influenza epidemic, and Florence nursed several people on their deathbed.

Florence knew what her calling was by this time, but the rest of her family, her mother in particular, thought she had chosen an occupation at odds with her position in society. At the time, nurses were stereotyped as coming from the lower classes with social standing little better than prostitutes, but Florence was determined to change that. In 1849, after a long courtship, she finally refused marriage to Milnes, who went on to marry Annabella Hungerford Crewe. He and his wife continued to be staunch supporters and friends of Florence.

Florence Nightingale: The Nurse

After Florence nursed her great-aunt Elizabeth Evans through her final illness, Fanny considered turning her aunt’s home, Cromford Bridge House, into a nursing home in an attempt to placate Florence, but this was not enough. Florence began studying nursing in earnest, reading everything that had been written about the vocation, volunteering at hospitals, and visiting a nursing institution in Germany for training several times. She began to notice that many of the popular treatments available—blood letting, administering infusions of arsenic, mercury, and opiates—were actually killing more patients than they saved. She believed and began proving she could save more patients from death by caring for their basic needs—keeping them warm, clean, rested, and well-fed.

In 1853, in the face of continued opposition and strong objections from her family, Florence was appointed Superintendent of Nurses at the Institution for the Care of Sick Gentlewomen in Distressed Circumstances in London. She agreed to take the position only on the condition that the institution begin accepting patients of all religions, not just members of the Church of England. At the facility, Florence was able to demonstrate her administrative and nursing skills, cutting the cost of patient care while improving the standard of care. She did not receive pay for this position and was responsible for her own expenses.

Florence Nightingale In The Crimean War

In March 1854, the Crimean War began when Britain and France declared war on Russia after the latter invaded autonomous areas of the Turkish Ottoman Empire. Much of the fighting occurred in the Crimea, on the Black Sea. The British wounded were transported 300 miles across the sea to Scutari (now Üsküdar), just outside of what is now Istanbul, Turkey. Florence had already planned to travel to the Crimea when, in October, the Secretary of War, Sir Sidney Herbert, asked her to gather a group of nurses to nurse the wounded at the military hospital in Scutari. On November 4, 1854, she arrived with 37 other nurses at the Barracks Hospital, a huge, quadrangular building with sides nearly a quarter mile long. Approximately 18,000 wounded and dying men lay in rooms and lined the corridors. The conditions in the hospital were deplorable: there were miles of corridors stuffed with wounded and dying men; bandages were rags that were clotted with blood; food consisted of watery soup; and sanitary conditions were such that cholera and lice were rampant.

During the next 21 months, Florence worked to improve conditions in the hospital. She and her nurses bathed the soldiers, washed their linens, and fed them more substantial food. She eventually established a separate kitchen with her own money to prepare easily digested food for patients. She secured a source of clean drinking water and improved overall sanitary conditions. She set up a system for receiving patients, the basis of modern triage. The mortality rate declined 2% because of her efforts. She personally attended to countless men, many on their deathbeds. She made so many endless rounds, carrying a lamp with her in the late hours of the night, that she became known as the “Lady with the Lamp,” a nickname that was published in an account of her work in The London Times.

Support for Florence’s efforts to improve conditions for the war wounded spilled over into her efforts to establish nursing as a vocation for women. On November 29, 1855, a public meeting was held in London to formally recognize her efforts, resulting in the creation of the Nightingale Fund—the only recognition Florence would accept. She used this fund after the war to help establish the Nightingale Training School at St. Thomas’s Hospital in London in 1860, the first official nursing school in England.

Florence traveled to Balaclava in May 1855 to visit hospitals in and around the city. She became ill with “Crimean fever”—probably brucellosis, a bacterial infection that became chronic. She was acutely ill for 12 days, and although she recovered enough to return to Scutari and her duties there, she periodically became chronically ill at least through the 1870s.

The Crimean War ended in February 1856 and in March, Florence returned to Balaclava, staying there until the hospitals closed. She returned privately to England, arriving at Lea Hurst in August. In September, she met with Queen Victoria and Prince Albert at Balmoral to discuss improvements that should be made to the military hospital system.

From 1857 onward, Florence was periodically bedridden as the result of Crimean fever; however, she continued to work—writing, advising, and mentoring. In 1857, she issued a confidential report on the army medical department during the Crimean War. The next year, she published Notes on Matters affecting the Health, Efficiency and Hospital Administration of the British Army. In both works, she used statistics to prove her point and was a pioneer in the graphical representation of statistics—the polar area diagram was also known as the Nightingale rose diagram.

A Pioneer In Nursing

Her reports and testimony before a commission on the sanitary conditions of the army led to numerous improvements and the opening of an army medical college in 1861, a year after the Nightingale Training School was established. Florence also advised the army on sanitary conditions in India during and after the India Mutiny of 1857, which led to the establishment of a Sanitary Department within the Indian government. In 1859, Florence published Notes on Nursing. She intended the book to help in the practice of nursing, not to be a comprehensive guide—it continues to be used as an introduction to nursing today.

During the American Civil War (1861–1865) and the Franco-Prussian War (1870–1871), Florence was asked for advice by various countries and independently by doctors and nurses. In the 1870s, she mentored Linda Richards, the first professionally trained American nurse, who established nurse training programs in the U.S. and Japan.

Florence helped establish numerous nursing organizations throughout the remainder of her life and received numerous awards for her work, including the German order of the Cross of Merit and the French gold medal of Secours aux Blessés Militaires. Queen Victoria awarded her the Royal Red Cross in 1883. She was appointed a Lady of Grace of the Order of St John in 1904 and became the first woman to be awarded the Order of Merit in 1907. She was given the Honorary Freedom of the City of London in 1908. On May 10, 1910 she was presented with the badge of honor of the Norwegian Red Cross Society. On August 13 of that same year, Florence died peacefully at her home in London. An offer was extended for burial at Westminster Abbey but her family refused, burying her in the graveyard at St. Margaret Church in East Wellow, Hampshire, close to Embley Park.