“Every woman has in her charge the personal health of somebody. Every woman is a nurse.” Let’s find out more about the woman who created a profession out of nothing…
Florence Nightingale was born in Florence (which is the singular origin of her name) on 12th May 1820 to extremely wealthy upper class parents. Just think, their honeymoon lasted all of two years! Her sister, Parthenope, had earned her name in the same way as she was born in Naples about 12 months earlier. Florence’s father was an epidemiological doctor while her mother was a devoted Catholic. They were all four proud to be British and Londoners.
A profession frowned upon by the upper classes
At the age of seventeen, after studies in mathematics and numerous arguments with her mother who disapproved of certain aspects of her non-conformist character, Florence received the “call” straight from her soul. She would become a nurse and spend her life bringing solace to others. It was February 1837. Her father took this announcement calmly while her mother made a scene. In those days, for a girl from the upper class to become a nurse was a badge of shame. It was said that nurses were looked down upon because they counted alcoholics and even prostitutes among their ranks.
Experience in Germany
Florence, feminist before her time that she was, refused to give up. Besides, she didn’t see herself as the devoted mother spending her entire life serving one man. From 1850 to 1851 she lived in Germany, in Dusseldorf, and worked in a Lutheran hospital which was ahead of its time. She returned to London ready to reorganize the local institution for the care of sick women without economic assistance. But meanwhile, a dreadful war had broken out…
The Crimean war
October 1853 marked the beginning of the Crimean war with on the one side Turkey, France, Great Britain, the Kingdom of Sardinia and, naturally, Russia on the other. Florence came to hear about it from newspaper articles in The Times written in great detail (in particular as regards the horrific conditions of the English soldiers) by the war correspondent William Russell. Nightingale immediately left for Scutari, in Turkey, taking with her 38 nurses who had been trained using her methods. Her Majesty’s forces had barely survived the terrible massacre of Balaclava which had occurred on 25th October. There was some serious work to be done.
The kingdom of hell
The conditions Florence found when she reached the field hospital were simply appalling: filth, overcrowding, contagion, open sewers, poor ventilation, dreadful food and naturally, little medicine available. The nurses worked day and night without rest but with far from satisfactory results. Meanwhile, however, Nightingale had learned which essential sanitary improvements needed to be put in place. Instead of being a place of healing, the hospital was, in fact, the “kingdom of hell”.
Her glorious return to London
Florence returned home at the end of the war sick because she had contracted a serious form of brucellosis. On 7th August 1856. London paid homage to its heroine who had returned “victorious” from Turkey, and Florence was even received in court by Queen Victoria. At that point she set up a school for training nurses (the renowned Nightingale Training School) and twelve months later she began to write what was to be remembered as her literary masterpiece.
136 pages of ideas
Her famous manual “Notes on Nursing”, which was published in 1859 in London and subsequently in Boston, was only 136 pages long, but it is still remembered today as the definitive book on the nursing profession. Nightingale wrote: “Observing illnesses, both in homes and in hospitals, what is most striking is the fact that the most painful symptoms of the disease are due to other factors: lack of fresh air, or light, or warmth, or tranquillity, or cleanliness, or regularity and attention to diet.” She knew what she was talking about.
The suffering of a woman who went accepted no limits
At this stage, her nurses, trained by her in person in the school in London, were going to places as far flung as the American Civil War and Japan, while in 1907, Florence herself was awarded the Order of Merit, one of the most prestigious honours in Britain. But at the same time her health was deteriorating. She was now bedridden, weakened and almost entirely blind, but still giving instruction from her bed to many young nurses who wanted her to teach them the secrets of the trade. Every single one she had.
Every woman is a nurse…
Florence Nightingale finally died on 13th August 1910, at the ripe old age of 90, in her cosy London home. In addition to her value as a human being and her career in the field, we are left with a single phrase which naturally appeared in the preface of Notes On Nursing: “Every woman, or at least almost every woman, has, at some time or another in her life, charge of somebody’s health. In other words, every woman is a nurse. What more can we say?
Take a look at our gallery: it’s a tribute to Florence and to all the women (and men) who are saving our lives in this difficult situation. Thank you!