Florence Nightingale is one of the best-known women in Victorian medicine. She was born in Florence, Italy, in 1820 and brought up in England. Although she is best remembered for her work during the Crimean War (1853-56), Nightingale fundamentally changed the role of nursing in hospitals, and was a key figure in introducing new professional training standards.
Despite opposition from her family, who felt nursing was not a suitable profession for a highly educated woman, Nightingale pressed on with her nursing career. In the early 1850s she was working in a Middlesex hospital battling cholera and unsanitary conditions.
In 1854 Florence was requested by the Secretary of War to come with other nurses to Scutari in Turkey during the Crimean War. Conditions at the British base hospital were appalling and Florence immediately reorganised their hygeine and care standards. She requested 80 more nurses and 300 scrubbing brushes, taking this experience and formulating her own theories around infection. Nightingale worked to reduce the numbers of soldiers who were dying from illnesses such as typhus, caused by poor standards of cleanliness.
Some of Nightingale's colleagues found her difficult to work with, as she was suspicious of military doctors and the Sisters of Mercy, Catholic nuns acting as nurses. In some instances there was outright hostility between them, Nightingale in particular clashing with Sir John Hall, Principle Medical Officer, over his insistence that chloroform not be used in amputation surgery.
At the end of the Crimean War Nightingale turned away from military medicine and returned to England in 1856. Four years later she established a training school for nurses in London with a prize of £250,000 that she had been awarded for her service during the Crimean War.
Nightingale believed that infection arose spontaneously from foul-smelling miasmas, and although this theory was incorrect her methods still helped to improve hygiene standards. Her training school instructed many nurses to follow her hygiene principles, thereby reducing infections in the hospital environment.
Florence Nightingale died at the age of 90, having received the Merit of Honour from King Edward VII and a congratulatory message from King George V on the occasion of her 90th birthday. She was laid to rest in Westminster Abbey.