Named after the Italian city of her birth, Florence Nightingale grew up on picturesque English country estates with her elder sister, Parthenope. Born on May 12, 1820, she is a celebrated English social reformer, statistician, and the founder of modern nursing.
Her upper middle class upbringing included an extensive home education from her father, who taught them philosophy and modern languages. Florence excelled in mathematics and science, her love of recording and organising information being very clear from an early age – she documented her extensive shell collection with precisely drawn tables, lists and illustrations.
The Nightingales took their daughters on a tour of Europe, which was a custom intended to refine and educate gentlewomen in the 19th century.
But her journals from the trip had something in them that would define the course of her life.
“God spoke to me and called me to His Service. What form this service was to take the voice did not say.”
Florence nightingale on her Europe tour
She had recorded everything in a statistic format – the population, hospitals and charitable institutions.
Against the wishes of her family and rejecting a marriage proposal, she would later study Mathematics and in 1844, she got enrolled as a nursing student at the Lutheran Hospital of Pastor Fliedner in Kaiserswerth, Germany.
In the early 1850s she returned to London, where she took a nursing job in a Middlesex hospital for ailing governesses. Her performance there was so impressive that she got promoted to superintendent within just a year of being hired.
Nightingale grappled with a cholera outbreak that followed shortly thereafter, eventually winning the first big battle of her career.
1853, the Crimean War broke out which had the British Empire at war against the Russian Empire for control of the Ottoman Empire. Thousands of British soldiers were sent to the Black Sea and by 1854, no fewer than 18,000 soldiers had been admitted into military hospitals. Nightingale received a letter from Secretary of War Sidney Herbert, asking her to organize a corps of nurses to tend to the brave soldiers in the Crimea. She quickly assembled a team of 34 nurses from a variety of religious orders, and sailed with them to the Crimea just a few days later.
Reducing the death rate of the hospital by two-thirds, she was named ‘The lady with the Lamp’ and the ‘Angel of the Crimea’ by the soldiers.
After the war, The Queen rewarded Nightingale’s work by presenting her with an engraved brooch that came to be known as the “Nightingale Jewel”. She was awarded a sum of $250,000 from the British government.
She used the sum to fund the establishment of St Thomas’ Hospital in 1860.
But even the angel couldn’t remain untouched by the devil. During her time at the Scutari, she had developed the ‘Crimean Fever’, that never fully recovered, leaving her bedridden for the rest of her life at the age of 38.
She decided to continue her work from her bed and in 1859, published Notes on Hospitals, which focused on how to properly run civilian hospitals.
Throughout the U.S. Civil War, she was frequently consulted about how to manage field resources and hospitals. Nightingale also served as an authority on public sanitation issues in India for both the military and civilians through her expertise in consultancy and strategic management.
In 1908 she received the merit of honor by King Edward. She was 88 at the time.
In May of 1910, she received a congratulatory message from Sir King George himself on her 90th birthday.
The Crimean fever took its toll on her, and she passed away on 13 August, 1910.
In a way, she had traded her own life to the fever she had saved hundreds from.
The Florence Nightingale Museum was established in her honor, which sits at the site of the original Nightingale Training School for Nurses. The ‘Florence Nightingale Award’ was also tribute in her honor.
To this day, the Crimean Angel is broadly acknowledged as the pioneer of modern nursing.