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Friday, 23 September 2016

Florence Nightingale

Florence Nightingale was born on May 12, 1820 into a rich, upper-class, well-connected British family at the Villa Colombaia, near the Porta Romana, in Florence, Italy. She was named after the city of her birth.

Her elder sister, Frances Parthenope Nightingale, was born in Parthenopolis, a region of Naples.

Florence's parents were William Edward Nightingale, born William Edward Shore (1794–1874) and Frances ("Fanny") Nightingale née Smith (1789–1880).

In 1821 The Nightingale family returned to England and tried to settle down in Florence's father's inherited property in Derbyshire. The Derby county property had an active lead smelter (1760-1935) which her father managed and owned.

William Nightingale had a new house built for the family in the village of Lea near Cromford, Derbyshire and the family lived there until 1823. The home was called Lea Hurst and served as a summer home to the Nightingales for the rest of Florence's life.

In 1825 The Nightingales moved to a 14 bedroomed mansion named Embley Park in the parish of Wellow, in Hampshire. It came in a 3,700-acre estate. This became the family's main home with Lea Hurst as a summer home.

Florence was educated largely by her father. She had exhibited a gift for mathematics from an early age, and excelled in the subject under the tutorship of her father.


Florence had a strong desire to devote her life to the service of others from her late teens but at first she was respectful of her family's opposition to her working as a nurse, only announcing her decision to enter the field in 1844.

Young Florence Nightingale

When Florence announced that she wanted to work and train at nearby Salisbury Infirmary her parents were horrified, as a respectable lady did not enter in hospital work. However Florence was determined, she felt she was called by God to serve him in this manner.

After her parents refused her request to study nursing at a hospital, Florence was persuaded to study parliamentary reports. Within three years she was an expert on public health and hospitals.

In 1847 Florence helped to nurse victims of a cholera epidemic at a Middlesex hospital.

At the age of 30 she went first to Paris, then to the Kaiserwerth Institute, near Dusseldorf, a hospital in Germany to learn nursing.

In 1853 Florence went into residence in her first "situation" as superintendent of An Establishment for Gentlewomen During Illness at no. 1 Upper Harley Street, London.

That same year, Florence's father gives her a yearly allowance of £500 ($40,000-50,000 by today's standards.)


In 1854 Florence Nightingale took a team of nurses to Scutari in the Crimea, as a result of Times' War Correspondent, William Russell's scaving reports of the conditions. There she worked up to twenty hours a day; and succeeded, despite the opposition of the military leadership, in radically improving the hospital's condition. She brought the death rate down twenty times within a space of a few months.

Florence spent £30,000 raised by the Times in the Constantinople bazaars on clothes and food for the British army.

When she first arrived in the Crimea, Florence traveled on horseback to make her inspections, she then transferred to a mule cart, and was reported to have escaped serious injury when it was toppled in an accident. Following this episode she used a solid Russian-built carriage, with waterproof hood and curtains.

Her nurses, in addition to their pay of 12 shillings, get a pint of port for dinner and a glass of sherry for supper.

Florence Nightingale's own trademark "look" was a simple black bodice and matching skirt with non-matching cuffs and collar of white lace.

Florence walked around with a linen Turkish army lantern, which was a candle inside a collapsible shade, crinkled like a Chinese lantern.

The Lady with the Lamp. Reproduction of a painting of Nightingale by Henrietta Rae, 1891.

By 1856 The Crimean War had ended and 19,600 Britons had died of which 15,700 were due to disease. The British Army lost ten times more troops to dysentery than to battle wounds. However by the end of the war, Florence Nightingale had succeeded in reducing the Crimean War Hospital death rate from 42% to 2%.

Florence was a heroine to the troops and public back home. She was the subject of songs and poems including the famous poem in which Henry Wadsworth Longfellow coined the term "lady with the lamp".


On returning home Florence threw herself into a campaign to improve British army health and living conditions.

Florence was fascinated by statistics, mortality rates and other data relevant to her works. She included a lot of statistical input in her reports and was a pioneer in the visual presentation of information.

"Diagram of the causes of mortality in the army in the East" by Florence Nightingale.
The nursing pioneer invented a graph that she called the coxcomb or polar area chart to depict changing patient outcomes in the military field hospital she managed. Florence made extensive use of this predecessor to the pie chart to present reports on the nature and magnitude of the conditions of medical care in the Crimean War to MPs and civil servants who would have been unlikely to read or understand traditional statistical reports. This had never been done before and is common practice now. As such, she was a pioneer in the visual presentation of information.

Florence eventually became a member of the Institute of Statisticians.

By 1859, Florence had £45,000 at her disposal from the Nightingale Fund to set up the Nightingale Training School (now called the Nightingale School of Nursing) at St Thomas' Hospital.

Nightingale Training School for Nurses opened at St. Thomas Infirmary on July 9, 1860 with Mrs. Wardroper as its head. Florence paid very close attention to every detail

Florence Nightingale (middle) in 1886 with her graduating class of nurses from St Thomas'

Three years after Crimea, her Notes on Nursing was published in 1859. 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 as a classic introduction to nursing.

Notes on Nursing was expanded and published again in 1860 and in 1861.

The only "wage" she ever earned in her life was the many royalties she received from her Notes on Nursing.

In her life time Florence never kept within her budget and relied on her father and others helped pay for her very expensive projects and good works.

Florence disliked the fame her work bought her. She never made a public statement and was never seen in public.

"Once or twice a year perhaps but nobody could be quite certain, in deadly secrecy, she went out for a drive in the park, unrecognised, the living legend flitted for a moment before the public gaze." (Lytton Strachey Eminent Victorians)


Florence was tall, with  chestnut colored hair. As a young woman, Nightingale was described as attractive, slender and graceful.

Three Quarter length portrait of Florence Nightingale

She gave her name to a flannel scarf with sleeves for the benefit of invalids sitting up in bed, known as a Nightingale.

Florence was rousing, warm and private .While her demeanor was often severe, she was said to be very charming and possess a radiant smile.

The Times said in her 1910 obituary: “Her zeal, her devotion and her perseverance would yield to no rebuff and to no difficulty”.


Florence was raised as a Unitarian and was a devout Christian. On February 7, 1837 the 16-year-old heard the voice of God telling her that she had a mission. Quite what that mission entailed at that stage she didn't know.

Florence came to realize that God was calling her to devote her life to the service of others. She came to realize it was to be in the form of nursing, but acknowledged the difficulties this entailed in the climate of her era where the respectable lady's place was thought to be at home.

Painting of Nightingale by Augustus Egg, c. 1840s

In 1850, she visited the Lutheran religious community at Kaiserswerth-am-Rhein in Germany, where she observed Pastor Theodor Fliedner and the deaconesses working for the sick and the deprived.


In 1837, the 17-year-old Florence Nightingale met and fell in love with her first cousin, John Smithurst. However, their parents forbid them to marry due to their family connection. The heartbroken Smithurst, (a devout Christian) mooched off to Canada to be a missionary to the Indians.

12 years later Smithurst returned and proposed but both sets of parents again refused so he returned to Canada frustrated.

Her most persistent suitor was the politician and poet Richard Monckton Milnes, 1st Baron Houghton, but after a nine-year courtship she rejected him against her mother's wishes. Florence concluded that she could not have "work" of her own if she chose to follow her heart into this society marriage. Marriage would destroy her chance of serving God's call.

Baron Houghton

Milnes remained one of  Florence's staunchest supporters throughout her career.

By 1847, Florence was approaching a mental breakdown precipitated by a continuing crisis of her relationship with Milnes. Her friends, the Bracebridges took her to Rome with them.

While in Rome, Florence met Sidney Herbert, a brilliant politician who had been Secretary at War (1845-46), a position he would hold again (1852-1854) during the Crimean War. Herbert was already married but he and Nightingale were immediately attracted to each other and they became life-long close friends. Herbert was instrumental in facilitating her pioneering work in Crimea and in the field of nursing, and Nightingale became a key adviser to Herbert in his political career.

In 1857 Sir Harry Verney 2nd Baronet, an MP for Buckingham, proposed to Florence, but she declined. He then proposed to Parthenope, who accepted, and they married on June 24, 1858.


Florence Nightingale advised nurses that a little light music soothed the sick and restored the soul. In her Notes On Nursing Florence wrote that the human voice can be therapeutic on its own, but when a patient is unable to speak, frightened, or injured, music can make an immediate connection with the emotions they cannot put into words.

A recording of Florence Nightingale speaking was made on July 30, 1890 to raise money for the impoverished veterans of the Charge of the Light Brigade.

During the early 1950s Florence had a pet owl called "Athena" who she carried in her apron pocket.

Athena, can be seen today at London’s Florence Nightingale Museum.

In her life time Florence owned around 60 cats including large Persian moggies called Bismarck, Disraeli and Gladstone, and she refused to travel without taking them.


On her return from the Crimea Florence  took an hotel room in London which became the centre for her campaigning.

At the time of the 1861 census she was living at the Burlington hotel in Piccadilly, London.

In 1865 Florence Nightingale moved to 10 South Street, Park Lane where she lived for the rest of her life.


In the Crimea, Florence suffered from Crimean fever which she possibly contacted from drinking contaminated goat's milk. She nearly died, but refused to return to England.

On returning home the "lady of the lamp" was convinced that she had terminal heart disease. Prostate and apparently helpless on a couch in her London home, she conducted a huge correspondence and received many dignities, ambassadors and politicians. In reality she probably had been weakened by the Crimean fever she'd contacted.

By 1896 Florence was confined to her bedroom permanently.


Florence died of heart failure on August 13, 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, England, next to her parents.

The grave of Florence Nightingale in the churchyard of St Margaret's Church. By,

Six British army sergeants bore her coffin to the family group grave in St Margaret's churchyard.

'Florence Nightingale' is an anagram of 'Flit on, cheering angel' or 'Going? Then clean rifle.' or ‘Reflecting on healing’ or ‘No lice, filth, gangrene’.

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