Florence Nightingale, OM, RRC (12 May 1820 – 13 August 1910), who came to be known as The Lady of the Lamp, was a pioneer of modern nursing, a writer and a noted statistician.
Florence Nightingale was born into an upper class, lavish, well-connected English family at the Villa Colombaia, Florence, Italy, and was named after the city of her birth.
Nightingale's career in nursing began in 1851, when she received four months training in Germany as a deaconess of Kaiserswerth. She undertook the training over strenuous family objections concerning the risks and social implications of such activity, and the Roman Catholic foundations of the hospital. While at Kaiserswerth she reported having her most important and intense experience of her divine calling.
On August 22, 1853, Nightingale took a post of superintendent at the Institute for the Care of Sick Gentlewomen in Upper Harley Street, London, a position she held until October 1854. Her father had given her an annual income of £500 (roughly US$50,000/£25,000 in present terms), which allowed her to live comfortably and to pursue her career. James Joseph Sylvester was her mentor.
Florence Nightingale's most famous contribution came during the Crimean War, which became her central focus when reports began to filter back to Britain about the horrific conditions for the wounded. On October 21, 1854, she and a staff of 38 women volunteer nurses, trained by Nightingale and including her aunt Mai Smith, were sent (under the authorization of Sidney Herbert) to Turkey, some 545 km across the Black Sea from Balaklava in the Crimea, where the main British camp was based.
Nightingale arrived early in November 1854 at Selimiye Barracks in Scutari (modern-day Üsküdar in Istanbul). She and her nurses found wounded soldiers being badly cared for by overworked medical staff in the face of official indifference. Medicines were in short supply, hygiene was being neglected, and mass infections were common, many of them fatal. There was no equipment to process food for the patients.
Florence and her compatriots began by thoroughly cleaning the hospital and equipment and reorganizing patient care. However, during her time at Scutari, the death rate did not drop; on the contrary, it began to rise. The death count would be highest of all other hospitals in the region. During her first winter at Scutari, 4077 soldiers died there. Ten times more soldiers died from illnesses such as typhus, typhoid, cholera and dysentery than from battle wounds. Conditions at the temporary barracks hospital were so fatal to the patients because of overcrowding and the hospital's defective sewers and lack of ventilation. A sanitary commission had to be sent out by the British government to Scutari in March 1855, almost six months after Florence Nightingale had arrived, which flushed out the sewers and improved ventilation. Death rates were sharply reduced.
Nightingale continued believing the death rates were due to poor nutrition and supplies and overworking of the soldiers. It was not until after she returned to Britain and began collecting evidence before the Royal Commission on the Health of the Army, that she came to believe that most of the soldiers at the hospital were killed by poor living conditions. This experience would influence her later career, when she advocated sanitary living conditions as of great importance. Consequently, she reduced deaths in the Army during peacetime and turned attention to the sanitary design of hospitals.
Florence Nightingale returned to Britain a heroine on August 7, 1857, and, according to the BBC, was arguably the most famous Victorian after Queen Victoria herself. Nightingale moved from her family home in Middle Claydon, Buckinghamshire, to the Burlington Hotel in Piccadilly. However, she was stricken by a fever, probably due to a chronic form of Brucellosis ("Crimean fever") that she contracted during the Crimean war, She barred her mother and sister from her room and rarely left it.
In response to an invitation from Queen Victoria – and despite the limitations of confinement to her room – Nightingale played the central role in the establishment of the Royal Commission on the Health of the Army, of which Sidney Herbert became chairman. As a woman, Nightingale could not be appointed to the Royal Commission, but she wrote the Commission's 1,000-plus page report that included detailed statistical reports, and she was instrumental in the implementation of its recommendations. The report of the Royal Commission led to a major overhaul of army military care, and to the establishment of an Army Medical School and of a comprehensive system of army medical records.
While she was still in Turkey, on November 29, 1855, a public meeting to give recognition to Florence Nightingale for her work in the war led to the establishment of the Nightingale Fund for the training of nurses. There was an outpouring of generous donations. Sidney Herbert served as honorary secretary of the fund, and the Duke of Cambridge was chairman. Nightingale was also considered a pioneer in the concept of medical tourism as well based on her letters from 1856 in which she would write to spas in Turkey detailing the health conditions, physical descriptions, dietary information, and other vitally important details of patients whom she directed there (which was significantly less expensive than Switzerland). She was obviously directing patients of meagre means to affordable treatment.
By 1859 Nightingale had £45,000 at her disposal from the Nightingale Fund to set up the Nightingale Training School at St. Thomas' Hospital on July 9, 1860. (It is now called the Florence Nightingale School of Nursing and Midwifery and is part of King's College London.) The first trained Nightingale nurses began work on May 16 at the Liverpool Workhouse Infirmary. She also campaigned and raised funds for the Royal Buckinghamshire Hospital in Aylesbury, near her family home.
Nightingale wrote Notes on Nursing, which was published in 1860, a slim 136 page book that served as the cornerstone of the curriculum at the Nightingale School and other nursing schools established. Notes on Nursing also sold well to the general reading public and is considered a classic introduction to nursing. Nightingale would spend the rest of her life promoting the establishment and development of the nursing profession and organizing it into its modern form.
Nightingale's work served as an inspiration for nurses in the American Civil War. The Union government approached her for advice in organizing field medicine. Although her ideas met official resistance, they inspired the volunteer body of United States Sanitary Commission.
In 1869 Nightingale and Elizabeth Blackwell opened the Women's Medical College.
In the 1870s, Nightingale mentored Linda Richards, "America's first trained nurse", and enabled her to return to the USA with adequate training and knowledge to establish quality nursing schools. Linda Richards went on to become a great nursing pioneer in the USA and Japan.
By 1882 Nightingale nurses had a growing and influential presence in the embryonic nursing profession. Some had become matrons at several leading hospitals, including, in London, St Mary's Hospital, Westminster Hospital, St Marylebone Workhouse Infirmary and the Hospital for Incurables at Putney; and throughout Britain, e.g. Royal Victoria Hospital, Netley; Edinburgh Royal Infirmary; Cumberland Infirmary; Liverpool Royal Infirmary as well as at Sydney Hospital, in New South Wales, Australia.
In 1883 Nightingale was awarded the Royal Red Cross by Queen Victoria. In 1907 she became the first woman to be awarded the Order of Merit. In 1908 she was given the Honorary Freedom of the City of London.
By 1896, Florence Nightingale was bedridden. She may have had what is now known as chronic fatigue syndrome and her birthday is now celebrated as the International CFS Awareness Day. During her bedridden years, she also made pioneering work in the field of hospital planning, and her work propagated quickly across England and the world.
Nightingale was a Christian universalist.
She died at the age of 90 in her sleep in her room at 10 South Street, Park Lane, London on 13 August 1910. The offer of burial in Westminster Abbey was declined by her relatives, and she is buried in the graveyard at St. Margaret Church in East Wellow, Hampshire.
Florence Nightingale had exhibited a gift for mathematics from an early age and excelled in the subject under the tutorship of her father. She had a special interest in statistics, a field in which her father, a pioneer in the nascent field of epidemiology, was an expert. She made extensive use of statistical analysis in the compilation, analysis and presentation of statistics on medical care and public health.
Nightingale was a pioneer in the visual presentation of information. Among other things she used the pie chart, which had first been developed by William Playfair in 1801. After the Crimean War, Nightingale used the polar area chart, equivalent to a modern circular histogram or rose diagram, to illustrate seasonal sources of patient mortality in the military field hospital she managed. Nightingale called a compilation of such diagrams a "coxcomb", but later that term has frequently been used for the individual diagrams. She made extensive use of coxcombs to present reports on the nature and magnitude of the conditions of medical care in the Crimean War to Members of Parliament and civil servants who would have been unlikely to read or understand traditional statistical reports.
In her later life Nightingale made a comprehensive statistical study of sanitation in Indian rural life and was the leading figure in the introduction of improved medical care and public health service in India.
In 1858 Nightingale was elected the first female member of the Royal Statistical Society and she later became an honorary member of the American Statistical Association.
While better known for her contributions in the medical and mathematical fields, Nightingale is also an important link in the study of English feminism. During 1850 and 1852, she was struggling with her self-definition and the expectations of an upper-class marriage from her family. As she sorted out her thoughts, she wrote Suggestions for Thought to Searchers after Religious Truth. The three-volume book has never been printed in its entirety, but a section, called Cassandra, was published by Ray Strachey in 1928. Strachey included it in The Cause, a history of the women's movement. Apparently, the writing served the original purpose of sorting out thoughts; Nightingale left soon after to train at the Institute for deaconesses at Kaiserwerth.
Cassandra protests the over-feminization of women into near helplessness, such as Nightingale saw in her mother and older sister's lethargic lifestyle, despite their education. She rejected their life of thoughtless comfort for the world of social service. The work also reflects her fear of her ideas being ineffective, as were Cassandra's. Cassandra is a virgin-priestess of Apollo who receives a divinely-inspired prophecy, but her prophetic warnings go unheeded. Elaine Showalter called Nightingale's writing "a major text of English feminism, a link between Wollstonecraft and Woolf."
Literature and the women's movement
Suggestions for Thought is also Nightingale's great work of theology, her own theodicee, where she develops her radical heterodox ideas. She was not only a militant feminist but also a radical liberation theologist long before the concept was coined.
Legacy and memory
Florence Nightingale's lasting contribution has been her role in founding the modern nursing profession. She set a shining example for nurses everywhere of compassion, commitment to patient care, and diligent and thoughtful hospital administration.
The work of the Nightingale School of Nursing continues today. The Nightingale building in the School of Nursing and Midwifery at the University of Southampton is named after her. International Nurses Day is celebrated on her birthday each year.
The Florence Nightingale Declaration Campaign,
"To Florence Nightingale, whose work near this Cemetery a century ago relieved much human suffering and laid the foundations for the nursing profession."
There is a Florence Nightingale Museum in London and another museum devoted to her at her sister's family home, Claydon House, now a property of the National Trust.
The northmost tower of the Selimiye Barracks building is today a museum, and in several of its rooms, relics and reproductions relevant to Florence Nightingale and her nurses are on exhibition.
When she first arrived in Turkey, Nightingale would travel on horseback to make inspections. She then transferred to a mule cart and was reported to have escaped serious injury when the cart was toppled in an accident. Following this episode, she used a solid Russian-built carriage, with a waterproof hood and curtains. The carriage was returned to England after the war and subsequently given to the Nightingale training school for nurses, which she founded at St Thomas's Hospital. The carriage was damaged when the hospital was bombed in the Blitz. It was later restored and transferred to the Army Museum in Aldershot.
Florence Nightingale's voice was saved for posterity in a phonograph recording from 1890 preserved in the British Library Sound Archive.
Several churches in the Anglican Communion commemorate Nightingale with a feast day on their liturgical calendars. So does the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, which commemorates her as a renewer of society with Clara Maass on 13 August.
The airline KLM has named one of their MD-11 airliners in her memory.
Nightingale Corona, on the surface of Venus is named after her.
The United States Air Force maintains a fleet of 20 McDonnell Douglas C-9A "Nightingale" aeromedical evacuation aircraft.
In the TV series Star Trek Voyager the character Ensign Harry Kim names an alien medical vessel after her.
Licensed practical nurse
History of feminism
Crimean War Memorial Sources