Florence Nightingale, the pioneer of modern nursing, spent her night rounds giving personal care to the wounded, establishing her image as the 'Lady with the Lamp.'
Florence Nightingale was born in Florence, Italy, on May 12, 1820. During the Crimean War, she and a team of nurses improved the unsanitary conditions at a British base hospital, reducing the death count by two-thirds. Her writings sparked worldwide health care reform. In 1860 she established St. Thomas' Hospital and the Nightingale Training School for Nurses. She died August 13, 1910, in London.
Florence Nightingale was born on May 12, 1820, in Florence, Italy. She was the younger of two children. Nightingale's affluent British family belonged to elite social circles. Her mother, Frances Nightingale, hailed from a family of merchants and took pride in socializing with people of prominent social standing. Florence's father was William Shore Nightingale, a wealthy landowner who had inherited two estates—one at Lea Hurst, Derbyshire, and the other in Hampshire, Embley Park—when Florence was 5 years old. Florence was raised on the family estate at Lea Hurst, where her father provided her with a classical education, including studies in German, French and Italian.
From a very young age, Florence Nightingale was active in philanthropy, ministering to the ill and poor people in the village neighboring her family’s estate. By the time she was 16 years old, it was clear to her that nursing was her calling. She believed it to be her divine purpose.
When Nightingale approached her parents and told them about her ambitions to become a nurse, they were not pleased. In fact, her parents forbade her to pursue nursing. During the Victorian Era, a young lady of Nightingale's social stature was expected to marry a man of means—not take up a job that was viewed as lowly menial labor by the upper social classes. Determined to pursue her true calling despite her parents' objections, in 1844, Nightingale enrolled as a nursing student at the Lutheran Hospital of Pastor Fliedner in Kaiserswerth, Germany.
In the early 1850s, Nightingale returned to London. In October of 1853, the Crimean War broke out. At the time, there were no female nurses stationed at hospitals in the Crimea. England was in an uproar about the neglect of their ill and injured soldiers, who not only lacked sufficient medical attention due to hospitals being horribly understaffed, but also languished in appallingly unsanitary and inhumane conditions.
In late 1854, Nightingale received a letter from Secretary of War Sidney Herbert, asking her to organize a corps of nurses to tend to the sick and fallen soldiers in the Crimea. Nightingale rose to her calling. She quickly assembled a team of 34 nurses from a variety of religious orders, and sailed with them to the Crimea just a few days later.
The hospital sat on top of a large cesspool, which contaminated the water and the hospital building itself. Patients lay on in their own excrement on stretchers strewn throughout the hallways. Rodents and bugs scurried past them. More soldiers were dying from infectious diseases like typhoid and cholera than from injuries incurred in battle.
The no-nonsense Nightingale quickly set to work. She procured hundreds of scrub brushes and asked the least infirm patients to scrub the inside of the hospital from floor to ceiling. Nightingale herself spent every waking minute caring for the soldiers. In the evenings she moved through the dark hallways carrying a lamp while making her rounds, ministering to patient after patient. The soldiers, who were both moved and comforted by her endless supply of compassion, took to calling her "the Lady with the Lamp." Others simply called her "the Angel of the Crimea." Her work reduced the hospital’s death rate by two-thirds.
In additional to vastly improving the sanitary conditions of the hospital, Nightingale created a number of patient services that contributed to improving the quality of their hospital stay. She instituted the creation of an "invalid's kitchen" where appealing food for patients with special dietary requirements was cooked. She established a laundry so that patients would have clean linens. She also instituted a classroom and a library, for patients' intellectual stimulation and entertainment.
Nightingale Training School for Nurses (St. Thomas’ Hospital in London)
The London News (June 24, 1871)
In 1860, she funded the establishment of St. Thomas' Hospital, and within it, the Nightingale Training School for Nurses.
Nightingale became a figure of public admiration. Poems, songs and plays were written and dedicated in the heroine's honor. Young women aspired to be like her. Eager to follow her example, even women from the wealthy upper classes started enrolling at the training school. Thanks to Nightingale, nursing was no longer frowned upon by the upper classes; it had, in fact, come to be viewed as an honorable vocation.
Nightingale remained at Scutari for a year and a half. She left in the summer of 1856, once the Crimean conflict was resolved, and returned to her childhood home at Lea Hurst. To her surprise she was met with a hero's welcome, which the humble nurse did her best to avoid. The Queen rewarded Nightingale's work by presenting her with an engraved brooch that came to be known as the "Nightingale Jewel" and by granting her a prize of $250,000 from the British government. Nightingale decided to use the money to further her cause. In 1860, she funded the establishment of St. Thomas' Hospital, and within it, the Nightingale Training School for Nurses.
Throughout the U.S. Civil War, she was frequently consulted about how to best manage field hospitals. In 1908, at the age of 88, she was conferred the merit of honor by King Edward. In May of 1910, she received a congratulatory message from King George on her 90th birthday.
Death and Legacy
On the evening of Friday, August 12, 1910, she developed an array of troubling symptoms. She died unexpectedly at 2 pm the following day, Saturday, August 13, at her home in London.
Characteristically, she had expressed the desire that her funeral be a quiet and modest affair, despite the public's desire to honor Nightingale—who tirelessly devoted her life to preventing disease and ensuring safe and compassionate treatment for the poor and the suffering. Respecting her last wishes, her relatives turned down a national funeral. The "Lady with the Lamp" was laid to rest in her family's plot at St. Margaret's Church, East Wellow, in Hampshire, England.
The Florence Nightingale Museum, which sits at the site of the original Nightingale Training School for Nurses, houses more than 2,000 artifacts commemorating the life and career of the "Angel of the Crimea." To this day, Florence Nightingale is broadly acknowledged and revered as the pioneer of modern nursing.