Florence Nightingale was born into an affluent family. Her work laid the foundation of reformation in hospitals around the world. She was known as the ‘Lady of the Lamp’ for her sacrificial work among the soldiers in the Crimean War. Nightingale was an English social reformer, statistician, and the founding philosopher of all training for nurses. The limitations of society did not define who she was. She was one of the woman pioneers who changed the world.
Florence Nightingale excelled in mathematics and language at an early age. Nightingale could read and write French, German, Italian, Greek and Latin. She read the great philosophers. However, Nightingale preferred to engage in serious political and social discussion with her father, who home schooled her. Learning the feminine skills of managing a home was not for her.
At 16-years-old she felt the call of God to reduce human suffering. Her family said a woman of her standing could not take up training to be a nurse.
Richard Monckton Milnes, a politician and poet was Nightingale’s most persistent suiter. She broke his heart, rejecting him after a nine-year courtship. She was convinced marriage would interfere with her calling to be a nurse.
Florence trained for three months in Germany. She was 31-years old. Nightingale became superintendent of the Institution for Sick Gentlewomen (governesses) in Distressed Circumstances in London. She gained the position through her social connections.
A journalist reported that nursing conditions were deplorable for wounded soldiers in the Crimean War. The British public raised an outcry. Nightingale led an officially sanctioned group of 38 women to the Barrack Hospital, in Scutari, Albania.
The medical officers made it clear that the women were not welcome. On arrival, they found conditions were worse than they had expected. Nightingale described it as “The kingdom from hell”. The wards were filthy, the supplies inadequate, the staff were uncooperative, and overcrowding was severe.
Florence Nightingale organized supplies and equipment. She established standards of care. Vital to the patients’ well-being were things like bathing, clean clothing and dressings, and adequate food. Their psychological needs were met through recreational and educational activities. The mortality rate dropped.
Nightingale set standards for compassionate and evidence-based care. She addressed the needs and preferences of the patients. Nightingale demanded they should be treated with dignity and respect.
Florence Nightingale said, “Apprehension, uncertainty, waiting, expectation and fear of surprise, do a patient more harm than any exertion. Remember, he is face-to-face with his enemy all the time.”
The Lady Of The Lamp
Nightingale barely slept as she wandered the wards at night. She earned the title of Florence Nightingale, the Lady with the Lamp. Nightingale gained the respect of both the soldiers and the medical establishment.
Florence Nightingale contracted brucellosis, or Mediterranean fever. Her recovery was protracted, the lingering effects lasting for the next 25 years. There was no active treatment available. She was frequently confined her to bed with chronic pain.
Florence Nightingale returned home in 1858. She was suffering from the effects of the illness and exhaustion. That didn’t hold her back from her life’s mission, the reduction of human suffering.
The Nightingale Fund helped her formalize and establish the scientifically based Nightingale School of Nursing at St. Thomas’ Hospital in London. She developed a revolutionary visual presentation of information as a pie chart.
Nightingale made nursing a respectable occupation for women who desired a life outside the home. She set up midwife and nurse training in workhouse infirmaries.
Nightingale believed the home was the most important location for caring for the sick. She established training for district nurses. It was aimed at improving the health of the poor and vulnerable.
Nightingale provided statistical data that was the basis of major reform in India’s health care system.
Florence Nightingale Prolific Writer
Florence Nightingale wrote over 150 books, pamphlets and reports on health-related issues. Some of her writing is still in use today.
She was the first woman to receive Britain’s highest civilian decoration, the Order of Merit, in 1907. She also received the Red Cross Medal and the title of Lady of Grace of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem.
Florence Nightingale lived to 90-years-of-age, though she was blind for the last nine years. She is well known for her work in Crimean, but her greatest achievements were the reform of military medical systems and social reform in health care and nursing. Nightingale was did not accept women’s limitations.
Other Outstanding Women
There were other noble women at the time of Florence Nightingale. Mary Seacole OM was a British-Jamaican nurse and businesswoman. She set up the ‘British Hotel’ behind the lines during the Crimean War. The hotel was comfortable accommodation for sick and convalescent officers.
Mary Seacole received the British Order of Merit. In 2004, a survey conducted by the black heritage website Every Generation voted Seacole the Greatest Black Briton.
Women have a unique voice in their sphere of influence. They are the glue that binds society together.
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