Florence Nightingale was born in 1820 to William Edward and Frances Nightingale. The Nightingales being a wealthy couple, were able to have a two-year honeymoon. It was during this time that Parthenope and Florence were born, each in the town they were named after. The Nightingales lived at Lea Hurst in Derbyshire during the summer and Embley in Hampshire during the winter. Lea Hurst is now used as a retirement home and Embley is now used as a school. The Nightingales could not find a teacher who could both teach the children intellectual ideas and social skills. Since Mr. Nightingale had graduated from Cambridge University, he taught the girls languages, history, philosophy, grammar, and compositions. They hired a tutor only for music and art. Florence rose to the challenge of her father and excelled in her studies. By the age of ten, Florence was sent to stay with members of her extended family. During this time, she became involved in the lives of her extended family and developed a passion for writing letters. She seemed to get upset with members of her family when they did not respond to her lengthy letters with even a few lines.
Although Miss Nightingale was accepted socially, she preferred to speak in intellectual circles. In 1837, in the gardens at Embley, she had a ‘calling’. “She wrote that God had spoken to her and called her to His service, although what that was to be was unclear.”(1) She wanted her parents to let her take lessons in mathematics, but they felt that it would interfere with her studies around the house. She was finally able to convince them that the lessons would not interfere because she would wake up early to do them. Her uncle allowed her to use his library for the lessons. So, for two months, she worked twice a week with a tutor on mathematics. In 1851, Florence Nightingale took three months of nursing training. This training allowed for her to serve as Superintendent of the Establishment for Gentlewomen during illness in London from 1853-1854. This unpaid position gave Miss Nightingale the experience she needed to advance in her nursing career. Late in 1854, Nightingale and thirty-eight other nurses were recruited to go to Turkey to work in military hospitals. At first the doctors were not in favor of the new help, however after just a few weeks, a new group of sick servicemen arrived. Once the hospital was busy, the women were appreciated for all they could do to help out in the hospital. The hospital was dirty and in disrepair. Florence Nightingale thought that more sanitary conditions would help to improve the prognosis of the patients. She started by trying to clean all of the bedding and the floors. At times, she purchased supplies with her own money. During this time of service, Miss Nightingale began collecting data from the hospital. She created various charts and graphs to document the progress she was seeing. “Part of her interest in statistics was related to her Unitarian faith. Unitarians believed that mankind has the power to continuously improve itself by observation and the use of reason.” (2) Once the Crimean War was over in 1856, Nightingale made statistical illustrations to show how improvements in building sanitation could help to keep people alive. These ideas can be found in five different documents. The documents are Appendix 72 of the report of the Royal Commission, Mortality of the British Army, A Contribution to the Sanitary History of the British Army, Notes on Matters Affecting the Health of the British Army, and England and Her Soldiers. The second document is a revisiting of the first document. Nightingale simply made the layout better and it was published in 1858, the same year as the first document. The third document, was published as a response to a pamphlet that said she had exaggerated her data. The fourth document was created and sent directly to the government. The fifth document was by Harriet Martineau, but the graphics were given to Martineau by Nightingale for the document. The graphics used in the first two documents were a lot like some seen before that had been created by her advisor William Farr. They are called “100% area” or “100% stacked bar”.(2) A honeycomb graphic is also included to show how the soldiers are crammed into small areas at camp. The honeycomb was revised and then used wedges so it would be easier to read. A simple double bar graph was also used by Nightingale to show the mortality rates of soldiers even in peace time. She said that the mortality rate of soldiers living in barracks during peacetime was still greater than the mortality rates of civilians in neighboring cities. She used the bar graph to show the comparisons. “The red bar for the soldiers would certainly make some people think of the “Thin Red Line” which had become famous in the Crimean War when a two-deep row of red-jacketed British infantrymen stopped a Russian heavy calvary charge, something that was thought to be impossible. The thin red lines on Nightingale’s chart represented these same heroic soldiers who were now dying unnecessarily because of bad hygiene in their barracks.” (2) The bar graph was probably one of the most important of Nightingale’s graphics because it described an ongoing situation. Another important diagram created by Nightingale is the Polar-Area Diagram. This was made of two circles cut into wedges. The diagram was used to diagram the causes of mortality. Blue, red and black areas were used to show the different causes of death and to show relationships between them. Nightingale believed that with better sanitation, less deaths would occur. She used the diagram to help keep track of the deaths to see if her ideas about sanitation and cleanliness were right. The hospital’s mortality rate started out at 42.7% and when Nightingale’s ideas were implemented, the rate dropped. Her statistics showed an organized way to learn and this led to improvements. She also made forms that could be used to collect the data. In 1858, Nightingale became a Fellow of the Royal Statistical Society and an honorary member of the American Statistical Association in 1874. Her most known work, Notes on Nursing, was published in 1860. It gave many details on the principles of nursing. This document is still in print today.
Florence Nightingale became bedridden for many years due to health issues. During this time, she continued to write letters to numerous people. She also published books and created reports and pamphlets from her bed. She received the Royal Red Cross in 1883 from Queen Victoria for her hard work. In 1907, she received the Order of Merit and was the first woman to get this honor. She died at the age of ninety on August 13, 1910 at her home. She was buried at St. Margaret’s, East Willow, near Embley Park in Hampshire. Although it is nearing the 100th Anniversary of Nightingale’s death, her works continue to shape nursing today.
1. Ever Yours, Florence Nightingale, Edited by Martha Vicinus &Bea Nergaard, 1990
2. Http://www.florence-nightingale.co.uk The Florence Nightingale Museum
3. Florence Nightingale, Cecil Woodham-Smith, 1951
by: Tabitha Tutterrow