Who Was Florence Nightingale?

Introduction - Florence Nightingale

Florence nightingale is best know for being referred to as the "Lady with the lamp" who nursed the sick and wounded soldiers during the Crimean War. Florence Nightingales forward thinking, and ideas around healthcare, have influenced the nature of modern health care and nursing. 

One of Florence Nightingales greatest achievements was transforming nursing into a respectable profession for women. In the 1860's, she founded the first professional training school for nurses, the Nightingale Training School at St Thomas' Hospital. 


Florence Nightingales Early Years.

As a child, she was very academic and particularly interested in mathematics. Her religion gave her a strong sense of moral duty to help the poor and, over time, she held a growing belief that nursing was her God-given vocation. She was also perhaps set to follow the family tradition of reform mindedness, such as the example set by her maternal grandfather who was an anti-slavery campaigner.

Paid nursing suffered a reputation as a job for poor, often elderly women, and the popular image was one of drunkenness, bad language and a casual attitude to patients. Despite parental concern, she persisted in her ambition, reading anything she could about health and hospitals. Eventually she persuaded them to allow her to take three months’ nursing training at an inspirational hospital and school in Dusseldorf. Aged 33, she then became superintendent of a hospital for ‘gentlewomen’ in Harley Street, London.


The Crimean War 

In March 1854, reports came in about the dreadful conditions and lack of medical supplies suffered by soldiers fighting the Crimean War. The Minister of War invited Florence to oversee the introduction of female nurses into the military hospitals in Turkey. With a party of 38 nurses, Florence arrived in Scutari and started organising the hospitals to improve supplies of food, blankets and beds, as well as cleanliness and general running of the hospitals. The comforting sight of her checking all was well at night earned her the name ‘Lady of the Lamp’


Reforming Nursing

The introduction of female nurses to the military hospitals was deemed an outstanding success, Florence returned to Britain a heroine, and donations poured in to the Nightingale Fund. The money collected enabled Florence to continue her reform of nursing in the civil hospitals of Britain after the war. Determined that the medical mistakes of the two-year long war were never repeated, she vividly communicated the needs for medical reform using statistical charts which showed that more men had died from disease than from their wounds. She then instigated a Royal Commission into the health of the army which led to a large number of improvements and saved the lives of many.

The Nightingale Training School was established in 1860 using donations from the Nightingale Fund. Its reputation soon spread and Nightingale nurses were requested to start new schools all over the world, including Australia, America and Africa.

Despite often being confined to her sick bed, by what we now believe was a bacterial infection known as brucellosis, Florence continued as a driving force behind the scenes, writing some 13000 letters as part of her campaigns. She met Queen Victoria on many occasions and exchanged correspondence for over thirty years. Florence was awarded the Royal Red Cross in 1883. Then in 1907 she was the first woman to receive the Order of Merit, Britain’s highest civilian decoration.

Florence died aged 90, on 13th August 1910, and was buried alongside the graves of other family members in East Wellow, Hampshire.