Nightingale, Florence 1820 - 1910

English; British

(1820-1910), reformer of hospital nursing

Florence Nightingale, born on the 12th May 1820 at Villa Columbaia, Florence, where her parents were on a European tour, is famous for being the ‘Lady with the Lamp’. 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.

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.

In March 1854, reports flooded in about the dreadful conditions and lack of medical supplies suffered by injured soldiers fighting the Crimean War. The Minister of War, a social acquaintance, 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 that November and set about organising the hospitals to improve supplies of food, blankets and beds, as well as the general conditions and cleanliness. The comforting sight of her checking all was well at night earned her the name ‘Lady of the Lamp’, along with the undying respect of the British soldiers.

Her greatest achievement was to transform nursing into a respectable profession for women and in 1860, she established the first professional training school for nurses, the Nightingale Training School at St Thomas’ Hospital. Florence also believed in the need for specialist midwifery nurses and established a School of Midwifery nursing at King's College Hospital which became a model for the country. She campaigned tirelessly to improve health standards, publishing over 200 books, reports and pamphlets on hospital planning and organisation which are still widely read and respected today, including her most famous work Notes on Nursing: What It Is and What It Is Not.

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 in her sleep in her room at 10 South Street, Park Lane, London aged 90 on 13th August 1910 and was buried alongside the graves of other family members in East Wellow, Hampshire.