Florence Nightingale (12 May 1820 – 13 August 1910) was a nurse who contributed in developing modern nursing practice and has set examples for nurses which are standards for today’s profession. She is well-known with her Environmental Theory that changed the face of nursing to create sanitary conditions for patients to get care. She is one of the most recognized and celebrated nursing figures. During the Crimean War, she tended to wounded soldiers at night and was known as “The Lady with the Lamp.”
Nightingale was born on May 12, 1820, in Nightingale, Italy. She was the younger of two children. Her British family belonged to elite social circles. Her father, William Shore Nightingale, a wealthy landowner who had inherited two estates—one at Lea Hurst, Derbyshire, and the other in Hampshire, Embley Park—when Nightingale was 5 years old.
Her mother, Frances Nightingale, hailed from a family of merchants and took pride in socializing with people of prominent social standing. Despite her mother’s interest in social climbing, Nightingale herself was reportedly awkward in social situations. She preferred to avoid being the center of attention whenever possible. Strong-willed, Nightingale often butted heads with her mother, whom she viewed as overly controlling. Still, like many daughters, she was eager to please her mother. “I think I am got something more good-natured and complying,” Nightingale wrote in her own defense, concerning the mother-daughter relationship.
Nightingale was raised on the family estate at Lea Hurst, where her father provided her with a classical education, including studies in German, French and Italian. As for being home schooled by her parents and tutors, Nightingale gained excellence in Mathematics.
From a very young age, Nightingale was active in philanthropy, ministering to the ill and poor people in the village neighboring her family’s estate. At seventeen, she made the decision to dedicate her life to medical care for the sick resulting in a lifetime commitment to speak out, educate, overhaul and sanitize the appalling health care conditions in England.
Despite the objections of her parents, Nightingale enrolled as a nursing student in 1844 at the Lutheran Hospital of Pastor Fliedner in Kaiserswerth, Germany.
Only announcing her decision to enter the field in 1844, following her desire to be a nurse was not easy for Nightingale. Her mother and sister were against her chosen career, but Nightingale stood strong and worked hard to learn more about her craft despite the society’s expectation that she become a wife and mother.
As a woman, Nightingale was very attractive and charming that made every man like her. However, she rejected a suitor, Richard Monckton Milnes, 1st Baron Houghton, because she feared that entertaining men would interfere the process. The income given to her by her father during this time allowed her to pursue her career and still live comfortably. Though Nightingale had several important friendships with women, including a correspondence with an Irish nun named Sister Mary Clare Moore, she had little respect for women in general, and preferred friendships with powerful men.
Based on her observations in the Crimea, Nightingale wrote Notes on Matters Affecting the Health, Efficiency and Hospital Administration of the British Army, an 830-page report analyzing her experience and proposing reforms for other military hospitals operating under poor conditions. The book would spark a total restructuring of the War Office’s administrative department, including the establishment of a Royal Commission for the Health of the Army in 1857.
In 1860, her best authored works was published, “Notes on Nursing,” outlining principles of nursing. It is still in print today with translation in many foreign languages. In all, she had published some 200 books, reports and pamphlets. Using the money she got from the British government, she funded the establishment of St. Thomas’ Hospital, and within it, the Nightingale Training School for Nurses.
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 high-quality nursing schools. Linda Richards went on to become a great nursing pioneer in the USA and Japan.
In the early 1880s Nightingale wrote an article for a textbook in which she advocated strict precautions designed, she said, to kill germs. Nightingale’s work served as an inspiration for nurses in the American Civil War. The Union government approached her for advice in organising field medicine. Although her ideas met official resistance, they inspired the volunteer body of the United States Sanitary Commission.
Main Article: Florence Nightingale’s Environmental Theory
Nightingale’s Environmental Theory defined Nursing as “the act of utilizing the environment of the patient to assist him in his recovery.”
It involves the nurse’s initiative to configure environmental settings appropriate for the gradual restoration of the patient’s health, and that external factors associated with the patient’s surroundings affect life or biologic and physiologic processes, and his development.
She identified 5 environmental factors: fresh air, pure water, efficient drainage, cleanliness or sanitation and light or direct sunlight.
In 1853, she accepted the position of superintendent at the Institute for the Care of Sick Gentlewomen in Upper Harley Street, London. She held this position until October 1854.
In 1854, Britain was involved in the war against the Russians (Crimean War). British battlefield medical facilities were deplorable prompting Minister at War, Sidney Herbert, to appoint Nightingale to oversee the care of the wounded. She arrived in Constantinople, Turkey with a company of 38 nurses. The introduction of female nurses in the military hospitals was a major success. Sanitary conditions were improved while nurses worked as capable assistants to physicians and raised the morale of the British soldier by acting as bankers, sending the injured man’s wages home, wrote letters to their families and read to the wounded.
The Crimean War began and soon reports in the newspapers were describing the desperate lack of proper medical facilities for wounded British soldiers at the front. Sidney Herbert, the war minister, already knew Nightingale, and asked her to oversee a team of nurses in the military hospitals in Turkey. In 1854 she led an expedition of 38 women to take over the management of the barrack hospital at Scutari where she observed the disastrous sanitary conditions.
She returned to England in 1856. In 1860, she established the Nightingale Training School for nurses at St Thomas’ Hospital in London. Once the nurses were trained, they were sent to hospitals all over Britain, where they introduced the ideas they had learned, and established nursing training on the Nightingale model.
Awards and Honors
England has given Nightingale numerous awards and honors.
Nightingale became known as “The Lady with the Lamp.” During the Crimean War, she initially made her rounds on horseback and at night used an oil lamp to light her way, then reverted to a mule cart and finally a carriage with a hood and curtains. Nightingale remained at Scutari for a year and a half. She left in the summer of 1856, once the Crimean conflict was resolved, and returned to her childhood home at Lea Hurst. To her surprise she was met with a hero’s welcome, which the humble nurse did her best to avoid.
The Queen rewarded Nightingale’s work by presenting her with an engraved brooch that came to be known as the “Nightingale Jewel” and by granting her a prize of $250,000 from the British government.
In 1883, Nightingale was awarded the Royal Red Cross by Queen Victoria. In 1904, she was appointed a Lady of Grace of the Order of St John (LGStJ). In 1907, she became the first woman to be awarded the Order of Merit. In the following year she was given the Honorary Freedom of the City of London.
Despite being known as the heroine of the Crimean War, Florence Nightingale felt ill in August 1910. She seemed to recover and was reportedly in good spirits, however, she developed an array of troubling symptoms a week later, on the evening of Friday, August 12, 1910. She died unexpectedly at 2 pm the following day, Saturday, August 13, at her home in London. She left a large body of work, including several hundred notes which were previously unpublished.
Usually, well-known people with great contributions are offered national funerals, but Nightingale had expressed the desire that her funeral be a quiet and modest affair.
Respecting her last wishes, her relatives turned down a national funeral and the “Lady with the Lamp” was laid to rest in her family’s plot at St. Margaret’s Church, East Wellow, in Hampshire, England.
In honor of the life and career of the “Angel of the Crimea,” the Florence Nightingale Museum sits at the site of the original Nightingale Training School for Nurses, houses more than 2,000 artifacts. And up to this day, the name “Florence Nightingale” is universally recognized and known as the pioneer of modern nursing.
Nightingale has a memorial in St. Paul’s Cathedral where a formal memorial service was held. There is a Florence Nightingale Museum located at St. Thomas Hospital in London where she founded the nursing school. The US Navy launched a namesake troop transport during World War II, “USS Florence Nightingale,” which served gallantly during the course of the war receiving four battle stars.
In addition to the continued operation of the Florence Nightingale School of Nursing and Midwifery at King’s College London, The Nightingale Building in the School of Nursing and Midwifery at the University of Southampton is also named after her.
Furthermore, four hospitals in Istanbul are named after Nightingale: F. N. Hastanesi in Şişli (the biggest private hospital in Turkey), Metropolitan F.N. Hastanesi in Gayrettepe, Avrupa F.N. Hastanesi in Mecidiyeköy, and Kızıltoprak F.N. Hastanesi in Kadiköy, all belonging to the Turkish Cardiology Foundation.
Nightingale’s voice was saved in a phonograph recording from 1890 preserved in the British Library Sound Archive. The recording is in aid of the Light Brigade Relief Fund, and says: “When I am no longer even a memory, just a name, I hope my voice may perpetuate the great work of my life. God bless my dear old comrades of Balaclava and bring them safe to shore. Florence Nightingale.”
Many exhibits and artifacts are displayed as well as a bit of folklore with an exhibit featuring the preserved owl Athena, her little pet and companion who lived in her pocket. With America’s first female doctor, Elizabeth Blackwell, opened the Women’s Medical College.
The photos above were taken by Luca Borghi in August 2011 courtesy of the Florence Nightingale Museum.
In 1912, the International Committee of the Red Cross instituted the Florence Nightingale Medal, awarded every two years to nurses or nursing aides for outstanding service.
The International Nurses Day and International CFS Awareness Day is celebrated on her birthday each year.
- Florence Nightingale: Part I. Strachey, Lytton. 1918. Eminent Victorians. (n.d.). Florence Nightingale: Part I. Strachey, Lytton. 1918. Eminent Victorians. Retrieved July 31, 2014, from http://www.bartleby.com/189/201.html
- Florence Nightingale and Lynn McDonald (Editor) (2010). “An introduction to Vol 14”. Florence Nightingale: The Crimean War. Wilfrid Laurier University Press.ISBN 0889204691.
- Himetop. (n.d.). Florence Nightingale Museum –. Retrieved July 31, 2014, from http://himetop.wikidot.com/florence-nightingale-museum
- Baly, Monica and E. H. C. G. Matthew. “Nightingale, Florence (1820–1910)”, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2011
- Bostridge, Mark (2008). Florence Nightingale. The Woman and Her Legend. Viking (2008); Penguin (2009). US title Florence Nightingale. The Making of an Icon. Farrar Straus (2008).
- Rees, Joan. Women on the Nile: Writings of Harriet Martineau, Florence Nightingale, and Amelia Edwards. Rubicon Press: 1995, 2008
- Florence Nightingale Foundation
- Collection of Letters of Florence Nightingale
- Papers of Florence Nightingale, 1820-1910