Florence Nightingale, more commonly known as The Lady with the Lamp, is a heroine of hospital hygiene. She worked during the Crimean War raising many soldiers from their death beds.
Florence was born on the 12th of May 1820 in Italy during the reign of Queen Victoria. She was named after an Italian town. Her father, William Nightingale, was a rich banker so rich that he could afford to spend his days reading in the library. Florence’s sister, who was two years older than her, was named Parthenope, the Italian city Naples in Greek. Her mother- Fanny – loved holding parties for rich family members and friends. They owned two houses which both had over 15 bedrooms! The two houses were constantly filled with people, especially uncles, aunts, cousins, cooks, maids, under maids, footmen, gardeners, the butler and a house keeper too!
Florence loved lessons, unlike her sister who hated them and spent her whole time thinking about where and how the sisters would meet their future husbands. Every day they studied Greek, Latin, French, history, mathematics and philosophy with their father. Florence’s favourite subjects were history and maths whereas Parthenope preferred painting. Florence grew up to be pretty, clever and extremely neat.
Fanny often took Parthenope and Florence down to the poor village. Whilst Fanny and Parthenope enjoyed the admiring glances, Florence felt guilty. The people they visited lived in dark, damp and un-hygienic rooms; they were often sick and always hungry. Florence’s mother would give out fruit, clothes and sometimes even money. Then they would return home; Parthenope and Fanny already thinking of other things such as dinner parties and balls whereas Florence’s mind would still be in the dank, dark cottages of the poor.
Florence, who thought nothing of marrying, spent most of her time reading meanwhile her mother and sister sat in their various different rooms waiting for suitable men to visit.
Florence was determined to do something worthwhile with her life and to her mother’s frustration, she started to spend more time in the poor village. She risked catching terrible illnesses, sitting patiently by their sides, holding their hands. Florence bought them food and even little gifts.
Then, at the age of 17, she heard a voice inside her head which she believed to be the voice of God. It said:
“You must use your life to do good in the world.”
And she thought that she must do what the voice said, whatever it took.
Florence was taken around Europe by her family only staying in the best hotels; they attended many grand balls and parties.
Florence became more and more beautiful, receiving admiring glance from everyone. As Fanny saw Florence dancing with people, she wondered if Florence would start to settle down. She was wrong. Florence couldn’t help noticing the despair on the streets below. She had been taking notes on what she saw; her diaries were soon crammed with descriptions of the poors’ life.
When the Nightingales returned home, Fanny was ready to put her daughters into London society. Parthenope was glad to attend all of these balls however Florence refused. She kept hearing the voice of God in her head, urging her to do good in her life.
Fanny was furious, but Florence found an unexpected ally in her Aunt Mai. Not only did Mai invite her to stay, she woke up at dawn and helped her to study all her subjects. When Florence went home, Mai told Fanny that Florence should have advanced maths lessons, however at this Fanny ordered that Florence never went back.
Her only moments of calm were when she visited the poor and it was on one of those visits that she realised what she would do with her life. She would become a nurse.
Florence’s dream job seemed impossible to get. Fanny still hadn’t given up and she bought in suitors who all got turned away no matter how nice they were.
Florence bought piles upon piles of books on medicine, sanitation and hospitals; she made endless notes on medication. Soon, she was an expert. She began to write letters to papers and politicians, by doing so she found that there was many other people around Europe who wanted to make big changes in hospitals. Before long, she had made many new friends who all thought as she did.
However this made no difference to her family life. Fanny still pushed her to marry and go to all of the balls and parties that she held. Finally, Florence had a breakdown. Her friends took her away to Rome to recover.
Whilst she was in Rome, Florence met Sidney Herbert, a politician, and his wife Elizabeth. They became firm friends and they backed Florence’s ambition to become a nurse.
Florence’s stay in Rome lifted her spirits greatly. However, returning to her sister and mother dampened them once again. Once more, her friends took her away, this time to Egypt. On their way back they stopped in Greece. During her stay there, Florence found an abandoned baby owl. Florence loved animals; she named the owl Athena. She made a small nest in her pocket and brought Athena back to England. Not even the owl was enough to raise her spirits. She went away again, this time to Kaiserwerth to visit the women run German hospital.
When she retuned, Parthenope had become ill and Fanny ordered Florence to look after her; she did. Florence begged her parents to let her go back to Kaiserwerth, and eventually they agreed. On her return to England, Florence asked her father to support her; he did.
Florence was 33 years old when her first chance came. Elizabeth Herbert recommended her for the position of Superintendent at a hospital in London. Florence accepted the position and her father, William, even gave her an allowance.
Florence made the hospital more hygienic. On hearing that almost everyone being cared for at the hospital came out healed, more patients came. Soon after, Florence received a message from her friend Sidney Herbert saying that he had arranged for her to go out to Turkey to heal the wounded soldiers from the Crimean War. Florence was overjoyed. Surprisingly, even Parthenope and Fanny approved. If she had to nurse, she should do it for her country.
First of all Florence needed to find a team of women to take with her. She decided to train her chosen group herself and when their training was complete they set off for Turkey. On arrival, they got to work straight away. They scrubbed the hospital to make it clean, then they put in new sheets and beds. Finally, the hospital was ready so it was time to focus on the patients. They brought in a French chef who took over the kitchen. Florence rarely slept; working through the night she would only snatch short naps when she had time. In the night she walked through the wards carrying her lamp; the soldiers found great comfort in this sight and gave her the name, “The Lady with the Lamp”. With the hospital running well, and more soldiers being healed than ever before, Florence turned her attention to other nearby hospitals. Unfortunately, whilst Florence was visiting Balaclava she collapsed with a fever. For two weeks, she lay at Death’s doorstep, tossing and turning in her bed, both drenched in her own sweat and shivering at the same time. Determined to carry on, she returned to the hospital in Turkey.
Later Life and Death
On returning to England, Florence found that she was famous. Fanny and Parthenope were finally proud of her. She was awarded the Royal Red Cross by Queen Victoria and was the first woman to receive the Order of Merit. For most of the last years of her life she was bedridden by illness, but she continued to write letters and campaign for better healthcare. Her supporters gave donations that allowed her to found a training school for nurses – The Nightingale Training School. She died peacefully in her sleep on 13th August, 1910, aged 90.
That is the story of Florence Nightingale and how she influenced the future of healthcare. So now we say goodbye to the Lady with the Lamp.